Ms. Almanac

The riotous outdoor color show is over. A lacework of sepia and gray branches framing the sky is pretty much what’s left behind, although the grass is still green, for now. I have removed the dead hanging plants from the front porch. The frost-dead mums remain in their pot on the steps, lending an Addam’s Family vibe to the place, to be appreciated mostly by those who deliver mail and packages.

the welcoming dead porch plant

The color has just moved indoors, gracing the rooms with some surprise blooms. The geranium that was brought in from outside continues to produce. Both a red and a pale peach Christmas cactus have put on a little show. It is the first time blooming for the peach-colored one, which was a surprise.

Some foibles and follies as we move into the next phase; while standing in the dining room watering the indoor plants, I looked up to see wave of water hammering the front window, as if someone had turned a strong hose onto the front of the house. Uh-oh….the hose! The hose, left out and still turned on over the last few twenty-something degree nights, had frozen, warmed up and then burst, sending a steady spray against the house and flooding the porch. I can’t believe I had forgotten to turn it off, unhook it and put it away. This is not the first time it has happened either. As a matter of fact it appears this has turned into an annual event. Frustrating and wasteful. Next year I am really going to be on top of it.

Another annual affair – while reaching into the oven to remove a pie, I (once again) received a nice burn on the top of my hand, which brushed against the wire rack. I was using a pot holder, but maybe I should have been using the oven mitt. I find the oven mitts a bit cumbersome….apparently it’s a trade-off. Oven mitt vs. oven burn. Despite immediately reaching for the handy kitchen aloe plant, it seems this is going to be yet one more cooking battle scar to add to the collection on these old hands.

To contribute to the start of the holiday festivities this year, I baked three pies, which was a pretty odd thing to do, considering baking is not my forte. The pecan pie and the pumpkin pie was a quick and easy deal, but the third one, a Cranberry Custard Curd in a hazelnut crust (a recipe which caught my attention because of the pretty color) was something new to experiment with. I cheated because I didn’t make the crust, instead buying a ready-made walnut crust, leaving only the filling to create. It’s a good thing I didn’t make the crust because it turns out even the filling was a pretty labor-intensive ordeal (at least for me, who – again – does not enjoy baking). A plethora of devices and implements were employed in the formation of that filling. A mini chopper, an immersion blender, a hand-held beater, a whisk, pots, bowls, forks, spoons, spatulas and a sieve to strain the cranberry concoction through. The straining was a pain in the neck. By the time I was done I had a sink full of dishes and pink spatters all over me, the stove, the counters, the floor.

People said they liked it, although it is hard to tell if they were just being polite. The whole thing was eventually eaten, so I suppose it held some success. My assessment is that it was similar to a Key Lime pie, except in cranberry. Some tartness, some sweetness. The color was impressive. It was a little looser than I would have liked. I served it with freshly whipped cream. If I ever attempt it again (probably not) I think I will cut some more corners on the process and adjust some steps. One thing I learned about these recipes is that sometimes it is helpful to read the comments of other cooks to see what worked and what didn’t, or what could be altered or substituted. I should have done that before I dove into this project. But it was okay in the end.

I did make two kinds of stuffing, one vegetarian and one sweet sausage. My stuffing is killer.

A good friend who reads my blog told me he has especially enjoyed the posts which note the details of seasonal changes and has dubbed me “Ms. Almanac”, which made me laugh. I supposed I’ve been on a trend with some of that.

In keeping with that direction, a few more observations – I came across (and almost stepped on with my bare feet) a dying wasp on the floor the other morning. At the end of every autumn there is at least one dying wasp found on the floor. I have no idea how they get in.

A patterned moth clings to the back door, unmoving in the cold. I believe it might be a male Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) which emerges in late November and apparently is able to survive during the winter months.

I would imagine any time now a few Large Flies will appear inside the windows. I often wonder where they come from, usually found between the screen and the glass, seeking warmth. Luckily there are never more than a few every year. I seriously dislike them.

In a previous home we used to get a massive bombardment of Asian ladybugs every year, right before winter. They would gather in huge clusters in the corners of the window frame and remain there for months, slowly dying off little by little, until by spring there were just a few hardy stragglers left. In the beginning I used to vacuum them all up, but later on decided it was interesting to see how long they could survive, so I would just vacuum up the dead ones and leave the rest alone. If you disturbed them they would emit this yellow residue, but if you let them be they just sort of hung out in the window, occasionally flying about the glass on the warmest of days. This house does not have a winter ladybug infestation, which is fine, although I admit that, in a weird way, I kind of enjoyed them.

There is a security camera attached to the barn behind the house. Sometimes I like to check the night activity to see what animals are out and about. Aside from the usual neighborhood cats, there is an opossum family that has been visiting. Last night there was a good sized skunk with a lovely pattern. I notice the skunks often have different stripe designs. The screen grab is not as clear as the video, but you can get an idea.

night visitor

Relating to the seasons on a person-to-person level, I partook in “Special Person’s Day” at the pre-school of one of my grandchildren (the one who lives in closest proximity). She was very excited to have “Mema” attend, so off I went. Before these events became more inclusive, they were probably called “Grandparent’s Day”. Actually, way back when I was a kid I’m pretty sure we had neither a Grandparent’s Day or even such a thing as a “pre-school”. In the classroom there were little stations set up where you could sit with the child while they – amidst very loud collective chatter – excitedly moved from activity to activity, making beaded bracelets and bird feeders out of pipe-cleaners, coloring houses and playing with blocks, while their “special person” crouched beside them. (I noticed a number of us “special people” groaned with crackling knee joints as we tried to gracefully get up off the floor). It was a sweet little event – something about “school” and “autumn”, tiny desks, crayons, cubbies filled with boots and jackets. and their innocence, which jangled some rosily distorted nostalgia. They sent us home with chocolate chip pumpkin muffins, which they had proudly made the day before.

playing on the floor during “Special Person’s Day”

And finally, I will share a photo of Rudi in one of his (second hand) autumn sweaters. I call it his “Bumble Bee” look. In case anyone was wondering, I am not one of those crazy ladies who obsessively dresses up my dog in clothes. This is the first dog I’ve ever had that wears a sweater or coat, with the exception of my last dog’s blaze-orange vest, worn during hunting season. Rudi is a very small, single-coated dog that gets cold pretty quickly. After his last bout of illness, the vet advised that he’s kept warm. So now he has a tee-shirt for in the house this winter and the sweaters for outside. You may be seeing more of this in future posts. Of course I’m biased, but I think he’s kind of cute!

The Bumble Bee

So that’s all I’ve got for today. “Ms. Almanac” signing off….

~*~

Posted in Autumn, baking, Dogs, Holidays, House plants, nature, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Last Hurrah’s and Into the Time of Stillness

Not to be fooled by a string of balmy autumn days more reminiscent of spring, the reality of November is finally upon us. Even after a few mornings of frost, I was surprised (and a little impressed) that the geranium plant on the porch suddenly put out a defiant show of flowers, despite those freezing nights.

Good morning! The porch geranium survived the frost

Stimulated by a week or two of unseasonably warm days, my neighbor’s stinging nettle patch flushed with new growth, thus I was invited to come by and take as much as I wanted. This bounty then required spending an afternoon of nettle-pesto making and freezing. I actually managed to orchestrate the entire operation without getting even one nettle sting, which was a great relief – because wow, those little Urtica dioica stingers can be nasty! I love the taste of nettles. I did notice that these nettles of the fall taste slightly different than the ones from the spring.

The lunar eclipse was a slow, satisfying event to behold. I bundled up in my coat and sat alone out on the porch with a cup of hot Tulsi tea and some buttered sourdough rye toast. I was thinking about how the ancients must have felt watching the mysterious transition from light to dark red orb.

The cooler weather has been an enticement to cook; already I’ve begun to hunker down into that mode and get into my foodie head. I made another batch of granola this week, and this time it was perfect. I will add that I did eat all the “overly toasted” granola from the last batch that I burned in spite of its blackened state. This time I paid better attention.

Although I don’t eat red meat, about once a year I will, when I make my Mom’s Pot Roast, which is a hearty meal for a cold day (or many cold days, as it makes a lot). I realize this is one of those “comfort foods”. It was my dad’s birthday and my mom’s recipe, so I figured I was somehow celebrating the memory of both of them, in a way…if that makes any sense. So that happened.

I voted. I’m so glad the barrage of campaign garbage has finally stopped. The mailbox filled with political ads, the papers attached to front door, the signs on lawns, the TV commercials, the canvassers with clipboards knocking. The Bombardment. Enough.

A big thrill – I was gifted some Matsutake mushrooms, which was a lovely treat. They have such a unique aroma and taste. Shortly after I had donated The Wallet, I unexpectedly came across some for sale, so I treated myself to a few more. It served as a bit of a pick-me-up, which was helpful after the wallet saga.

Matsutake

While standing there swooning over the mushrooms. I was drawn to a basket of ginger that was fragrant and beautiful. So many colors and textures of late Autumn heading to Winter.

ginger root

November has ushered out the last gasps of color. The red Japanese Maple moved from glossy maroon leaves to glorious flames of crimson before finally dropping all its leaves in one blowsy, fluttering show.

my red tree

Little Rudi has recovered from his mysterious bout of illness. He accompanies me over the next few days while I rake up the fallen leaves. I periodically stop to search for him, as he becomes camouflaged in the garden beds.

He is so sweet, soaking up the rays of the sun in his little red sweater, eyes closed. What is he thinking?

Soaking up the last warm rays of the November sun

Four or five crows have returned to the neighborhood. They have been barking and calling for the last few mornings, swooping back and forth across the back yards. I am not sure what their plan is. I left them some bread and dried dog food this morning. They watched me, but I haven’t checked to see if they took it. The sky has been filled with starlings, covering entire bushes and trees, moving en masse, pulsating murmurations on the horizon. One house sparrow perches on the dying hanging porch plant, incessantly chirping.

We have had our first snow, a light one that disappeared by mid-morning. Today there were a few squalls and flurries. I’ve been wearing a hat and scarf already. I think Autumn has pretty much had her last hurrah. I’m gathering up a list of books for my winter reading. We move into the darker days now, a time to go within, the time of being still.

Farewell Autumn!

~*~

Posted in Autumn, Birds, Cooking, Food, nature, Uncategorized, Winter | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Wallet

It was more years ago than I can exactly recall when my mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told her I wanted a good wallet. I was very specific about what kind of wallet I wanted – that it was a quality wallet made of nicely finished leather, with many compartments in order to hold a checkbook, credit cards and photos, and a place to keep cash in a separate zipped section. Back in the day it was the kind of thing I would not have splurged on for myself. In general, both of my parents had pretty good taste and could be depended on to come through with thoughtful, caring, interesting, quality items when it came to gift-giving, which was especially appreciated during some very lean years in my early adulthood. Given that, I left the request with her.

My mother lived far away in another state. Since I wouldn’t be seeing her on my birthday, she sent her gift. When I opened the present, it turned out it was not the wallet I had envisioned. It had all the right compartments, the slots for credit cards, the zipper, the inserts for photos. But it was not made of leather, it was actually what today would be considered “vegan” material or “pleather”, something that is actually popular and very politically correct now, although back then there was no such thing. Essentially, it was “fake leather”, some kind of a vinyl wallet. It kind of /sort of/not quite looked like real leather, and indeed she actually thought it was leather when she bought it. But it wasn’t. It just wasn’t the wallet I had envisioned for my birthday wallet. It wasn’t The One. So I was somewhat disappointed, while simultaneously feeling somewhat guilty that I was disappointed. Maybe I should have lied and told her it was perfect when she asked me, instead of being truthful and telling her it was not quite “it”, which probably left her feeling disappointed too. I guess it was one of those “fails” all around.

not quite “the one”

The important part about it was that I know my mother picked it out with love. She was trying to get me exactly what she thought I wanted. It was very much the “love” part that I was stuck on. So while I never used the wallet, not even once, I dutifully and lovingly put the wallet away in a drawer and kept it because of it being a caring gift from my mother. Perhaps had it come from somebody else it would not have mattered, but being it was from my mother I just could not get rid of it.

The Wallet is yet another one of those situations in my life that is tied to the painful processes of letting go of some (not all) things. The recurrent theme with me – it is not about the material value of the object so much as the attachment to the person or memory or event tied to the object. Abandonment issues maybe? Each time another one of my mother’s dishes breaks, or one of her towels or blankets wears out, it is as if I am losing one more small piece of her. So it has been with The Wallet, which has been moved from drawer to basket to closet, around and around. I look at it, I sigh, I open it, look at all the useful sections and compartments inside it and think I should use it, but even now it is not a wallet that I would use. I have other wallets (actually gifted to me from other family members) that are much more “me”. I think I should pass this one on to someone, although I do not know anybody who would actually want it. I want it to go to someone who would appreciate the wallet that I could not love.

all the compartments, slots and zippers

As of this writing, my mother has been gone twenty-three years. She gifted The Wallet to me many years before she passed away, so it’s been around here for a long time. For decades that wallet has been in a drawer, with the tags still on it, because I can’t part with this physical symbol. I realize this is crazy. I can practically hear her laughing and saying how totally ridiculous this is.

It’s not like I can’t get rid of anything, it’s only those certain things. This week as I came upon The Wallet once again, I was strongly feeling it was time for it to finally leave my possession. It actually made it out of the bedroom and down to the dining room table on top of a donation pile, where it sat for a few days. I have been donating items pretty regularly in our local Buy Nothing group, although I have taken a hiatus with that because it seems to be the same small group of people taking or asking for stuff over and over again, which appears a bit greedy vs. needy. But it didn’t feel right to just drop it into one of those donation containers on a sidewalk either. It finally came to me that my mother would be pleased if The Wallet was donated to a church thrift shop. The church is not my thing, but it was hers. So today that is what I did.

I walked into a small church thrift shop that did not have too many items in it. It was very simple, uncluttered and not especially high end. There were a few elderly ladies shopping there and one man volunteering at the register. One hundred percent of the proceeds goes to good causes. She would have liked that. I handed over my wallet and a few other items to donate and told the man a little bit about the wallet, not that he cared. I actually had tears in my eyes.

As I drove away, leaves were falling and blowing around the gray November sky. I cried a little bit for my mom. I miss her so much. While not constantly present, the feelings of loss are always just beneath the surface.

There is a whole lot of very old, psychic love tucked into the many compartments of that wallet. I hope somebody buys it for a dollar or two and somehow feels a little bit of it.

~*~

Posted in Aging, Autumn, Coping, Flashback, grief, Perspective, Regrets, treasures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Random Goings-on While the Leaves Were Turning

I vacillate between the excitement of the seasonal splendor and the worries or annoyances regarding larger and smaller events surrounding life these days. The blog postings here tend to go in erratic cycles. I might not post for months and then suddenly one pours out of me every week, or even a few in a week. It looks like there will be five posts this month. Apparently October has gotten the synapses firing. One of my sisters pointed out that the posts tend to swing between essays and almost diary entries. I guess that’s okay with me. As I pointed out when I began this brain-purge over a decade ago, it’s just random thoughts that pop up into my head that are primarily written for me. If anyone wants to come along for the ride and happens to relate or to enjoy it, that’s okay too.

While this flamboyantly beautiful season was unfolding, my little dog Rudi was sick, which was cause for much anxiety. He is a loyal and loving companion, but also functions as an extra set of ears for me, an unofficial hearing/alert dog. Even aside from riding out the isolating days of the early pandemic together, I probably spend more time alone with him beyond that – more than with anybody else. I depend on him daily, not just for comfort, but actually in order to navigate parts of my daily world. He is my constant. He is a quirky little rescue, appears to be a papillon/chihuahua cross, I am guessing probably around nine years old by now.

my boy

It was an odd progression of symptoms, unfolding over almost a three week period. He was at a routine vet visit when they discovered he had a fever. I had no idea, as his behavior had not changed. He was acting fine. He had thrown up a few times, but this dog more than occasionally throws up, so it was not unusual. As a matter of fact, when the vet asked me how long has he been vomiting, I said “about eight years”.…because it’s true. He always throws up on the landing of the stairs. As an aside, I always end up stepping in it, in my socks or barefoot. Eight years of dog puke. So it was not a red flag.

Not feeling so well…..

I took him home with instructions to monitor the situation. A day later his temp was back to normal with no obvious cause found. But a week or so later, Rudi started having diarrhea and vomiting up every single thing he ingested, including water. Then he stopped eating altogether. Not even the most high value treats or meats could entice him. He became extremely lethargic and began hiding behind and under things. At one point he suddenly leaped up and began trembling for no apparent reason, then ran away to hide again. He seemed to barely be able to get up and down the stairs and was clearly weak. When we went out for a walk, instead of his usual sniffing around to investigate, or trotting with excitement to go down the block, he immediately turned around and wanted to go back into the house.

We returned to the vet and found he was running a fever again, indicating some sort of infection. Oddly, his labs were all within normal limits and he didn’t appear to have a blockage. So he was given a shot of prednisone to address arthritic pain and put on antibiotics for whatever else was going on. If it continued after the course was finished, he was to come back for x-rays. By this time he had lost a couple of pounds. Rudi is a little guy, topping out at ten or eleven pounds at his heaviest, so two pounds on him was significant. I could feel every rib and the bones along his spine, and even had to adjust his harness down so it would fit him. It was very unsettling. And honestly, I was terrified of having a similar situation occur like what happened with my last dog.

leave me alone

I actually gave him a Covid rapid test, which was inconclusive.

Of course, just like when you or your kids get sick, this stuff always seems to peak at night or over a weekend when offices are closed. It was a Saturday night when it reached the point where the dog was not even drinking water. I found myself hand-feeding him the smallest bits of whatever I was eating that might interest him. He took a wee bit of oatmeal from my fingertips. He readily took the final dose of the liquid antibiotics he had been on all week. I kept offering him water with an eye-dropper. I contemplated taking him to the emergency on-call veterinary place for fluids and decided if he wasn’t better by morning that was the plan. He hid in his crate (which is his private “leave me alone” space) the rest of the time and slept. I admit I didn’t sleep very well, filled with worry.

The next morning he was totally fine! Appetite back in full force. Trotting around the house with bright eyes, alerting me to whatever was going on, barking at whatever was outside the window, wanting to engage in play. Jumping back up on the bed. Hanging out. Whatever it was, I guess the antibiotics addressed. He’s so little, so sweet, and he’s my boy. I’m so relieved he is alright, it is as if a great weight has lifted from my heart.

On a much lesser note, a large tray of granola that I left every-so-slightly too long in the oven ended up burning. I am so annoyed about that, not only because the ingredients add up to being costly, but because I really, really wanted to have more granola at that moment, and this is a good granola recipe. What a waste! I have actually been slowly eating the burnt granola in very small quantities because I just can’t bear to throw it all out. I am trying to convince myself that it is just “heavily toasted”. Well, maybe “very heavily toasted”. I wonder if it is bad for you to eat very heavily toasted, almost (but not quite) blackened granola…..

Bummer – beyond heavily toasted granola

The latest in my flora and fauna world – while driving down the road I saw a hawk struggling to lift off with a very large something in its talons. It looked sort of gray-ish and could have been a large squirrel. Or a cat (I hope not). Or something else, draped and hanging down from the hawk’s grasp. The bird was having a rough time gaining any altitude. I couldn’t pull over to watch because there was traffic behind me. But the image stayed with me.

On another day last week I was heading down a hill, admiring the kaleidoscope of fall foliage, when I saw a bear running parallel to my car through the trees on the side of the road. I pulled over to see what it was going to do. With significant speed it veered off onto a side street, its large bear-butt rolling and shaking (very adorable, actually) as it retreated down the pavement and out of sight. That is the second bear I have seen this season. Sightings seem to be more and more frequent. This past week a young black bear was struck by a school bus on one of our local roads, which is the first time I have heard about anything like that happening, someone actually hitting a bear. Usually it’s deer. This was upsetting and sad news.

On a nicer note, I went to visit my friend and neighbor of many years in her rather magical rainbow house. I go there every once in a while to touch base and clear my head. She once said to me “Mi casa es su casa“, which felt inviting and kind; indeed it is grounding for me to wander around communing with nature, share updates and get into some thought-provoking dialog. It runs the gamut. Travel. Family. Nature. Emotions. Marek’s disease in chickens. One of the topics that stuck with me the other day was Object Permanence in relation to Narcissism. Intelligent and insightful conversation. I value the perspective and left there feeling more centered.

“Mi casa es su casa”

The ginkgo trees are in full lemon-yellow display. I love ginkgo leaves with their beautiful fan shape. They make lovely patterns on the ground. The crushed ginkgo seeds, or “ginkgo nuts” of the female trees smell really bad (actually like vomit). There is one area of the sidewalk down the street that is littered with those smelly things every year. I have read that the seeds contain a toxin that can sicken a dog. Rudi did not eat any of these, but it’s good information to know.

Flocks of starlings have been hanging out on The Crow Tree. Every once in a while there is a raven or a hawk, but mostly it’s become a starling haven. They are okay, but I don’t find them as exciting at the crows.

Starlings hanging out…..not as cool as the crows

Today I pruned back the lavender in preparation for winter. Hopefully next year the plants will come back with a wonderful show of blooms. I always lose one or two every year, or they become too woody due to my usual hands-off neglect. So I made a tiny effort….we will see. I noticed there are no praying mantis egg cases attached to any of them this year. While I was doing the trimming, there was a very vocal Carolina Wren singing a melodious song. It was a nice accompaniment, the scent of the lavender, the song of the bird.

Lavender pruning, with Rudi’s supervision

As part of the pre-Halloween cleanup I removed anything from the porch that I might have regrets about losing. Everything would probably be fine if I didn’t bother, but after having had a wicker chair walk off years ago, I would just as soon bring the remaining ones in for the night and not leave out any temptation, especially since in this neighborhood we get some significant Halloween traffic. Some of the plants that summered outdoors need to come inside anyway. I rolled up the colorful little outdoor rugs and stored them. And then of course I had to sweep, since it’s littered with dirt, peeling paint and debris.

I seriously hate sweeping. I think I hate sweeping more than I hate vacuuming, but less than I hate painting. A trio of domestic aversions. I have a friend who is a very enthusiastic and productive sweeper. She learned at a young age to sweep. Sweeping was her chore and she does it well. As a matter of fact, a few years ago she actually swept my porch with great gusto and and did a beautifully thorough job of it. My sweeping is for shame. I have made a pathetic attempt at it this year. The poor porch needs a total revamp though, it’s a flaking, rotting, falling apart mess. I think at this point even a perfect sweeping job would be undermined by the condition of this porch.

After I finished sweeping I sat down on the somewhat cleaner porch and ate a greasy eggroll leftover from last night. I periodically get a craving for eggrolls. It was very satisfying.

greasy but oh so good….

On the subject of food, I just printed off a slew of recipes I have been coming across and emailing to myself all year with intent to experiment with. Since we are moving into soup season, the other day I decided to wing it and threw together a pea and sweet potato soup flavored with za’atar, which ended up being pretty tasty. This winter I hope to get into some interesting cooking endeavors.

So that’s what’s been mostly going on in my world this past month. We have just tipped past the peak of autumn, but it is still lovely, the hills carpeted in an ochre rust with pops of vermillion and gold here and there. A few holdout trees are still wearing green. I have been gathering leaves and making little leaf mandalas on the front lawn or in the driveway, but the wind keeps blowing them away before I can finish, so I’m mostly just stacking them one on top of the other and enjoying the contrasts. The art of impermanence….

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Autumn, Dogs, Perspective, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peaking

The color is peaking in style this year here in the northeast. Despite skepticism that it wouldn’t happen due to the drought, Autumn is delivering with a pupil-dilating, heart-opening array of almost trippy leaf psychedelia. We are pulsing with color and emotion here.

It started a couple of weeks ago with a strange, almost magical buildup of clouds after a drenching rain. Suddenly everything was pink and gold and very Maxfield Parrish.

From there, a vibrancy seemed to emanate from everything. The paw-paws came into season for a brief window of time. Have you ever had a paw-paw? They are a glowing, shocky-green and taste a bit like custard.

the almost neon paw-paws

The photos do not do justice to the emotions brought on by the visual and aural vibrations of this season. I do not have the poetry for it. I cannot adequately grasp the words. Why does it evoke such ache and longing, and a strange yearning for the past? To walk out the door, sigh and gasp, and almost moan at the gorgeousness. Everything is ” Oh” and “wow”. Wow. Wow. Oh……..

Raindrops hover below crimson firebush leaves.

droplets on a fire bush

There are glimpses of endless blue beyond portals of gold.

through a portal of gold

The orchards are perfumed with the sweetness of ripened apples.

A Cortland apple with its own little hat

A trio of oak, maple and fir creates a lovely colorway.

Trio

Deeper in the forest, the mushrooms of autumn display their beauty – the smoky blue of black trumpets tucked amid the shady moss; the candy-corn colors of chicken-of-the-woods on a tree.

the smoky blue of black trumpets
chicken of the woods in candy-corn color

The scented air is an exotic blend of spices. The decaying leaves provide a carpet of many hues. The mountains glow.

There is a painfully delicious melancholy, a fleeting, soul-touching good-bye, as nature lets go before the sleep of winter.

~*~

Posted in Autumn, nature, treasures, Uncategorized, Wow! | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Transitions

The coloring of Autumn is building to all its glory, and I walk around sighing with mouth agape. But I will share all of that at a later time. Right now the large and small creatures are in motion.

The allure of the asters on the porch have become a gathering place for the bumble bees during the warmer hours of the day. The flowers are alive with their movement. They aren’t holding still long enough so I can catch a good photo, but their bright yellow and deep black bodies against the violet/pink of the blooms are beautiful to watch. The queen bumble bee will hibernate and winter over. The rest of the colony will not last past the fall.

the allure of the asters

A walking stick clings to the arm of a bench where I sit with a friend. There is something about them that is weirdly appealing to me. They are just so odd. In autumn they will leave their eggs behind in the leaf litter and die before winter – that is if the birds or mice don’t make a meal of them first.

The voices of the crickets are lessening, yet a few continue to hold out despite the cooler nights. During the warmth of daytime I see them moving through the grass or bouncing across the sidewalk. One actually made it into the house and hid somewhere in a potted plant, its incessant chirp going off all night like a living smoke alarm that could not be turned off, finally becoming silent on Day Two (I never did find it).

I stop the car to let a flock of turkeys move across the road. I’m not in any rush. They forage among the oaks where the forest floor is rich with this year’s heavy bounty of acorns.

The striped pattern on their wing feathers is striking. When the sun glances off their bodies, they take on a bluish sheen.

Walking through the woods, I spy a doe in a clearing off in the distance. I’m looking at her, she’s looking at me. I try not to move and we just stare at each other for a while. They are pretty bold lately. She doesn’t take off. I leave first and she goes back to her business at hand.

The colors are so vibrant right in my own back yard that it’s not really necessary to go for a foliage drive, but I decided to get into the mountains anyway in order to get the full vista. What looked like a lost piece of luggage on the pavement far up ahead turned out to be a fairly large snapping turtle slowly crossing the road. I was very relieved that the car I flagged down coming in the opposite direction noticed me waving and flashing and was able to stop. We both waited and held up traffic both ways until the snapper made it safely to the other side. The other driver was relieved and profusely thankful that I stopped her in time. I think we both felt pretty good about it.

The snapping turtle will spend the winter in a pond beneath the ice. As it gets colder the turtle’s respiration will slow down so that the very little oxygen it needs will be pulled from the water and into its blood vessels instead of its lungs. I read most of the turtle’s blood vessels are actually in its butt. The turtle essentially breathes through its butt all winter. There is a cool little fact! It will not need to eat, or will eat very little during this time, until it comes up again in the spring to warm up, mate and lay their eggs.

waiting for the turtle

There are wooly caterpillars (aka “wooly bear caterpillars”) here and there. Folklore says that the wooly caterpillar – which is actually the larva of the Isabella tiger moth – can be an indicator of the winter to come, based on the size of the rust brown and black segments. The more rust color, the milder the winter will be. More black segments mean the winter will be harsher. Here is a wooly from my front yard. What kind of a winter do you think we are in for?

How harsh will the winter be?

The geese have already begun to move on. The sound of their calls as they guide and encourage each other on their journey always sets a small ache and longing in my own heart. Every fall when they begin their migration, I recall the lines of a song which has always moved me called “Urge for Going”, written by Joni Mitchell and covered so aptly by Tom Rush many years ago, a riff of the guitar almost mimicking the cry of the geese in their travel:

See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and racing on before the snow…
They’ve got the urge for going
And they’ve got the wings to go

They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Autumn, Perspective, treasures, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Robe

At the moment I am trying to wade through some difficult feelings brought on by some recently revisited trauma. It’s been one of those situations where there is a strange, anxious, physical vibration in your very core. While this has been happening, I have been aimlessly drifting from household chores to outside garden, weeding out old clothes and pulling out rampant weeds, trying to ground myself. Yesterday I started taking things off a closet door hook that was layered with clothing, when I came across The Robe at the bottom of the heap. How the story of The Robe ties into everything else is sort of a meandering, circuitous mind-maze, but I will try to get it down here.

My process of dealing with loss has two very strong opposing sides. When I lose someone important to me, be it a relationship loss or through death, I am capable and responsible for doing what needs to be done. I can arrange a funeral, pack up their stuff, clean out the house, take care of legal business, bury a pet, disperse ashes, go to work and do my job, take care of my children, wade through all the muck that comes up dealing with the practicalities of that kind of major upheaval. I can keep myself busy and at least try to distance myself emotionally while the business occurs. I can immerse myself in the task at hand. As long as I keep moving through it, I can deal with it, or at least give the appearance of such, while trying not to acknowledge the feeling. But once I stop the action and am standing still, emotionally I don’t deal well with death and loss at all. I do not go quietly into the loss. I fall into the pit of despair. I get edgy. I can’t get off the floor. I over-react. I lose sleep. I weep at the least provocation . It takes a long time to get through it. I am haunted. In some cases I have never gotten over it.

The psychic connection of physical possessions has been mentioned sporadically throughout this blog. It’s not that the actual “thing” is necessarily so important as the connection to person or event connected to the thing that vibrates for me. Pretty much everything in my sphere reminds me of someone, of an incident or adventure, which often brings pleasure and smiles. Sometimes it brings sadness. But that is part of life too. A refrigerator magnet that reflects a trip with someone through the southwest. A little diner style coffee cup that was in a departed friend’s cupboard. A necklace that was gifted to me. An interesting stone. A shell. A pair of earrings. Textile art made by a friend. Photographs. A woven pillow. A red phone cube connector from a friend’s house. A metal tin that holds pins. A pair of pants bought on a trip together with a sister. These things surround and embrace me, melding their own stories into my life journey and enriching it. I see everyone who has touched these things and touched my life in everything around me.

Some of these items have their own strange and difficult history. A few of my father’s shirts, ties and handkerchiefs still remain in the house. I don’t know why they need to be here. I have his artwork and his writing and some photos, which leave a much clearer comprehensive picture of who he was. I have some thoughtful, caring gifts from him that I treasure. Yet there is something about the clothing that also reflects the Essence of Dad.

For a long time there was an ironed, white dress shirt that belonged to an Ex that hung in my closet. While he pretty much abandoned everything in our life that we had accumulated together when he left, leaving me living among plenty of physical reminders in the wreckage, it was the only article of actual clothing of his that remained. Although it had no discernable scent, if I put my face to it, whatever primitive olfactory processes still reside in our brains could still detect his presence. It would cause some sort of mini-explosion in my head. It would give me goose-bumps. It would bring tears to my eyes. And it would flood me with an overwhelming, painful grief. I didn’t want it, but I couldn’t part with it either. So it would go back in the closet and get lost among everything else crammed in there, eventually forgotten, only to suddenly and surprisingly resurface again on another day and again be stuffed back into the darkest recesses of the closet again. Eventually I donated that shirt. I knew this was not one of those healthy things to hold on to. But it was a very slow process I had to work though in order to get to that point. I have learned to respect my own processes.

And that brings me around again to the story of The Robe. Years ago, my siblings and I traveled from three different states to converge in a fourth state to attend to our mother bedside when she was on the verge of leaving this earth. On the day following her passing, two of the siblings needed to get on planes and immediately return to their young children and jobs. They would not be returning until we had a memorial service at some undetermined time down the road. And so we felt we should probably go through some of her most personal and valuable things and take them with us before they left, instead of leaving those things in an empty condominium for who knows how long. I will add that this was a terrible, traumatic task to be doing so quickly. It felt almost vulturous, although it was necessary to act on some of it in the moment. Also I think we all needed to hold onto something of hers amid the surrealness and vacuum left in her wake.

The value of what she owned was mostly emotional instead of monetary. Our mother was a practical woman who only had a few classic pieces of tasteful, neutral jewelry and clothing, none of which she wore anymore. There were some important documents we would need immediately. Aside from those immediacies, she had a vast library of art books, artwork on her walls, some of it her own. Dishes from our childhood, some old furniture. She kept everything neat, crisp, clean and tidy.

We split up her small amount of jewelry between us. There was not much we wanted from her closet. By that point in her life she was not going out much, so her wardrobe consisted of cozy sweatpants, housecoats and slippers. Anything we took from there, a sweater or sweatshirt, would just be in order to feel physically close to Mom. As we were sorting through these things and making piles for ourselves or to donate, I pulled out a heavy cotton nightgown and bathrobe set that looked pretty new, almost as if it had never been worn. I usually wear an old ratty hoodie sweatshirt around the house in lieu of a bathrobe. I’m not a bathrobe kind of a person. But I figured the nightie and robe might be a useful thing to have for the winter, kind of an upgrade, especially since it was in great condition and also because it had been hers. So I put it in my take-home pile.

Suddenly my sister Charlotte flew into a rage and started screaming at me, with all the built up grief and pressure that losing your mother just hours before can do to you. “I gave that to Mom!!!! That was MY present to Mom!!!!” Well, OK! Sorry! I didn’t know! This is absolutely not a problem at all. I handed it to her. I don’t need it. It’s yours, it belongs to you, if it means something to you, please take it. I didn’t think anyone would care about it. The connection was hers, not mine. I thought that was the end of it. But the issues with Charlotte always ran far deeper. Whatever childhood resentments, competitiveness, whatever she held inside her just exploded out, triggered by our mother’s death, and I was her target – which was not the first time. She was like some seething, wounded animal. The next morning, all of us broken and in a daze, we got into our cars, got to the airports and traveled back to our homes, our jobs, our families, children and our new reality.

A few weeks later a package arrived for me in the mail. When I opened it up, inside was the nightgown and the bathrobe set. There was no note included. I wasn’t sure if she sent it as a form of apology. Maybe she suddenly realized that it was too hot where she lived in the south to be wearing a heavy nightgown and bathrobe. Maybe she really was remorseful. She had been so verbally abusive and hostile to me that at this point I didn’t want it. I wrapped it up and sent it back to her.

A few weeks later the robe and nightie arrived in a package on my doorstep again. I sent it back again. This happened a number of times, I don’t even recall how often we sent it back and forth. We never discussed it. And I have to tell you that as I type this I am both smiling and welling up a bit with tears, which has always been the case when it comes to the situation between Charlotte and myself. Finally I relented and just took the package. I hung the robe in my closet and wore the nightgown. I think the nightie must have worn out, because I save clothing for years, yet I don’t seem to have the nightie anymore. The bathrobe is still hanging in the closet on a hook under a pile of stuff. I still wear an old hoodie around the house, not a bathrobe, so it never gets worn and is rarely seen. But I have kept it. It does not have an invisible scent like that shirt did that sends my senses into a hyper-alert, but visually it sets something emotional in motion.

Charlotte passed away years ago. I have very few physical reminders of her. Some photographs. A silver bracelet my father gifted each of us – we used to wear them together every time we planned to see each other. Now I have both hers and mine. I wear them both together on her birthday. A tiny gold squirrel charm that my mother gave her when we were young, because she was very squirrel-like. A pair of little bronze squirrels that I had gifted her and came back to me, for the same reason. And The Robe, a representation of words and emotions that were never able to be expressed. Extending grace and compassion is a difficult thing to do after you have been hurt. Lately I have been challenged in this department. The re-emergence of The Robe has sent my thoughts in a stream of different directions.

Yesterday morning I wore the bathrobe for the first time in years. I am going to try to wear it more, perhaps sit on the porch in our back-and-forth robe, drink some coffee, eat some raspberries and process the complicated and emotional nature of relationships.

~*~

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True Colors

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

– Maya Angelou

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Ursa

With such a cool, breezy morning ahead, it seemed the perfect day to take a walk in the woods. I decided to hop in the car and drive to the mountain trail behind a friend’s house to herald in the Autumn Equinox.

But while pulling out of the driveway, I suddenly stopped the car, as a very clear visual thought suddenly popped into my head – that I better go back in the house and grab my whistle, because for some odd reason I was sure I was going to see a bear today. I could actually see the bear in my mind. It was a very strong feeling and image.

I will preface this by saying that a whistle will not necessarily be effective in deterring a bear in a face-to-face encounter. Whistles are great for alerting someone in an emergency when you are alone in the woods. Supposedly, a whistle can be very helpful in scaring off a coyote. But for bears, the most prudent thing to do is carry bear spray. Since I didn’t have any bear spray, I figured the loud whistle was better than nothing. Of course, why I thought I would need any of this today was the interesting part.

As I was driving up the hill, just before I got to my friend’s place, there it was in all it’s glossy, ebony glory, standing erect in a neighbor’s yard in front of their house. It was only a few feet away. Since I was safely in my car and not on a trail meeting a bear head-on, I just stopped and sat there to watch and admire.

It was large Black bear, Ursus americanus, taller than me, but not massive. Although I am not sure, I surmised it might be a young adult bear, a teenager bear.

Bear suddenly noticed me, wheeled around and quickly ducked behind another tree, peeking out to watch me. They are generally shy and don’t want any trouble.

Curious bear checking me out from behind a tree

I put down my window a bit more, hoping to get some clearer photos, but shy bear had seen enough and quickly went loping off into the woods. It was a lovely, somewhat magical gift, heralding the official beginning of Autumn.

Having had enough encounter, shy bear takes off into the woods

Continuing up the hill to my friend’s house, the two of us then headed off up into the woods. I didn’t see another bear, although there was enough of their scat to indicate they are present. However, we actually did see a coyote running off in the distance between the trees. It did not come near us (but I had my whistle!)

Due to the summer drought, berries and other edibles that the wildlife depend on have been scarce and they have come looking for food. Driven by the lure of residential garbage pails and pushed out of their environment by encroaching development, these sightings and encounters are becoming more and more frequent.

The acorns were plentiful though, and it appears they have been enjoyed. I am hoping it will all be enough for the bears to bulk up before going into winter hibernation.

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Autumn, nature, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Readying

Life cycles into the next phase, as we push into early Autumn. The heat has broken and gifted us with cooler nights. Afternoon light is becoming more honeyed and the billowing cumulus of August have given way to the shifting stratus clouds of September. The valley has been gifted with some rain. Following the summer drought, I am not sure if it will be enough to stimulate the vibrant colors we so much look forward to each harvest season. One can hope. The flames of Fall are beginning to lick across some of the maple leaves throughout the neighborhood.

Yesterday I was dumping the recyclable bottles out of the small bin on the back porch into the larger recycling container, in order to roll them out to the curb for pick-up. When I opened the lid, a length of spider web with attached arachnid caught onto my hair (in keeping with the usual theme). Luckily, the spider swung onto the pail (and not my hair) and perched there, contracting into a tight ball in response to the loud vibrations of the bottles cascading into the larger pail. When I was finished transferring the glass, she slowly uncurled, providing a chance to inspect her beauty. I think she might be a Spotted Orb Weaver (Neoscona Crucifera) or a Barn Spider.

Orb Weaver on my recycling pail

I busied myself, slowly gathering up some refuse to put into the other pails, giving her some space and hoping she would decide to relocate. The thought of her hanging onto the pail and possibly being swept far from home when the collection trucks came the following morning bothered me a bit. Meanwhile, she threw out a few more threads of silk in order to hang on to her perch and assess her situation.

Throwing some silk

Fortunately, by the time I was ready to roll her blue container out to the curb, she had vacated, hopefully to a safer abode. I went back into the house and pulled her sticky strings from my hair.

The night insects are still about, their voices ringing, jangling bells. On last night’s dog walk, I spied a mantis clinging to the ceiling of the porch, perhaps hoping to catch a few nocturnal snacks. The angle of the overhead light created a cool-looking mantis-shadow. I wonder if she has left multiple egg-cases in the lavender again this year. When I get around to some Fall clean-up, I guess I will find out.

Mantis Shadow

The peanut-bombing squirrel has been busy and has amped up his game. Daily peanuts and their shells are still being left on the porch in front of the door, but they are also being deposited into the pots of outdoor houseplants, some of which he has annoyingly dug up and damaged. Little does he know that those plants will be coming inside for winter. The squirrels run back and forth across the street, balancing large black walnuts in their mouths, the husks mimicking neon green tennis balls. With intentions of stashing them in secret locations, the Readying for Winter has already begun in earnest.

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Last evening, after stepping out the front door to catch the sunset, I spied the silhouette of this aerial acrobat swinging above the corner of the porch. Perhaps it is the recycling bin spider, having escaped a potentially perilous adventure, now getting ready to lay her last clutch of eggs before succumbing to first frost.

~*~

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Ahhhhh….

Finally, the rain has come; a steady, deep-soaking rain. The earth has been so parched. We have all been so thirsty.

When the rain began, it felt as if there was an almost audible exhalation from the trees and fields.

Last night when I took the dog out, we both stood on the sidewalk and let the delightfully heavy drizzle soak his fur and my hair. We did not feel the need to hurry inside. Today I stood outdoors conversing with a neighbor while a heavier rain fell from the sky. Neither of us mentioned that we were both getting pretty wet. We just kept talking.

Water. It felt so good.

Am I imagining it, or are the leaves and grass greening up right before my very eyes?

Can you feel the roots beneath your feet taking great gulps? The plants and animals, the gardeners and farmers, in one collective vibration sighing “Ahhhhh”…

~*~

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Summer Winds Down on the Urban Porch

The late summer view from the Urban Porch has been one of browned grass and parched hostas. This season of humid, yet rain-starved, scorching days has resulted in a drought. The herculean clouds of August have built up into billowing, snowy masses on the horizon, and yet have rarely morphed into the rain-making thunderheads that the ground has been crying out for.

Lots of muscular clouds but no rain

Cicadas sound out an electric whine in the afternoon. The evening air is filled with a chorus of katydids and and crickets. Some of their voices rise above the others. There is one somewhere in the rhododendron bush next door that has been calling out “Herbert! Herbert! Herbert!” over and over for the last few nights.

Over the past month and beginning early in the morning, a flying mass of swirling black insects has been hovering and mating over the dried-out lawns. Every year in late summer I have seen them in other people’s yards, but this is the first time they have settled here. They barely seem to alight long enough to be able to identify them, but I was finally able. They are Blue-Winged Wasps (Scolia dubia) and they are kind of cool. When the sun hits their wings at the right angle you can see that they are of a dark-blue iridescence. There are two bright yellow dots on their bodies and a hint of crimson on the abdomen. They are a helpful, natural predator of the Japanese beetle. Apparently they like the grubs that exist beneath the dirt to feed to their own larvae. The females will sting if you actually hurt one, but they are non-aggressive and are not interested in hurting you. Both the dog and I have walked among them daily and they seem to part and regroup in the airspace around us, co-existing.

A Blue-winged Wasp (Scolia dubia)
Blue-winged wasp landed on a parched hosta

I cannot speak as graciously about the yellow jacket that randomly stung me on the hand as I was walking down the sidewalk, minding my own business. Those things are hateful and wow, do they pack a nasty punch.

The corn growing in the median in front of the house between the sidewalk and the street has been an ongoing source of amusement. The main roads and highways surrounding where we live encompass acres of cornfields and nobody really focuses on it, but for some reason a couple of stalks growing in front of a house and sidewalk on a busy street seems to stop pedestrians and elicit comments. Because of the drought this corn is not as robust as it might have been, but the stalks way taller than I am, which has caused me to repeatedly and spontaneously burst out singing that line from “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” where “the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye”. Okay, maybe you have to be old to know that song, but it’s stuck in my head.

my big corn harvest

Each stalk has a few ears growing on them. Some of them were finally ready to pick, so the other night I went out for The Big Harvest. As it turns out this corn ended up being feed corn, not sweet corn. It’s edible, but not as sweet. It’s good for feeding livestock or for grinding into meal and supposedly for popcorn. We had some on the cob for dinner with butter and salt anyway, just because, and it was OK, but I wasn’t swooning over it like regular summer sweet corn. I’ve got some drying out to experiment making popcorn, so we will see how that goes. It’s been fun watching it and watching the reactions on the street though.

As we head into September, the potted cherry tomatoes have coughed up a couple every day or so to throw into a salad. The basil has been mostly made into pesto. My fig tree has only given me one rather anemic fig – I don’t know what that’s about. The crows never did return to the Crow Tree this summer. The House Sparrows fledged and left the nest but the gang is still hanging around in large groups in the ivy, the trees and perched on wires.

Mornings on the porch are breezy and pleasant. Afternoons are a blast furnace of full sun. Sitting there at dusk has been limited due to the mosquitos (I am a mosquito magnet). In the evenings you can catch the odor of marijuana or skunk (I am not sure which, perhaps both) from somewhere, wafting on the air. The squirrels are still leaving peanut shells on the porch and have been busy hiding their stores in preparation.

And so summer winds down on the Urban Porch.

~*~

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Things That Land In Your Hair

For most of my life my very curly, somewhat long hair has been a catch-all for things that land, fly or fall into it. Mosquitos. Dragonflies. A wasp. A cicada. Moths and butterflies. Pieces of leaves, seeds, wisps of dandelion. Lunch, dinner, windblown debris.

It is not unusual to be standing around conversing with someone when they will suddenly stop speaking, get a funny expression on their face, reach over and pull out a twig or piece of fuzz entwined in a curl. It has gotten to the point where I recognize that look and wonder what surprise they will find this time.

Many lives ago as a teenager, hanging out in a bar that I was legally too young to be in, I casually struck a match to light a cigarette when the head of the match broke off and landed in my long, dark hair, quickly and dramatically igniting one side of it. Instantly a number of guys leaped forward to put out the flames (by smashing me in the head). Luckily the damage was minimal, but you can imagine what burning hair smells like. Any image of cool that I had hoped to portray went up in flames during that moment.

This summer has been particularly prolific in regards to catching objects. I’ve managed to trap lawn clippings, herbs, flower petals and pieces of asphalt. Every day when I rinse my hair in the shower, something interesting gets washed down the drain. The biggest catch this month was a large beetle that must have flown into my hair while I was out walking the dog one night and hitched a ride into the house. I was actually in bed when I felt something very large sitting on top of my head, reached up and threw it before even knowing what it was. This Grapevine Beetle was almost the size of half dollar. I admit I was both fascinated and freaked out by it. A beautiful scarab, but not one I want to be wearing.

The Grapevine Beetle that rode in on my hair!

What has started me on this topic is the fact that there was a bat in the bedroom yesterday afternoon. I had just come home from spending a few intensely sweaty hours in high temperatures helping a friend pack, sort and haul items from her barn. I turned on the fan and plopped down on top of my bed for a few minutes to rest before getting into the shower, when suddenly a bat swooped by my face and started bouncing around the room. This bedroom is rather small and the bat was rather large and somewhat frantic. There really wasn’t room for both of us to comfortably exist in that space.

Historically, I have been able to handle a snake in the house with aplomb. I’ve dealt with mice many, many times. I love seeing the bats outside on a summer evening. But there is something about the crazy trajectory of a wall-banging bat trapped in a room (with me) that I have never handled very well.

I ran out of there pretty fast, with the dog right behind me. I don’t know how or where it might have gotten in. In past homes the bats have entered at night, through the chimney. But the chimney here is blocked off. Bats are nocturnal and this one appeared in broad daylight. While it might not necessarily be sick, from my reading it was not the usual and would be considered Odd Behavior.

I stood out in the hallway and let the S.O. know there was a bat in the bedroom. He went into the room to check it out. I was assuming he would Do Something, but he came back out into the hallway, commenting “That’s one big-ass bat in there!”, stuffed some towels under the closed door and left for an appointment.

So there I was. alone in the house with the bat trapped in my bedroom. The windows were closed, so it wasn’t able to leave. I posted the current situation on social media and got a number of amusing responses, experiences and suggestions. Basically all I needed to do was be brave, go into the room and open the window to give it a way to leave. I needed to do this while it was still daylight. From experience, opening the windows on a hot, humid summer night would probably just invite more flying things inside. The time was now.

One of my rational, fearless, involved-with-wildlife friends asked me what I imagined would happen if I went in there and encountered the bat. And I knew right away what that was. I was afraid of it getting tangled in my hair (and subsequently biting me…and needing to get rabies shots). I was afraid of The Ultimate Hair Tangle Nightmare.

My fearless wildlife-loving friend wasn’t having any of my hesitation. Just go in there and open the window, she said. Of course this friend is a wildlife rescuer in another state, who enjoys and has kept snakes, opossums, big spiders, and really loves alligators, so there is that. Two friends suggested I don a raincoat. I decided that would be my plan. But not any old raincoat would do. I dug out my old blaze orange Department of Transportation issued raincoat from when I was on a road crew many years ago, in the hope of channeling some of that long-gone bravado that was necessary on that job. I tucked all my potentially bat-trapping hair under a ski hat, put on a pair of gloves, grabbed a broom, and Bad-Ass Highway Girl entered the bedroom to open a window and free the Big-Ass Bat.

my old highway girl gear

Inside the room there was no sign of the bat. Despite my protective gear, I guess I wasn’t all that bad-ass – I admit I didn’t hang out long enough to look around and see where it was hiding or wait for it to dive-bomb me. I quickly opened the window and ran out. Then I walked outside and stood on the front lawn so I could watch the open window and make sure that the bat would actually vacate the house. Numerous House Sparrows were swooping around the ivy, which reaches up to that window. I was wondering if I might lose a bat and gain a few birds in the bedroom during this operation.

The window is open…please leave…..

Nothing seemed to be happening. I waited, staring intently at the open window, but the bat was not flinging itself to glorious freedom.

My neighbor K happened to be riding by on his bicycle, saw me standing there looking up and stopped to say hello and see what was going on. We got into a spirited discussion about bat encounters, now both of us looking up in anticipation of the Grand Exit. But suddenly I noticed something at the top left corner of the closed window that was next to the open one. It was the bat, which had situated itself upside down between the blinds and the glass. Apparently it wasn’t planning on going anywhere so soon.

Upside-down bat in the other window.
Oh no…

K quickly texted his husband M, who apparently has No Fear and was eager to help. M showed up in minutes and immediately volunteered to go in and Remove the Bat. We had to urge him to please wear the gloves, put on the Bad-Ass Highway Department Raincoat and take the broom, as we really didn’t want him to risk being bitten. K grabbed a large towel and the two of them entered the room, with me standing behind them.

Best Neighbors performing the bat removal

The bat was not happy about being asked to relocate. They carefully opened both windows, pulled the blinds away from the bat and tried to guide it towards towards the exit with the towel. It started chattering and clicking very loudly in protest. But they managed to scoop it out and it took off, as they quickly closed the windows should it decide to swoop back in. A happy ending for all….

It is so nice to have Wonderful Neighbors. I took a few funny pictures of My Heroes and they went along on their way. I do have to wonder how this one got into the house. There were no doors or windows left open, unless it somehow slipped in the door as we were coming and going. This house is old, but pretty tightly put together. I am finding myself looking around each room I enter, just in case there might be anymore where that one came from.

I know it’s unlikely, but I have to wonder – with a little bit of a shudder – if it might have come in attached to my hair…..

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Are you kidding me?, summer, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

More Views from the Urban Porch

I sit on the Urban Porch with iced refreshment and dog as the summer progresses. Some views remain the same and some continue to shift. The most spectacular event this month was a bit of dramatic weather.

Those who know me know that I love intense weather. When the clouds start building and the wind picks up out of the west, when the thunder rolls in and the lightening begins to strobe, it always sets off some sort of internal excitement. So there I was, parked on my porch chair awaiting the “Severe Thunderstorm” that was reported to be heading our way.

A large black cloud starting edging in from the right, while on the left a billowing, marshmallow-white cumulus developed a strange, glowing, golden edge of sunlight. The wind picked up, the one remaining wind chime started to gyrate noisily. Some serious rain began; a brief scent of petrichor. I settled into my chair with the dog to enjoy the rain dance, until without warning (well, OK, we actually were kind of warned….) we were driven into the house by crazy wind, water and debris way beyond the usual. Then the hail started pummeling the house and windows. Every flash of lightening turned the sky red. The trees were bending, windows shaking. Yahoo.

This beautiful photo was taken of what was actually happening in our neighborhood by a local photographer shooting from a few miles away.

The storm heading over our neighborhood – Photo by Brett Castro

It was over pretty quickly. We were lucky. A few squashed plants, some things blown around the yard. Oddly enough, the hanging plants on the porch remained fixed there, although their flowers were gone. We didn’t even lose power. My dog Rudi, who I often refer to as “Mr. Anxiety”, remained calm throughout the event. For all his worrisome demeanor, he is oddly bomb-proof when it comes to fireworks or storms. Strange little dog….

In the freaky way these things operate, my neighbors experienced different results. The house across the street had the cupola blown off the roof, where it landed in someone else’s yard down the street (luckily it didn’t hit anyone). A large tree came down in that same back yard and decimated the back deck of their next door neighbor’s house. Two houses down a tree landed on a car, electric wires came down and were arcing. Trees were snapped and uprooted. I was told another neighbor’s chickens disappeared in the wind, which is rather disturbing.

It turned out to be an F-1, 90 mph tornado, which seems be something that is happening a lot more frequently around here as the years go by. It is actually the third or fourth one I’ve experienced. I cannot imagine what the higher F-level tornados that happen in the mid-west must be like. Afterward, people came out of their houses in a sort of Oz-like daze to survey the situation. Roads were closed and the cleanup began almost immediately and thoroughly, with the sound of chainsaws and chippers punctuating the air for a day or two. And that was it.

Much less dramatic observations from the porch this month – the House Sparrows continue to occupy the soffit on the corner. This one tends to perch at the top of the post below the hole in the soffit where they made their nest. It repeats an ongoing “cheep” all day long. I wonder who it is talking to.

the House Sparrow cheeps all day

We planted a small sugar maple in the median space between the road and the sidewalk in front of the house where the beloved Linden tree used to be. Hopefully some day it will get large enough to shade the front porch. Some of the dirt that was used to fill the hole around the tree apparently had corn kernels in it, because suddenly there is corn growing in the median. This actually amuses me. I look forward to seeing if it survives and if so, how high it gets….

city corn in the median

It is almost August and the crows have not returned to the Crow Tree this year, which is a little disappointing. They are around, but not in any significant volume, so the crew must have found a more enticing location this season. A few were roosting in the tree across the street over night because I saw them leave in the morning.

leaving the roost in the morning

We have a bunny hanging around. Here it is one evening by my hostas. It froze when Rudi and I stepped off the porch before bounding away. Whenever I see a rabbit, I just want to say “Bunny, bunny bunny!” like I used to with my children. There’s just something about a bunny….

Who doesn’t love a bunny?

The Rose of Sharon is in full bloom. I planted this one from a little twig many years ago and it now shelters the entire side of the porch, creating a lovely summer privacy screen. It is usually filled with bumble bees, their bee-butts dusted with yellow pollen. This year there are many honey bees hovering around it, which is probably a good sign.

Rose of Sharon

I have a few plants growing in pots on the porch. The heat has caused the basil to start bolting. The first few cherry tomatoes have begun to ripen.

bolting basil
first little tomato

So that’s the view from the Urban Porch as we move through the “Dog Days of Summer”. I was just having a conversation about the Dog Days with a friend. Although at the moment it is so hot we are just about panting like dogs in the heat, the reason they are called Dog Days is because “Ancient Greeks noticed that Sirus—which they dubbed the “dog star” as it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major—appears to rise alongside the sun in late July. They believed the combined power of the stars is what made this the hottest time of year.” I’ll leave you with that tidbit….

Dog Days with Rudi on the Urban Porch

~*~

Posted in summer, Uncategorized, Weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Quality Control…or The Golden Ticket

This is a rather absurd story about a doggedly ridiculous quest. Some people will totally relate and others will think “Oh my God, give it up girl!” If you get as weary reading it as I was doing it, feel free to scroll on. It was an exercise in frustration, perseverance and maybe a little insanity.

melange

Some quick background: I have two dress-up events coming up shortly and all the dresses in my closet are a bit too casual for these venues. My sister, daughter, granddaughter and I visited a boutique where, miraculously, I found a dress that would suffice for both events – and it was on sale. What a surprise to have such an easy, practically painless search. The dress is kind of a melange of beige-y, pewter gray, gold, fern, mauve, bruise-purple. So then it just came down to what shoes would I wear with this dress. This is where the ride begins.

Apparently “pewter” happens to be a trendy color this summer. In the shoe section of this boutique, my sister found a pair of pewter colored shoes that would match. They had a slight lift to them and weren’t exactly what I wanted, which was a flat, comfortable sandal that I know I would wear again. And they cost twice what the dress did! But my sister, in the way she always tends to urge you on whenever you go shopping with her, (“Oh, you should really buy that! You only live once”), reminded me that “It’s the last pair in your size”, So for the sake of having the whole outfit said and done with, I bought them.

After sitting with them at home for a few days, I realized I was never going to wear these shoes again. It seemed a large waste of money, and I wasn’t even that fond of them. They would have been fine if I had an office to go to every day, but I don’t. I figured perhaps I could give them to my sisters or my daughters afterward, since we all wear about the same size. But when I asked around, the response I got from all of them was something like “They are really cute! You should keep them! But no thanks, I wouldn’t wear those kind of shoes”. So I decided they needed to be returned. Which I discovered after the fact could only be for store credit, within ten days (which had passed). Luckily they agreed to extend the return time for me but I only got the store credit …..and it cost me almost $50 in gas to drive back and forth upstate to do the return. But at least that saga was over with.

It is incredible and annoying that despite the vast array of shoes in my closet (that I have not been able to discard….because I am a shoe-a-holic), there is not one pair that would match this dress. Wearing my Birkenstocks would not suffice. So I went back on the internet, plugged in “pewter sandals” and found this simple, flat pair on Shoe Seller Z’s site. The color pictured perfectly matched the dress. While I normally would not buy these sandals otherwise, they are flat enough so I will not fall down on my face or tip over while wearing them. They are casual enough that I reasoned I could probably get some use out of them again – and they were less than half the price of the first pair. They are kind of a goldish/silver, called “pewter”, which you can see in the picture from the website here:

The original “goldy-silvery” Pewter that I ordered from Store Z, as pictured

The problem was that I am between sizes. The size I sometimes fit in was available, but the next size up, which was probably the safer one to buy, was out of stock. So I ordered the smaller size and hoped for the best. When they arrived, the color was right but my toes were just hanging over the edge a bit. The next size up was still not available, so I clicked the “notify me when they are in” button and went to look for my size elsewhere.

I found them on the the site of Shoe Store D. Same shoe in “pewter”, same item number, looked the same in the website photo, right size…..ordered them. But when they arrived, the pair I received were specked with dots and dashes of black, with white stitching and were not made as well. They were clearly not as pictured and they didn’t match the dress. I figured either Store Z or Store D must have had the wrong shoe in the box, as they were vastly different in color. Either that, or it was a Quality Control Issue.

Speckles, white stitching, not made as well
Pair from Store D, covered in black speckles and dashes

I sent them back, went back on the internet and luckily, found them in two other places in my size. One was sold by Store N and the other was sold by Store K.  By this time I wanted to be sure I was going to get the same goldy/silvery pewter shoe as the original in the too-small size. So I ordered a pair from store N and another from store K.

Both pairs of shoes arrived on the same day at the same time. Although bought from different stores, they arrived shipped from the identical warehouse source – SpringStep. Both pairs were the dark, speckled variety, not the goldy-silvery pewter I had ordered that were pictured on the store sites.

The one on the left is the ones they sent and the one on the right is the original color I expected. 

On the left is Undesired Speckled Pair I got from Store K and Store N. On the right is original Pair from Store Z but too small.

I sent them both back.

Note here that at this point I’m out money for the boutique pair of shoes, with no cash but only a store credit and down almost a tank of gas. I’m also temporarily floating credit for the shoes I have bought and returned from Store D, Store K and Store N (all of which I have not yet seen a refund on my credit card), in addition to the first pair from Store Z (that don’t fit but I am holding on to them at the moment because better a too small pair to wear to the weddings than no pair at all). At this point, having received three Undesired Speckled Pairs of “pewter” and one too small goldy/silver pair of “pewter”, I figured I should just go to the source and contact SpringStep directly, since that seemed to be the point of origin.

So I call SpringStep, and explained the situation to a really nice woman I will call Jan. I asked “Before I order directly from you, can somebody go into the warehouse and see if they can find me a pair of the correct color?”. For clarity, I texted a picture of both the one I want/expected and the Undesired Speckled Shoes.

Jan assured me, “I’ll get back to you in a day or two with some sort of answer”

About a week later I still had not heard from Jan. 

 I call back SpringStep again and asked for Jan, who I am told is indisposed at the moment. But Jess who took my call says she will do her best to handle my issue and sounds pretty confident, so I explain the situation again. She promises to get back to me within a day or two.

The next day, true to her word, Jess does contact me by email, with photos of a few different sandals within a couple of boxes that she opened. Clearly she was not going to be ripping through every box in the warehouse (as I would have!), but all the photos she sent me were either of the Undesired Speckled Variety or some kind of gray, even though they all had the same name and number.

The ones in their warehouse

She concluded that the maker must have a different run going on now and that they have changed the color. She said the Undesired Speckled Variety is probably all they have now. She said the photos should be updated on the sites (at this writing no store site has updated their photos).  I thanked Jess for going the extra mile for me and decided I was doomed to wearing the too-small sandals from Store Z in the right color to the two weddings. Which of course, since they are too small, I will never wear again….but at least they were half the price of the boutique pair.

Well…. don’t you know, the very next day I get an email from Store Z saying my size is back in stock and there is “only one left !!!!”. I figure someone must have returned a pair, and with any luck they might be the original, as pictured goldy/silvery pewter pair in my size that I so desire.

 So I order them.  

Note here that now I have bought the same pair of SpringStep sandals FIVE TIMES (without refund – yet) from Store Z, Store D, Store N, Store K and again from Store Z a second time…..in addition to the boutique shoes that were returned for credit.

The second pair of Store Z sandals arrived within two days. I was sitting out on my porch when the driver delivered them. I did not even go inside to grab a scissor, but used my nails to tear open the box that was marked “pewter” in my size – my heart beating with anticipation .

Only to find….

…..they were the Undesired Offensive Speckled Variety.

Here they are:

Store Z attempt #2 Undesired Speckled Variety

I’m stifling a scream here. Of course anybody else would have just picked out a different pair of shoes by now, right?

I called Store Z and explained the latest situation. I will say that Store Z is wonderful. Their customer service people are great. The lovely woman I spoke with apologized. She told me to keep the Offending Undesired Speckled Pair, that I could gift them away or do whatever I wanted with them. Her computer showed yet another pair of “pewter” in my size in their warehouse and she was going to send them out to me at no charge.

I was grateful, skeptical and yet naively hopeful. Perhaps this time this sixth pair was going to be “The Lucky Pair” of goldy/silvery pewter Springstep sandals.

The date the shoes were to arrive passed. I waited. And waited. 

When I looked up the tracking number to investigate, my heart sank. You see, Store Z and another store – MegaStore A – are connected. Apparently the shipping was sent by MegaStore A, and sometimes MegaStore A uses their own shipper that will have a TBA tracking number. I have historically had bad luck with this shipper listed as TBA. In the past I have ordered things from MegaStore A that will not arrive yet state it has been “left in the mailroom” (this is a private house, there is no “mail room”) or “delivered to front door” (we have a camera outside the door and know nothing was ever left there) or “in transit” (which remains “in transit” for eternity). When I saw that Store Z sent the sandals via MegaStoreA with a TBA#, I had a gut feeling I wasn’t ever going to see those shoes. Sure enough, the tracking says they were “Sent to seller in Ohio”, whoever that is. Then they “Left seller in Ohio”. At that point they became “Delayed”….. “In transit” with that little icon of a line and a dot frozen in time – stuck, going nowhere – and probably never to be seen again.   

No sandals. I wondered if perhaps they had been the ones… Pair #6…. that might have been the golden ticket.

I called Store Z yet again and got a lovely, apologetic, friendly woman on the phone. I told her what was occurring, said I hate the unreliability of TBA shipping, let her know my shoes never arrived and asked for a different shipping method. She said they never know which carrier will be taking their stuff and have no control over that (sometimes UPS, sometimes USPS, sometimes others). She said she would send me out yet another pair, at no charge, and that if the Lost in Ohio pair ever did show up, we could make arrangements to send those back. 

Two days later the package she sent me from Store Z arrived, via US Mail. This time I had no beating heart of anticipation. The box wasn’t even within a box, it was a box inside a bag mailer.

I opened the box of Pair #7.  Wonder of wonders, is the goldy/silvery pewter pair of sandals. In my size. Ta-da. Lucky Seven.

The Golden Ticket

I don’t know if the Lost in Ohio pair will ever arrive. Based on my experience, I doubt it. If they had, I am guessing they most likely would have been another Undesirable Offending Speckled Pair and I would have cried. But it doesn’t matter. I have my shoes for the events. 

I sent back Too Small But Right Color Pair #1 back to Store Z. The next challenge will be that I will need to track down all the reverse charges on my credit cards that I am supposed to be getting back. This was a lot of work. It’s funny, they are OK, but after all that I’m not even all that crazy about these sandals. The truth of the matter is, nobody is going to notice what some old lady at a wedding is wearing on her feet. And honestly, who remembers what shoes anybody was wearing at a wedding? I don’t. In the long run this was just one of those ridiculous First World Problems. More like a diversion from everything else that is unbearable at the moment. At this point I just hope they are comfortable,

~*~

  

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Fashion, Humor, Shoes, Shopping, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Print

It wasn’t a milestone birthday and my expectations had been pretty much non-existent. Aside from wishing some things could finally be repaired or upgraded around the house (I keep wishing for that every year), this day marking another trip around the sun was gearing up to be nothing special. Every time someone asked “What are you doing for your birthday?” I would say “Meh – I have no plans this year”. Maybe do some laundry. Walk the dog. A pint of ice-cream?

Contrary to the usual personal, self-celebratory week that I began doing years ago after finishing cancer treatment, my feelings this year were pretty low-key. I think the pandemic knocked a lot of energy out of many of us. It really doesn’t seem to matter much. Perspectives and relevance change. I pretty much feel glad to be here, grateful, and that really is enough.

Still, despite the lack of intention, the week began to fill up with some lovely surprises. Some texts, messages, phone calls, video calls, songs, cards and emails from those who remembered and those who I love. From children, grandchildren, siblings, family, friends and acquaintances. What was really wonderful about all these contacts is that they came in from people in different towns, states, countries and continents all over the world! That extended connection was really cool and felt very nice!

From not expecting, needing or really wanting much of anything, I found myself on the receiving end of some sweet, thoughtful, caring and personally targeted gifts; books about trees and birds, an earthy, sparkly stone bracelet, a nature graphic t-shirt, a lovely embroidered purse/backpack, sunflower socks, certificates for a massage and a facial, self-care accoutrements for headaches, sore muscles & smooth skin. My favorite green tea mints and dark chocolate. A mushroom growing kit! I am sure I am leaving some of it out here but will relive the pleasure of using and seeing these items attached to the particular person as I go through the days. I am very much oriented in that way, those visual connections to people.

I was really so surprised and touched by all of this. I felt awash in caring. I felt spoiled. I admit I even struggled a bit over whether I “deserve” that kind of attention, which is a whole other head-trip. But it kind of got me up off my un-birthday butt and stimulated enough to once again engage in some birthday-week annual rituals I have done for myself in the past as an exercise in self-care; plants from the garden center, a container of fresh raspberries, a couple of soft-shell crabs, an omelet of morels and ramps, some chocolate truffles. Foodie things. Going out to lunch and dinner with friends. But my intention in writing this post is not meant to come off sounding like a bratty brag. Not to sound cliché, but I am truly and deeply grateful of all the blessings.

Why I am even mentioning it is because a few days after the lovely rush died down, something else arrived in the mail from a sister that made me cry. This is actually what has prompted me to post about the non-birthday that became a birthday, because it is Noteworthy and Pertinent to this blog. This is the crown on top of the other jewels.

It is a large, thick book that she put together, of the very first year of this blog – my own personal copy (just for me!) of the first year of Daeja’s View, all of 2011, in print!

I cannot state enough how mind-blowing it is to actually hold all of that writing in my hands. I may be old-school, but there is still something so satisfying about holding an actual book as opposed to an electronic device. And it is a beautiful volume to look at and hold. Her original intention was to make a book of the entire blog, but who knew I was that prolific back then? One year alone made up a pretty massive volume and ended up being a very labor intensive project of love on her part. She stated I have enough material for future volumes! Although I have visions of the shelves of encyclopedias of my childhood (there’s a throwback, I guess they are obsolete now) filled with my writing, I admit I am looking forward to that.

I am so humbled and grateful to have all of these wonderful people touching my life.

~*~

Posted in Friends, Holidays, Spring, treasures, Uncategorized, Wow! | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Wildlife On and About the Urban Porch

This is a small, urban neighborhood of old houses. We get some significant vehicle and pedestrian traffic during the day. The city is bordered by areas of woods, streams and trails. Because of this, we occasionally will find a deer standing the middle of the road early in the morning, the rare bear in someone’s garbage. Ducks walking down the sidewalk. The woodchuck scurrying under a porch, the dart of a fox at the end of a yard. A coyote sighting. Rumors of a fisher in the neighborhood. But this is not the norm here. Here it is mostly feral cats, the whiff of skunk, the pink eyes of an opossum in the headlights, turkey buzzards cruising for road kill. Squirrels, chipmunks. Birds at the feeders. I like to sit on the Urban Porch and watch the much less dramatic encounters.

They get right in your face and stare at you

Each spring the wood bees return to buzz around the back door. The male Carpenter Bees are large, but for the most part harmless. They seem to get excited and aggravated when you walk in and out the back door, as if you are encroaching on their territory, which I guess you are. They will hover right in front of you and look you right in the face with their big bee faces in an attempt to intimidate you. Then they zip away, come back, try to stare you down again and take off. This goes one for maybe a week or two and then they are gone – probably busy boring holes into the high reaches of your house. But the bee confrontation stops, I guess after the mating season stops. The males die off, the females lay eggs and the cycle starts again the next spring. In all the years I have been here, they have never actually hurt anybody. I admit that I kind of like them.

Well OK, I think they’re cute…

At the beginning of spring, a small black and white jumping spider had decided to make a web right across the front door knob and attach strings to the mailbox. When I opened the door, it sent the spider careening and then it jumped to the inside of the door frame. Some of my friends think I am a little weird like this, but I really like jumping spiders (the very small ones). I like their multiple rows of eyes and their fuzzy faces and the way they wave their little arms around. I belong to a Jumping Spider Group, if you can imagine that. So I gingerly tried to move it off the door frame and outside so I could close the door again. But it jumped again and when I stepped away, I stepped on the spider by accident. And that was that. I felt really terrible. It actually made me cry a little bit. When I think about it, it still makes me sad.

A few times as I’ve come out of the front door, I’ve discovered the occasional peanut left on the front porch, presumably deposited by a squirrel. Somebody in the neighborhood is clearly feeding them. Why they have decided to just leave whole, intact peanuts in front of the door, still in their shell, is beyond me. Is this some kind of offering, or was somebody on their way to deposit their prize inside one of my potted plants and abandoned the mission as I opened the door? Sometimes I will be sitting on a porch chair with the dog, sipping my coffee and watching the neighborhood go by, when a squirrel will dart up the stairs, determined to reach some destination. It will suddenly see us when about a foot away from my shoe, freeze, look startled, and then scramble away. This has happened multiple times. They are just so freaky….

My blurry pic of the opossum in the dark

Earlier in the week, it was about 9:30 pm when I stepped outside to take the dog out for his night time walk. I hadn’t even reached the bottom step before I almost tripped over a fairly large opossum. It didn’t react. It didn’t play dead or hiss at me or really do anything. We all just stared at each other for a bit. The dog made sort of a wimpy grumble, not quite a growl, and then stopped. I tried to take a photo of it with my cell phone, which didn’t come out that well in the dark. Since it was blocking our way, we just stood and continued to look at each other until it finally turned and ambled away. I wonder what it would have done had I actually stepped on it. I think they are kind of cool and even freakier than the squirrels….

As I watched the opossum recede and head around the fence into the next yard, it must have surprised a black cat, which came darting out from the same location at high speed and zipped across the yard in front of me.

There are house sparrows nesting in the soffit above the corner porch post. They are there every year. They used to nest inside the antique hanging light over the front door, entering where there was a panel of glass missing. Because of this, you couldn’t use the light while they nested because you didn’t want to cook the eggs (or the babies). And then after they hatched, bird poop would drop on your head as you walked in and out the door, or you would step on the copious droppings underneath. So we took down the light and they relocated themselves to the corner post.

The House Sparrows have pretty much taken over the neighborhood. They are like a gang. They outnumber everybody else at the feeders. They travel in large groups and their voices fill all the in-between spaces where the other birds call. One day I saw a parakeet flying around from tree to tree with them. Somebody must have had their budgie escape. I was glad that at least it had found some kind of community to hang out with, although I wasn’t sure if they had actually accepted the budgie or if it was wishful thinking on its part since it was clearly lost and pathetically following them around.

The Sparrows have been having orgies in the large Rose of Sharon shrub next to the porch for the last few weeks. There are a lot of males around and they are all courting and harassing the one or two females. It seems like more than the two parents are going in and out of that nest, but I’m not sure.

It was with shock when I looked up to see a Blue Jay swoop up to the Sparrow nest, grab a small hatchling and take off. The Sparrow parents began chittering with alarm. I didn’t know Blue Jays ate hatchlings. Even acknowledging this is the circle of life, I felt very sad. This pushed all my mother buttons.

A few mornings ago I came out to water the porch plants and discovered a large hornet had just started to make a small, cone-shaped nest on the ceiling of the porch. I decided to nip that project right away before it got going and turned the garden hose to a strong stream, knocking it down and washing it out onto the grass. A few hours later I returned to sit outside and saw that the hornet had come back and was actually rebuilding the paper nest in the same spot where I had just removed it. While I admired it’s perseverance, I actually said “No way, buddy” out loud to the hornet, turned the hose stream to high and blasted both the new nesting material and the hornet off the porch. It zipped around in a big circle and flew away. I figured that should do it.

Late that afternoon I stepped out to walk the dog and discovered he was back at it again in the same spot, starting another nest. I couldn’t believe his persistence. It just didn’t seem to be getting the message! I grabbed the hose and chased him off. It’s been a few days now and he’s not attempted it again. Maybe he finally got the hint. I can’t help but think some afternoon I will walk around the back corner of the house and notice it made a massive hornet’s nest in retaliation….

So that’s it this week for porch wildlife. I look forward to the arrival of the fireflies on the front lawn. That should happen soon. They appear every June for a short while. The show always fills my heart with the same childlike wonder, year after year.

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Spring, summer, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mantis

Praying Mantis egg cases found in my lavender garden

Last fall my three-year-old granddaughter became fascinated with a dead praying mantis she found in my driveway. That was the second one I had seen around the yard that week, after not seeing any. A few days later I discovered a tan, foamy egg case clinging to one of the plants in the garden, indicating that yes, they have arrived and have decided to hang around the neighborhood. I thought the egg case might be a cool thing to share with her pre-school class, so I packed it into a container and sent it home with her mother to winter over until the school would take it this spring, in hopes the kids could watch them hatch.

While cutting back some of the old, woody lavender plants a couple of days ago, I came across three more praying mantis egg cases that were clinging deep within the branches. Seems the mantises had been pretty busy last autumn. Now that it is spring, we thought some of the other classes in the school might also enjoy watching them hatch, so I scooped those up and placed them into a small paper lunch bag to bring to my daughter, who I was meeting at a family gathering and birthday party at my brother’s house.

Today happened to be Earth Day, and a gorgeous, clear blue let’s-be-outside-all-day kind of spring afternoon. We had lunch and walked around the property to see what perennials were coming up. We checked out the awakening koi fish (a few new ones seem to have appeared) and the frogs floating in the pond, walked down to the bluebird house, and visited my brother’s bee hives.

some new koi fish appeared this spring
trout lilies in the woods

We discovered the trout lilies growing in the woods and stood in awe of the massive tulip tree with almost eighty rings that had been struck and felled by lightening. We identified a number of wild spring edibles. It really felt like an Earth day filled with Earth-type appreciation. We had birthday cake. Finally it was time to head home, so I went to fetch the bag of mantis eggs out of my car to give to my daughter.

This Tulip tree struck and damaged by lightening had almost eighty rings inside

Well, I should have known that leaving a bag of insect eggs in a waxy paper sandwich bag inside a warm car on a sunny day was probably not such a good idea. As I lifted the thin paper container that held them, I could already see through the paper that there were all these tiny black lines and dots (bodies and eyes) moving around inside the bag. Actually there were hundreds of newly hatched and active baby mantises inside the open bag. Needless to say, there are (I don’t know how many) escapees in my car.

As I headed back to the house gingerly holding this unanticipated science-project surprise, everyone gathered around with excitement to see them. It was impossible to figure out which egg case or cases they had hatched from, as they are just these foamy blobs of styrofoam-type stuff with no discernable entrances or exit holes. We shook out the throngs of nymphs into one of the garden beds, where they quickly took off. Newly hatched nymphs go off in search of food. Apparently some of them eat their sibling hatchlings as their first meal.

Mantis nymphs scattering through the woodchips in the garden

We put the egg cases into a glass jar in order to contain any more that might emerge. By the time my daughter got back to her own house, even more had hatched inside the jar, so she put them in her own garden too. We are hoping there might be a few left over for the school by Monday. But it may be too late.

More praying mantis nymphs hatching in the jar

I got back in my car and looked around for more of the little guys, but they had already scattered. They are tiny and fast, so I don’t know if they will be living and growing up in my car or if they will survive. My car is such a mess inside that anything is possible. This could be a little creepy. It might be an interesting summer.

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Gardening, Spring, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wow! | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Crow Tree

The Crow Tree

There are a couple of very old, unhealthy, towering maples and oaks on the corner that probably aren’t going to last much longer. While walking beneath them with the dog, I noticed some rotten limbs had recently fallen and crashed onto the sidewalk. I don’t want to walk past them anymore, afraid some large limb might fall on me, or that these entire trees might very well come down. The bark on one of the trunks is starting to slough off in great sheets, revealing insect trails and woodpecker holes beneath. The bare branches at the top of one of them point up toward the sky. The tops have remained leafless over the the past few seasons, providing a pinnacle for a perfect lookout. Last summer this became the Crow Tree.

They arrived around June, at first maybe three or four crows that would swoop in around 4 p.m. and perch at the topmost branches. They appeared to be scouting out the area and notifying the others from this designated tree headquarter, calling in the pack, who would alight in different trees throughout the neighborhood to check out the new real estate. Eventually they decided this was the place they wanted to be hanging out for the summer, and the word was out. Two sentinel crows became ten, became fifteen as they made the scene like teens on a street corner, preening, doing a little stunt flying and yelling at each other from above. Across the street, behind our house and up and down the block they began to gather every afternoon, until the air would be filled with the cawing and barking of call and response.

Every morning there are many feathers

My neighbors, who live closest to the Crow Tree, were uneasy with the new visitors. Sitting on their porch watching the commotion across the street, they expressed that it was ominous and creepy. I suppose there was a Hitchcockian feel to the numbers that continued to arrive, as they seemed to multiply each day. As for me, I really like Corvids and found it all a bit exciting.

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”

Throughout the day, the highest peak of the tree hosts a number of fleeting visitors. Without binoculars I can only tell that the day birds are smaller than the crows, perhaps seven or eight starlings who gather for brief moments and then fly off, return and then take to the air again. Compared to the crows, I call them “the lesser birds”. Sometimes a hawk – usually a red tail – will sporadically alight at the very top point. When a hawk is there – not for very long – everyone else pretty much disappears. In the late afternoon, the crows begin to arrive from wherever their daytime business occurred, one or two at a time, zooming in from points west. And the cacophony begins.

Sometimes I just sit on my porch watching them at their daily arrival. I get the distinct feeling that as I am watching them, they are also watching me. When I am walking the dog beneath the tree, I know they are checking me out. Every morning I find the grass and street adorned with white spatters and many glossy blue-black feathers. A few times I have left them some scattered dry dog food, although I don’t know if my neighbors would appreciate that, so I haven’t made a habit of it. But we are aware of each other’s presence. Sometimes they land in the trees behind the house and yell at you. They don’t like the sound of motors or machinery – the sound of a saw, lawn mower or the neighbor’s compressor sets them off complaining. Every once in a while if a hawk arrives they will keep their distance until it moves off, but I’ve also seen them give a juvenile hawk a hard time.

Observing the gathering of the crows at sunset became a nightly habit for me. Sitting on the porch, my dog Rudi and I would watch them first report to the Crow Tree, as if gathering to share news and discuss the intention for the evening. And then, at dusk, they would begin to move off to where they decided to spend the night, which I believe were in the back yards a few houses down from me. But one evening they suddenly changed their plans.

The woman across the street who feeds the feral cats has a massive tree which towers behind her house. On this particular evening, for some unknown reason, that is where they all decided to roost. This was exciting because I had an excellent, close up view of what was going on. The sentinel crows seemed to give the alert, and then – from every direction it seemed – crows were making a line for this huge tree. Soon every branch was filled with crows perching among the leaves….. I tried to count as best as I could. There were actually hundreds of birds; so many that the entire tree was a deep, black shape-shifting mass as they moved around and resettled, bubbling up from the tree and alighting over and over again like a breathing organism made of dark feathers.

Flying in for the night

But the most fascinating part was yet to happen. As the sun dipped behind the hills, they suddenly all went absolutely silent, then entirely disappeared deep within the branches, so that you could not discern there was even one bird in that tree. Hundreds of birds vanished, absorbed within the shelter of the leaves.

I was hoping to catch them the next morning in order to see them making their exit, but I must have missed it, because even by 6 a.m. they had already left. The following evening fewer returned to the cat lady’s tree. They seemed to find a new sleeping location each night, but still used the Crow Tree every afternoon as their initial meeting point. This went on daily until mid-November. Then there were fewer and fewer. One afternoon there were only two or three at headquarters. And then all of them were gone. I was sad to see it end.

I am hoping the crows will return this year. It would be unfortunate if these trees don’t make it, eliminating the wonderful opportunity to observe them each day throughout another summer and fall from the vantage point of my porch.

For the past two days I saw one rather large, lone Corvid perched at the pinnacle of the Crow Tree, emitting a loud, barking croak and getting no response. I got closer and waited on the sidewalk to get a better look. I was hoping it might be a sentinel crow coming to check out the scene, although I suspected from the voice that it might instead be a raven. It finally took off so I was able to get a good look at its tail in flight. It was a lone raven.

It’s only April. If the trees continue to stand, perhaps the crows will return again in June. That would really be great.

Crow Scratch – by Cecilia Soprano

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Autumn, Birds, summer, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

All the Horses

I was up in the attic on a search for some of the many beautiful children’s picture books I had stored away after my daughters grew up, hoping someday they could be pulled out once again for future grandchildren. That once distant and barely imaginable day having arrived, I found myself hauling multiple “Boxes of the Stored and Long Forgotten Things” downstairs in order to sort through what age-appropriate reading and other surprises could be found to give them. That is when I pulled out my once beloved copy of King of the Wind, The Story of the Godolphin Arabian, by Marguerite Henry, with beautiful illustrations by Wesley Dennis.

King of the Wind

As a horse-crazy young girl, I would ride my bicycle to the local barn where I would voluntarily muck stalls, clean tack, groom horses, walk children around on pony rides, take lessons, and just ride. Anything about horses. I pored over the H. Kauffman’s and Miller tack catalogs, absorbed Horse and Rider and Western Horseman magazines. Birthday gift desires were riding boots, a helmet, a curry comb. My ever-growing collection of model horses was vast and beautiful. I would get lost in both fiction and non-fiction books about horses. My signature filled entire lending cards in the back of the Walter Farley books (The Black Stallion series) that I checked out at the public library. King of the Wind, a Cinderella story of a colt from Morocco that became one of the founding stallions of English racing, had conjured up much imagination. Adjusting the tattered dust jacket, I opened the book to just indulge my memory for a moment, but never got past the inside cover, where an old and yellowed folded newspaper article tucked inside slammed me into a time-warp about all the horses.

My model horses were an escape into another world, especially when those childhood moments were difficult or painful ones. As a young child I would be magically transported somewhere else while immersed in imaginative play, crouched on the floor while they grazed on the green carpet in our upstairs hallway. They had names and personalities. The first one was King, a Thoroughbred. Next came Brownie, a Clydesdale.

Brownie the Clydesdale was just like this one

And they just kept accumulating – mostly Breyer, Hagen-Renaker and Hartland horses. As I got older, I bought leather and fabric and started making saddles, blankets and costumes for them. They were kept lined up on shelves in my bedroom, which started to look like a miniature stable. I wrote make-believe pedigrees for them, took photos with my Brownie camera, and joined a club of other horse-model crazy girls who put out a newsletter.

Stallions, mares and foals. Saddlebreds, pacers, mustangs and polo ponies. Thoroughbreds, Morgans, Arabians, Quarter Horses, Percherons, Appaloosas and Lippizans. Palominos, red and blue roans, chestnuts, bays, grays, pintos and buckskins. Dappled, painted, duns. Names like Pumpkin, Gray Lady, Falinika, Shêtan, Marmlade, Montclair’s Mirage. More than just beautiful, in my full-blown, weird and nerdy horsey-girl way they were both delightful and life-saving.

The day did come when an interest in boys and other distractions overshadowed the horses. Many long-distance moves ensued and the horses were lovingly wrapped and packed into boxes, where they would hopefully go to my someday children in the future; children who would of course be horse-crazy just like me. Next thing you know, there I am young, married and on the brink of moving once again – this time across the country with my then-husband. A then-husband who looked upon my boxes of stored horses in the attic as childish and urged me to sell them in order to get some money to help facilitate our move. I had no place to store them. I couldn’t take them with me. I wanted to be “grown-up” and not saving childhood “toys”, if you could call them that. I didn’t know what to do.

Just like Pumpkin

Serendipitously, an article appeared in the lifestyle section of the New York Times. The subject of the article was an eager, intelligent nineteen-year-old college student, only slightly younger than I, who had a huge collection of models with a focus on Arabian horses. She not only made costumes for them, she wrote pedigrees for them. And not make-believe pedigrees like mine, but real pedigrees of real horses, which she painstakingly researched. If I was going to let my horses go, this would be the person. With packing boxes stacked around us and the move imminent, I tracked her down and she drove up to at our cottage quickly thereafter to see and ultimately purchase all the horses. 

Even back then I knew I was letting all the horses go for less than their value. Monetarily, the whole lot was a very good deal for her – emotionally, for me, they were priceless. I could feel that she was excited, more so about the Arabian-looking models. She was astute enough to see in my face there was some sadness and actually suggested I hold on to a few of my original ones, like Brownie and King. But I decided to just take the leap and let them all go. Remember, I was being new and brave. Time has erased some details of the transaction, but I possibly may have also given her my file box with the photos and make-believe pedigrees, which of course would have been silly and useless to someone who did expert research. And so, she left with all of my horses – horses who had provided me with great enjoyment but also had provided a refuge – an outlet for angst, absorbed my anger – all the horses who had carried me out of my childhood.

Falinika the polo pony

The internet eventually happened. Every once in a while I would see models like mine for sale on eBay, although most often they were not even in as good condition or as old as the ones I had. My then-husband once gifted me a book on collecting model horses one year, a kind gesture which actually caused a brief jab of heartache to look through. When I saw (and see) the prices some of them command now, it is staggering! That said, if I hadn’t sold them right then, if I had had a place to store them, I would have kept them for the children and grandchildren that I now have. However, so far none of the progeny have been all that interested in horses. I think if I had unboxed them and arranged them all over the floor, they would have found themselves lost in some of the same magic though. How could you not?

Back to the present – the book and the faded newspaper – I wondered what ever happened to that girl who bought my horses? I Googled and there she was – then sent her an email. It turns out she became an expert researcher, consultant and lecturer on Arabian Horse bloodlines and pedigrees of real horses. She had been an editor of an Arabian horse magazine. She made it her life’s work. She told me she remembers my partner pressuring me to sell the models. She recalls wondering if that relationship would last! She offered the consolation that she had loved and cherished them for almost thirty years before she let go of her collection of many hundreds. So they went to the right person. There is something satisfying and confirming about that discovery.

It can be odd how things show up in your life again sometimes. I wonder about all the horses – where are they now? Where are Brownie, Gray Lady, Falinika and the rest of them now? I hope they are continuing to be enjoyed. I hope they are having a good life.

Breyer blue roan copanhagan blue

Just like “Blue Sky”

~*~

 

 

Posted in Flashback, treasures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Little Sparkles and a Moment in Time

dulcimer

This little pouch, around 3”x2”, hangs off a tuning peg on my long-silent dulcimer. Inside is a piece of wooden dowel for the slide and a couple of guitar picks.

Flashback to the late 1970’s – I’m sitting on a bench in a laundromat in Ashland, OR, waiting for my clothes to dry. There is a young, barefoot, very pregnant woman in a long skirt and colorful scarves sitting next to me, crocheting these lovely, intricate pouches, using the tiniest crochet hook I had ever seen. She works steadily, meticulously, with ease.

She tells me her name is “Chhaya” and that she lives in a teepee somewhere up the mountainside. She intuits that her baby will be a boy, but she has not picked out a name yet, because “when he arrives, he will name himself”. She asks if I would like to buy a little pouch, and pulls a handful of them out of her bag, one more detailed and beautiful than the next. I had used up all my money doing the laundry, but agree to meet her at the laundromat the following week, which I do.

I think I bought four of them, each different and lovely. She took a check, and when I asked her who I should write it to, Chhaya from the teepee in the mountains revealed Chhaya was her guru-given name and she was actually Michele Gruenbaum from The Bronx. This made me smile. I can’t believe I remember that over forty years later, but I do……

I hoped to find her again to purchase more of her lovely pouches, but I never ran into her after that, or if I did, I cannot recall. Maybe she was busy having her baby on the mountain. I gifted two of the most beautiful ones and kept this muted one to keep guitar picks in. I thought I had another colorful one somewhere, but right now I can’t seem to find it. Maybe I gave that one away too.

I wonder if she had a son, and if so, what he ended up naming himself. Out of curiosity, I looked on FB today to see if she was listed, but haven’t pulled up anything that seemed likely to have been her.

Sometimes we are all just little sparkles bouncing off each other for a moment in time.

Posted in Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Passing of the Buck

I went out to investigate why a police car was parked in front of my driveway on this sunny Saturday afternoon, officers standing there pointing towards the backyard. Years ago there had been a foot chase culminating in a suspect leaping the fence and being tasered right there in the yard next door, so nothing really would have surprised me.

However, the perp was a deer. Having lived in the rural woods and farms of this valley, deer have pretty much been a daily occurrence – decimating the daylily buds, hiding their fawns in gardens, stopping in a statue-like freeze when we encounter them among the trees, herds by the side of the road at dusk, leaping dangerously in front of our cars with a flip of white tail in the dark. In the small city we now reside in, finding one up close and personal in your driveway is a bit of a surprise though. I was trying to think what route he must have taken to navigate his way down these urban streets to find himself in my yard. I wondered why he chose here.

IMG_9570

A young two-point White-tailed buck, perhaps a year and a half old, unafraid of our close proximity. He appeared to be browsing half-heartedly on the burning bush shrub hanging over the driveway. His ribs showed, there was something white on his nose, his eyes looked pained and unfocused and he was a bit unsteady. “He looks sick” I said to the officers. “Yes”, they replied. And then they got in their patrol car without giving any advice and left me with this sick deer in our yard. 

A quick check to the Environmental Conservation website listed EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease) virus as a likely culprit. It affects White-tailed deer and is carried by biting midges. The deer have no immunity and once infected with EHD, they usually die within 36 hours. The disease is not contagious between deer and cannot be spread to humans. After a cold frost, the midges die and the deer are no longer vulnerable to infection. He seemed to exhibit the signs. This is not a pretty disease.

I called our animal control office for advice and was told they don’t handle deer and that I needed to contact the Department of Environmental Conservation. I was told that if the deer dies on my property it was my responsibility to dispose of it too. That’s just great. I thanked him and contacted the DEC. Being a Saturday afternoon, I only reached a recording, where I left a message. I also sent them an email complete with photos as suggested on the site. In the meantime, a few neighbors who had seen the deer called the city police, but they did not return again. The woman next door came over and made some calls somewhere else, which elicited no response. Apparently this was my problem.

I brought the deer some water, which he left untouched, and stood outside to see if he was going to move on to some other destination. He circled the driveway, then inserted himself between the significant other’s car and the garage and stood there for a while. I left him for a few minutes. When I returned to check, he was lying down the way deer usually bed down for the night. I figured maybe he was going to rest and regain some strength as the afternoon was fading. But then he was up again, standing in my garden and browsing aimlessly on the hostas. I was hopeful that perhaps this was a good sign, his attempts to eat. But he swayed a bit and appeared unstable. Then he went back to stand behind the car again, as if to seek some privacy.

IMG_9545

I posted my dilemma on Facebook and was offered many suggestions, most of which had already been pursued. The number of a wildlife rehabilitator was offered. Clearly there was no rehabilitating this deer, but perhaps she had some suggestions. She said unfortunately, they don’t handle sick deer and directed me to the DEC, which I had already tried to contact.

Darkness ensued. At about 10pm a friend found and messaged me a phone number to call a DEC dispatcher, which I was thankful for. I correctly surmised nobody was going to be dispatched this late on a Saturday night though, and decided to call early the next morning. 

From this point on I will not be posting any photos.

I could not sleep. My worry and sadness concerning the welfare of the deer and my frustration about not finding any available municipal support was weighing heavily. We have a security system, which the deer continued to set off, recording as he walked around and around in an aimless circle in front of the garage. At about 2am I came downstairs to discover him standing facing our back steps, his tail bizarrely wagging back and forth rapidly, like a dog’s. I went back to bed with an aching heart. At 4am I found him lying curled up in the center of the driveway, near the out-take vent for the furnace. The temperature outside was in the high 30’s. Maybe the vent was providing a small source of heat or comfort. He had knocked down a large panel of stockade fence we had leaning against the house, perhaps in an attempt to get behind it. The deer appeared dead, the contents of his last meal (my hostas) regurgitated, his bladder had let go, pellets on the pavement. Relieved to think his suffering had ended, I called the SO to come outside and help me move him out of the way. But when we touched him, we found he was still breathing. I tried not to lose it.

At about 6am I called the DEC dispatcher who said someone would get back to me. When they finally did get back to me, it was the dispatcher saying nobody would be available until at least 8am and that the County Sheriff’s office should be called, assuring they would take care of the deer and remove it. I called the County Sheriff, who said call the DEC. I told him the DEC referred me to the them, and was then told that it is the City Police’s jurisdiction. I explained the entire chain of calls I had made, starting with the City Police, animal control, the DEC, a wildlife rehabilitator, the DEC dispatch and finally to the County Sheriff. He said deer are becoming a great problem in our city but there is not much they can do about it, as you cannot allow deer hunting within city limits. A resident cannot discharge their own gun in the city. He said it is the city’s responsibility and then added, “Deer die all the time”. Of course they do. I am no stranger to dead deer. But they usually die in the woods (or on the roads), not in a city driveway, its ongoing struggle and pain in full view of the street and neighbors. This situation had taken on a surreal, quality, a bad dream.

I called the DEC dispatcher a second time and got a different person. He said he would send someone out. Another hour and a half went by. I called them a third time and got a recording. I left a plaintive message. I kept checking on the deer, thinking it had finally passed, only to find it still breathing, still trying to swallow. 

With daybreak Sunday came the migration of dismayed neighbors to our driveway, watching the dying deer. I wished so much this had been happening in the back of the yard, away from the view of everyone. It felt somehow undignified, as if his passage deserved some privacy, but perhaps that is my own projection. 

It is of note it was only the women, reeling with compassion, standing in my driveway. The pregnant woman next door, the new mom across the street, a few grandmothers. The husbands, the boyfriends, my own SO remained in their houses or went about their business down the street or in their yards. The women, looking at each other with grief on our faces, desperately dialing whatever numbers they could on their cell phones, trying to get someone to come. At one point the buck struggled to get up and then fell – we all gasped. I could not bear it. Some of the women turned away. 

At that point I called the State Police, with a hitch in my voice, explained the lack of response from anyone and implored them to please come out and put this deer out of his misery. He said they would send someone right over. In the meantime a rehabilitator called me back with private numbers of two DEC officers to try. The State Police did not show up, but shortly after that call was made, two City Police officers and one DEC officer did arrive. Perhaps the state guys lit a fire under them. Or not. I’ll never know. 

The City Police officers were courteous and compassionate. They were masked and maintained distance. The DEC officer arrived, got out of his truck, mask-less, and spat in the street in front of us all. None of us said anything but I saw the city cops exchange glances. He was nice enough, but he spat again on the sidewalk and again in my driveway, which was pretty gross. I don’t know what was going on with him and the spitting. I kept myself from saying anything about spitting and COVID or whatever, because at this point I just wanted someone to put the deer out of it’s misery and I was glad for his arrival, was afraid any comment might change the trajectory of where this was going. But there was a serious “ewww” factor there.

DEC and City discussed what they were going to do. City Cop called his supervisor, who arrived in another squad car. They determined someone had to shoot the deer, or “dispatch” the deer, as they put it. It was decided one of the city cops would do the deed. They had the neighbor move her car, asked a few others to clear the area and move across the street. They asked me to stand behind their squad car, so I stood there with another officer. They pulled the deer off the pavement and onto the grass to avoid ricochet. The officer put in his ear plugs, aimed, and shot.

I have family and friends who hunt. I am no stranger to seeing dressed deer, have prepared and eaten venison. While I am not a fan these days, it is part of my past rural life. But there was something different about being present for the “dispatching” of a suffering deer on a city street. I watched because I felt I needed to see this whole thing through from beginning to end. He chose to die in my yard, I had become part of his journey and he of mine. But I cannot even tell you where the officer made the shot, I have totally blanked out on that, even though my eyes were wide open.

While standing there I cried just a little, some tears, not for the ending but for all of it. On some level I feel like I failed that buck, that I could not relieve his struggle. The end came much too late. The city officer asked me if I was OK. They were very kind. We actually have some great police in this city –  in the past almost every contact we have had with them, be it for actual problems or while they respectfully oversaw local protests, has been decent. So I asked them why this deer had to suffer for almost 18 hours before someone would come out and help. The DEC officer explained that if the deer had been standing around that there was nothing they could do until it was down. The police explained the same. I told them it would have been nice from moment one if the original officers who noticed the deer the previous day had notified the DEC and also provided us with some kind of contact numbers. I think if a deer is sick, be it standing or down, someone should address it. The logic of this system is flawed. Something is broken here. The DEC officer gave us his card should we need it again. They loaded the deer on a trailer at the back of his vehicle to be taken for testing. I gratefully thanked the officers. After they left I went out with the hose and some bleach to clean up the aftermath. 

Eighteen hours of suffering endured by this beautiful, magical being that didn’t have to be. My sister-in-law said, “There is nothing more horrible than watching any living being die when you can’t do anything at all. It shreds your heart.”  Indeed my heart and head hurt today. A friend said, “Hugs, my friend. That will stay with you forever.” I know she’s right.

The passing of the buck is a metaphor –  the slow death of a buck and passing the buck of responsibility. It seems to be of a reflection of 2020 overall. 

~*~

 

Posted in Animal Stories, Are you kidding me?, Coping, grief, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

That Old *Beep-Bop* Lady

Down a path in the woods, slipping through an opening in a fence, we would sneak onto the remotely situated 13th hole of a nearby golf course in the early evening, after the golfers had all gone home. Kicking off our shoes and lying on the forbidden plush blanket of perfectly manicured lawn, the likes of which none of us had experienced, we gazed at the cloud shapes, marveled at the sunset. Magical memories, selective, but still….

Young girls, we chased neighborhood boys and brothers with Beatle haircuts through the sand traps while we screamed “John! Paul! George! Ringo!  We took the flag that marked the 13th hole and marched across the circle of the green, singing made-up songs. When the sprinklers came on, we would dodge and leap under the water arcs, run through the rainbows. If we were detected by Someone In Charge, we would scatter, instantly vanishing back into the woods and out through the break in the fence, gone in a flash. In the winter we sledded fast down the steep hill to the bottom, riding like daredevils while standing up on the sled, flying over bumps that could render us airborne. Or went down riding two on a sled on top of each other “double-decker” style, lying flat with our arms out to make planes, like wings, as we hurled down the slope, face first.

Swinging from a fat, knotted rope in our friend’s huge, old apple tree. Red Rover, Dodge Ball. Kickball in the street. Yet one of the sweetest of them all was pretending to be magical faeries, dancing around and under a small Japanese maple on a very small square of a neighbor’s verdant lawn – a space that sparkled with fireflies at dusk –  in a front yard that belonged to “The Beep-Bop.”

“The Beep-Bop” was an old man, at least old in our eyes. From this view looking back, he probably wasn’t very old at all. He may have had a wife living there with him, or grown children, but we knew nothing about him except when he would stick his head out the door to yell at us. There were no kids there our age, or certainly we would have known them. A group of us gathered to dance on his lush, perfect grass and sit in a circle under the weeping boughs of his small tree, making whistles from blades of grass and weaving clover into chains and crowns. We were magical faeries twirling in the firefly lights who had found our secret place to frolic. Oblivious to the fact that we had planted ourselves right in front of his living room window, his house faded into invisibility while we were steeped in the play of our fantastical stories.

fireflies on a lawn

We couldn’t understand why he didn’t want us there, gruffly chasing us away.  Wanting to call him a “bad name” but young enough to not have fine-tuned our potty-mouths yet, we chose the sound that the censors make when they bleeped out a verbal obscenity from the media. “Beep-Bop”.

While saying “beep-bop” represented no specific word, it became as powerful as any swear. This old-man homeowner became known as “The Old Beep-Bop”. “Beep-bop!!!” we yelled, the ultimate cuss, as we dispersed from his yard, banished from our magic kingdom.

I was ushered back to that mystical location of the past when I noticed the fireflies were blinking in my front yard last night, which suddenly brought up the buried memory of The Beep-Bop Man. It then occurred to me that in my older age I believe I probably have become “That Old Beep-Bop Lady” to a few people.

At times I have been known to call out people who do not-very-nice, hurtful or disrespectful things. There was a time I might have kept quiet so as not to make any waves. Yet as I age, the possible stigma or impression attached to a person who speaks their mind no longer fazes me. After a lifetime of being too shy or too quiet while being sh*t upon (beep-bop, beep bop!) I really don’t care what people think at this point. If someone is being a beep-bop, especially where it concerns me, I am going to say something about it.

The other night around 11pm I was out walking the dog. After wishing he would hurry up and finish his business so I could go to bed, he finally circled around a few times and settled into mid-squat when some beep-bop shot off fireworks. It was one of those candle-type things that explodes in the air like a colorful dandelion, then rains down.  The thing loudly blew up directly over my head.  The dog practically levitated off the ground (and did not complete what he was preparing to do). The sparks showered down towards us as I quickly pulled him away.

There were three or four of the beep-bop culprits on the corner. It was too dark, but I recognized the blue light coming from the pedals of a bike. I yelled at them. So the beep-bops set off a second one in our direction for good measure. When Mr. Blue Bicycle Light (a man, not a kid) pedaled past my front steps, I yelled at him too. “THANKS A LOT! REALLY?????? JUST THANKS A LOT FOR SCARING MY DOG, AND EVERYONE ELSE’S PETS AND WAKING UP ALL THE SLEEPING BABIES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD!”

“It wasn’t me” he called back as he zoomed away. “Beep-bop” I yelled back at him. Things have been going like this over the past week or so. We are all a bit edgy lately.

After unenthusiastically needing to venture into the supermarket yesterday, there was a guy standing over the conveyor belt at check out who was wearing his mask with his nose sticking out, breathing his potentially COVID-laden fumes all over my food. I’m sorry if you don’t like wearing a mask over your nose buddy. Do you think anyone does? Are people who do this incredibly selfish or just incredibly stupid? What a beep-bop! Of course I did not say aloud those things I was thinking, but I asked him, “Can you please pull your mask up over your nose?”  He obliged, then he walked away.  Probably called me a beep-bop to his fellow employees. Really, I don’t care. I tell the beep-bops walking the wrong direction down the isle in the market they are going the wrong way too. They mumble “beep-bop” as they continue on by.

Then there are a few of the neighbors. It’s a tricky thing when you have to tactfully ask a neighbor to please not do something. Sometimes it goes over better than other times. There were the nice people renting next door that kept running over our lawn so they could park both of their cars in their driveway, one in front of the other, instead of parking one of them on the street in front of their house. If the car in the back was blocking the one in the front when one of them wanted to go out, instead of moving one of the cars they would just drive right over our strip of lawn and then use our driveway to go around. I didn’t say anything for a really long time, because yeah, it’s a nuisance to have to move a car to get out, I get it. But nobody even bothered to ask if it was OK, and after a while, especially after rain or in winter, it started to leave muddy ruts. You would think someone would have thought maybe that wasn’t so nice to do to your next door neighbors yard, right? And these are nice people.

Eventually I asked them to please not do that anymore. They obliged, and instead started parking one of their cars right on the small stone walkway in front of their (rental) front steps. I don’t know if their landlord cares, but their landlord happens to be a major beep-bop, so maybe not. I am guessing they thought I was just an old pain in their beep-bop.

Add another one to this week where there was the guy pumping chemical weed killer all over his front yard, along his neighbors’s fence and into the median on the other side of the sidewalk by the road, in a place where people walk past with their dogs, and parents pass by with kids in strollers and on bikes. I was across the street with my dog and you could smell the stuff strongly in the air. Yes, it was his own yard and maybe I should have minded my own business. But the distressing part of this that prompted me to speak up was that he had a toddler following close behind him, right on his heels, inhaling the fumes. I had to say something. I mentioned as politely as possible that the spray was toxic and a carcinogen, and pointed to the child and my own dog. He just said “thank you” and continued spraying the poison. He probably would have sprayed me if he could, just another pest. What a beep-bop.

As if that wasn’t enough, the other tenant in that house next door has a sweet, large, excitable dog, which he walks on one of those retractable leashes. I feel there is a place for a retractable leash, but using them left fully extended on a city sidewalk is not one of them. He has no control over his happy dog as it bounds down the street. He lets the leash reel out about 15 feet in any direction, while the dog bolts forward, or into the street, or into people’s yards – and he doesn’t reel the dog back. So he is not curbing his dog, instead letting it spool out on a long, long line, out into the very middle of our front yard. Under the bird feeder. Up to the flowers.

I see this from my window every day, multiple times a day. If I am sitting out on the front porch and he sees me, he doesn’t let it happen. But if I am not out there, he does. Why does he think it is OK to do that? I feel he is being kind of a beep-bop.  Yet I haven’t said anything for months. I just kept hoping he would stop doing it. Finally, because apparently I am on a beep-bop confrontation roll, this morning I asked him if he could please not do that anymore. I am sure he thinks I am just an old, gray-haired busy-body-beep-bop in the house next door. The look on his face was in Big Print. I don’t care.

On the subject of dog owners who are incredible beep-bops, I need to mention the woman who allowed her dog first to pee on my flowers and then stand there while he kicked up the dirt macho-style afterwards, over and over again, ripping out all the plants. I could not believe she just stood there and let it happen. I opened my door and told her in the future please don’t let her dog dig up my flowers. I haven’t seen her on our side of the street since. Go away, I don’t care.

I could go on. I could talk about the guy two houses down who walks his dogs without leashes and lets them do big dumps in our yard, which he refuses to clean up. Finally I went down to his house and left him a roll of poop bags just in case he didn’t have any, and a friendly as possible note asking him if he could please use them to clean up afterwards. After that he stopped saying hello and would just glare at me if I waved to him. He also stopped walking with his dogs past the house in the daytime…….but every night around midnight he stands in front of his own house and let his dogs loose to saunter down to ours to do their business.

Each night the larger dog would pee on our front steps and then take a massive poop (German Shepherd style) in the middle of our yard under the bird feeder.  The first time I discovered this was after running over it with the lawn mower. Another day I watched the mailman barely dodge one of these midnight gifts while cutting across the grass to deliver the mail. Our video doorbell revealed the culprit a number of times, so there was no mistake. What a beep-bop!

I really don’t care if a dog goes on our grass if the owner picks it up. Dogs are dogs and they gotta go somewhere. Since he was not making himself available to talk, I left him another note in his mailbox saying as much, that I don’t mind if your dog craps on our lawn, just please take it with you. I left him a screenshot from the video of his dog doing the deed so he knows that we know who it is. I attached a copy of our city ordinance about fines (a joke since they don’t seem to enforce it – apparently it’s $100 a poop – who knew?). I said we want to be good neighbors, just please pick up the poop.

Yet rather than pick up his dog’s mess, what he does now is walk his dogs (without a leash) in the other direction. He will not even look my way when we cross paths. I’m sure he thinks I am just an old beep-bop. I didn’t care as long as it stopped. It did stop for a while. But the other evening, there was his dog again, unaccompanied, doing his business in our yard. I just don’t understand why some people are so disrespectful. It seems to be the way of the world now.

Which brings me back to “The Old Beep-Bop” in the neighborhood of my youth.  He might actually have been a very nice guy who just didn’t want a gang of trespassing kids twirling around, singing and talking loudly by his front window at dinner time. I notice that more and more people my age are not afraid to speak out when people are acting like beep-bops. I guess it might come with the territory. I’m actually a nice lady who makes brownies, tries to be thoughtful and friendly and has a lot of love and compassion in my heart. I never imagined I could become The Old Beep-Bop Lady, yet here we are.  Apparently I have reached my beep-bop saturation point.

However, I think I would truly enjoy a group of young, dancing faeries in my front yard…

fairy in the grass

by Cicely Mary Barker

~*~

Posted in Aging, Are you kidding me?, Dogs, kids, Perspective, Rant, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Linden

This is a rather longish post concerning the frustration of municipal red tape and the loss of a friend, of sorts. It is one of those “shaking my head” type posts. It is also about quality of life, trying to do the right thing, change, loss, adapting.

This small city has rather republican rules about trees. The strip between the sidewalk and the road belongs to the city, and the trees planted on that narrow strip (along with the water lines below it) also belong to the city…… but the homeowner is responsible for maintaining them. You must prune and trim the tree if necessary. You must repair the sidewalk if the roots start to damage or lift it. If parts of the tree fall down, you must clear it and clean up around it. (If the water pipes burst anywhere from the center of the street onward in the direction of your house, even if it is under the city street, you must also make those very costly repairs). All of this burden falls on you – it is yours, yet it is not yours.

If the city decides they want to remove the tree in front of your house, you have no say in that decision, they can do whatever they want. However, if you are the one who wants to remove it, you need their permission to do so – and you have to pay for the removal. The cost of removing a tree can be considerable.

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The Linden tree in that narrow strip in front of our house is a gorgeous tree, a beautifully shaped tree, reaching up past the roof of this Victorian house, three stories high. Within the second floor windows, the boughs create a verdant glow which feels almost as if you are in a tree house.

The Linden provides privacy. For years this tree has shielded us from the view of the old, unregistered RV’s parked in the neighbor’s drive across the street, from the lawn ornaments, refuse containers and the excessive collection of faded patriotic flags. It has blocked our view of a building that houses an office, and their view of us. It has filtered out the sounds from the road and the fumes from the air. As the sun arcs towards the west and begins to roast the front porch on summer afternoons, the Linden provides shade and helps to keep the house cooler.

The scent of the blossoms is a combination of honey and heaven, something sweet and intoxicating. In June or July you will suddenly open the front door in the morning and there it will be in full flower, with an aroma that lures you onto the sidewalk to just stand beneath it and inhale, which you will do for the next few days, until it slowly fades.

Everybody who sees it loves the Linden. One summer a young woman and her fiance stopped and asked if they could take some of the lower branches to display at their wedding, in fond memory of the bride’s grandmother, who used to have a Linden in her yard. They had driven all over the city looking for one until they finally found ours. A lovely tribute.

For a few years the phoebes occupied it. Last year it was the robins. The house sparrows fly back and forth from the tree to the top of our porch where they have their nest each year. Squirrels play up and down the trunk. Every dog in the neighborhood pees on it too.

squirrel on linden trunk

In the fall, there are a lot of leaves to rake up. It does not drop them all at once, but over a period of a few weeks. It also drops a lot of sticks and branches, more than any of the other trees. After every rain the yard and sidewalk are littered with twigs.

This Linden has a spirit about it, a rather lovely spirit. You can sit on the porch and look at it and pretty much feel its good vibes. Every single day I get a familiar, contented feeling of pleasure from this tree.

About four years ago, the top of a large truck grazed some of the overhanging branches – branches hanging over the center portion of the road, which the city should have trimmed. I am guessing that perhaps that incident caused some stress to the tree that we were unaware of.  Aside from tearing off a few small branches from above, the tree seemed to remain intact.

Yet a few months later, the day after a rainstorm, a massive, heavy limb suddenly split off the tree and landed clear across the road in the middle 4:30 pm traffic, blocking cars in both directions. By some miracle it missed landing on any vehicles or pedestrians. A neighbor immediately called the city department of public works. Nobody showed up. The police eventually appeared, looked at it for a minute and then drove away. We stood there rather dumbfounded at the lack of municipal interest, left to our own devices, as traffic was now stopped and could not pass.

The two guys in the first vehicle that the tree had blocked – a pick-up truck – were clearly in a hurry. They suddenly jumped out of the cab, pulled a chainsaw out of the bed of their truck and started cutting up the heaviest parts of the tree right there in the road.  Once they could get through, they zoomed away. The woman with all the lawn ornaments and flags, who happens to be a senior, kindly came across and started to help us drag branches off to the side. Thankful for the impromptu community effort, once we got the road cleared traffic resumed and we continued to clean up the wood and brush, which was now pulled into and filling our driveway.

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Where the limb had fallen there was now a sizable gash in the trunk.We immediately called an arbor company to come out and assess the health of the tree. He told us apparently some water was running into a fissure of the tree and had probably caused the bough to split off after the storm. He felt the tree was still healthy, suggested that we could fill the indentation with cement or leave it, that we could eventually cable the tree but that it seemed stable for now. He said Lindens do tend to drop branches. Despite the gnarly-looking scar, the tree seemed to recover and heal.

The following year, early on a bright sunny morning following a night of rain, yet another large bough split off from the Linden, taking a significant part of the tree. This time it landed on top of the sidewalk, across our driveway and into the driveway next door, just missing the neighbor’s car and our front porch.

Again, luckily, no children were walking past it to school, nobody had been standing there with their dog. The SO and I cut it up and hauled it away. A few guys from the DPW happened to be driving by, noticed the situation and helped cut up the largest parts. We were grateful. Surprisingly, once again the branches and boughs that came down were solid and intact, not rotted. The broken part created another crevice in the trunk where it pulled away.

I called The City Tree Commission to let them know of the situation, and that we were interested in preserving the beautiful tree. The woman in charge who I spoke to, the head of the “tree preservation committee”, appeared to have a hint of bureaucratic attitude. She stated, not in the friendliest of deliveries, that the Lindens are nothing special, that they are all over the uptown area, that they are a dime a dozen and that their little leaves are a nuisance which just clog up all the drains.

I had to wonder at her experience. There are no other Linden trees in the uptown area that I have seen. The trees with all the little leaves all over the place that are clogging up the drains happen to be Locusts. We have Locust trees everywhere. Did she not know the difference between a Linden and a Locust? Either way, despite her being in charge of the “tree preservation committee”, it was clear the city was not interested in preserving or helping in this situation. She asked me to send her some photos and seemed more concerned with knowing exactly who it was at the DPW that had helped us finish clearing it up the following day, as if that was some sort of travesty. She never responded to my email with the photos.

Despite the drama/trauma and the gaping gouges now gracing both sides of the trunk, the Linden continued to thrive and bloom, with a full, healthy canopy….at least for a  while.

About two months ago a tree crew hired by the city came through and removed trees in front of two other houses on our street, on either side of us. When I asked the guys cutting down the trees why that was happening, they said The Tree Commission had sent out an arborist to decide which trees were a a potential hazard and should be removed. Since the city has determined that our tree is not a hazard, I would assume they are deeming it safe. However, I called The Tree Commission again and asked them if they had noticed the Linden tree and why it was skipped over.

This time I reached an administrative person who was a lot more friendly. She said the city had a grant to remove hazardous trees and they chose the trees they felt were most dangerous. I explained my concerns and said it would be great if the city could preserve this beautiful, old tree, and couldn’t they send their arborist out to at least look at it to check again that it was safe? She said there was no more grant money for now but she would make a note of it and put it on a list. She asked me to email photos, which I did (again).  I did not get a response to my email or pictures.

children past linden

With growing concern over the past few weeks, the trunk of the tree appears suspect to me. While the Linden continues to leaf out beautifully and has not dropped any more parts, I have had a mounting sense of unease about it. I keep bringing it up to the SO – somebody needs to come and assess this tree again. When I walk beneath it daily, something feels off. I am afraid somebody could be hurt or even killed if we have any serious wind.

A few days ago it rained again with significant wind and a tornado warning. The SO and I sat on the front porch watching the rain and wondered how the Linden was going to behave. With relief, it seemed to handle the storm with no issues. Yet the following morning while out walking the dog, I discovered a long crack in the trunk facing the street side, immediately took a photo and texted it to the SO. There are small children living next door, kids going by on bicycles, people parking beneath it, dogs, us. There was no more assessing the risk. He took one look at it and called a tree company to take it down.

IMG_7320It is my birthday, one of those “10 best of the year” spring days of low humidity, clear blue, sunshine seventy-degree wondrous perfection days. I had ideas for how I wanted to enjoy my day. Losing this special old friend of a tree was not part of the plan.

The tree removal guys showed up in the morning to take down the Linden. I cannot tell you how upsetting it feels. Our beautiful, spiritual Linden. I felt – out of respect – that I should be present for its demise, and so I stayed from beginning to end, watching from the porch with my iced coffee while they deftly dismantled it.

It took about two hours. I wanted to know how old the tree was and asked that they cut a slice of the trunk so the rings could be counted. I had tears in my eyes. Losing that tree is heartbreaking. Maybe it sounds a little bit “woo-woo” to some, but before it was gone I gave the trunk of that tree a big hug, silently apologized for what had to be done and thanked it for gracing us with its presence all of these years.

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Wouldn’t you know it, a supervisor from the city DPW suddenly drove up, asking if we had a permit to take down the tree. I explained to him that it was a quick decision as it was too dangerous to leave up another minute. That I had contacted the city numerous times about the tree with no response. That during this whole covid-19 thing going on I was under the impression these offices weren’t even open.

He was actually a pretty nice guy. The tree guys had also taken photos and assured him that as they were taking it down they could feel it was shaky and unstable. Wonder of wonders, the DPW supervisor said the city would come back and grind out the stump the next day, which they did. Thankfully, we didn’t have to pay for that too after the expense of the tree removal. I kind of wish it was him that I had been in contact with in the past. Perhaps the outcome might have played out differently. Or maybe not, but it might have felt better. Remarkably, the tree was not rotten inside, save for one thin crack and stain at the bottom portion of the trunk where the water had run down.

The glaring absence of the Linden is disturbing and sad and weird.  When someone familiar or close to you dies, there seems to be a vacuum left in the universe, and so it feels this way with our Linden no longer there. I miss the comforting and benevolent presence of that tree.

We are now totally exposed with no privacy and a not so pleasant view from the windows. The light is strong and harsh, the porch and front rooms already hot. The loss is deeply felt. We will replace the tree with something eventually, although it will take decades before anything would be large enough to shelter the way the Linden did.

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Like many things in life, eventually we will adapt to this new reality, but right now we are not liking it. The tree guys did cut a slice of the trunk for me. It is difficult to get the exact count of all of the rings, as they are not clearly defined. I wondered what life was like on this street, in this house, back on the day a young Linden was planted.  I was hoping that the tree would not be exactly the same age as I was. Somehow, ending the life of that dear tree on my birthday would just be just a little bit too freaky if the ages matched. It is more than half a century old.

It wasn’t the same age, but it was close.

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~*~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, Are you kidding me?, grief, Perspective, Rant, Regrets, Spring, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Surfing the Pandemic

I’ve had no inclination to write for such a long time, even before the pandemic occurred. Now more than ever it has been difficult trying to align cohesive thoughts and feelings and translate them into words. I hadn’t even bothered to see if there were any comments to my old posts. Email notifications are supposed to arrive when a comment is posted, but for some reason that feature doesn’t seem to work. I don’t even have the energy to try and sort it out. With little motivation, when the automatic renewal charge for the site and domain came up on my credit card statement last week, I thought to myself “Why am I even paying for this anymore?”

When logging back in the other day, it was therefore a surprise to discover a message from a reader – someone I do not know personally – letting me know they missed reading my posts and was hoping all was OK. That was the nicest thing that happened to me that day – a reaching out in the darkness, a little validation to spark some motivation. I was touched. So here is a post. It’s long, but there may or may not be another one for a while.

Here we are on the Pandemic Sea; it feels like riding the surf when you are not very good at surfing. Or swimming. Or maybe don’t even like the water. The Virus. So much has been written about The Virus, we are so tired/afraid/sick of/sick from/stressed out about The Virus. The Virus. The Virus. The Virus. We are drowning in news of The Virus.

The potential freak-out factor: Like everyone, I worry for my family members who are working in the health care system and in the National Guard. Of course, I am worried for myself, one of the “vulnerable” population in both age and health conditions. There is that little wave of anxiety almost every time the SO leaves the house and returns. He’s not all that careful. “Did you wash your hands?” “Take off your shoes!” “Drop those clothes in the washer!!!”  I’m tired of his lack of seriousness regarding recommended protocol after he is out and about in public. He asks, “How do you know we don’t already have it?”  I’ve grown sick of following his invisible trail of potential virus, going over everywhere he touches with bleach wipes and a spray bottle of disinfectant. It is exhausting and disheartening…. and possibly futile. And he is greatly sick of me chasing him around and expecting more of him than he already is doing. He thinks I am nuts. It’s true, one minute you are wondering if you are overreacting and the next minute you think maybe you are not taking it seriously enough.

A little personal aside here – yeah, masks are no fun, even the cute ones. Being a person who depends on lip-reading to hear and dealing with everyone wearing a mask so you can’t see their mouths has been a whole different level of awful. And those loops keep pulling the hearing aids off your head…. It’s become frustratingly laughable/cry-able.

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Addressing the valley of the emotional wave at this point and to rant a bit, specifically about masks: To those so self-involved as to not be wearing the masks meant to protect others, to those breezily blowing by everyone else unmasked on your bicycles or in your running gear, breathing hard and leaving the possibility of  virus in your wake for the rest of us to inhale, or walking three and four abreast, often unmasked, on sidewalks and walking trails instead of practicing social distancing –  get over your big ego selfish self and start showing some respect for other human beings. We are all so glad you consider yourself fit and healthy, but it’s not about you. You might not be feeling so cocky if someone blasted virus all over your mother or your child. To those of you so lucky to live in a state where the pandemic has not wreaked incredible loss to you or your community (yet), do you realize how deplorable your baby-tantrums seem because you can’t have free run of Walmart right now? Get over your pathetic self and pray to the universe you do not get caught in the undertow of this.

And while you are at it, stop discarding used and potentially infected masks, gloves and wipes in parking lots, in the street, in the woods where you have been. What kind of parents did these people have anyway? Were they selfish pigs too? Clean up your own damn crap instead of leaving it for others to pick up after you. Some vulnerable essential worker probably making minimum wage ends up having to deal with picking up your disrespectful mess.

Before the wave crested, when this whole process started to go down, I felt pretty much in control, balancing well on the surf board. Due to a habit of inadvertent duplication of products in this house, by mere coincidence in addition to having the usual four bottles of tamari sauce we already happened to have plenty of toilet paper, cleaning supplies and food. I can easily, comfortably and often prefer to spend time alone, so that didn’t seem as if it was going to be an issue. I looked at it as a “hunkering down”. Just think of all the things that were going to be accomplished! The projects completed, attacking the pile of sewing repairs, the jewelry-making that was started and never finished, my henna practice, the purging of stuff from the attic, the movies to catch up on, the stack of books and magazines to complete. The learning of new things! Self-care! Cooking! Exercise! Using up all the unused items in the house! Riding that wave!

The truth is, all of this could have/should have been accomplished prior to the pandemic. Who was I kidding? Well OK, that organic green facial masque that had been sitting untried in the cabinet for two years has finally, almost, been used up. I can honestly say I don’t look any different for all the promises printed on the tube. The assorted soaps, creams and conditioners that had been bought long ago and migrated to the back of the linen closet have been brought forth and are in circulation now. No waste. Good things!

The clothing and other items destined to be donated or sold have been pulled out of closets but are now are sitting in bags throughout the house with no viable destination at the moment, sort of like living in a rummage sale. The thrill of walking the dog unnoticed on eerily, beautifully empty neighborhood streets in my leopard-print pajamas and giant rain boots has long ago worn off. Online retail therapy saw a minor surge on my part but just as suddenly offered little appeal and has been stopped. I’ve packed away my sewing machine after a few pathetic attempts at making face masks and am grateful and relieved to have been gifted some. Planned trips looked forward to with great excitement have sadly been canceled. Paddling in flat water now, waiting for the next wave.

I cut my own bangs, poorly, and I really don’t care. Nobody is going to see them. And even if someone does see the hack job I have done to my hair, I still really don’t care. Are any of you that worried about what you look like at the moment? I gave a hesitant and somewhat strange haircut to the SO, who doesn’t seem to really care either. Meh. Perhaps it is a healthy check on vanity. Isn’t it a bit liberating, sort of? This could swing either way.

Could you imagine trying to weather this without the internet? So grateful for the technology. Yet where FaceTime and Skype used to feel like they were bringing the caller closer, suddenly it just highlights how far apart from each other we actually are. Zoom meetings and parties have quickly lost their novelty. The discipline of our physical distancing leaves a palpable ache somewhere beneath the ribcage, around the heart. I yearn for my children, my grandkids, my siblings. I find myself wishing for my parents but glad they are not here to have to live through this. The hugs are both missed and needed. I have fantasies of irresponsibly breaking this imposed distancing and risking it. I see others doing it. But I could never forgive myself if something went wrong.

Like many, a significant amount of income that was depended upon has suddenly come to an end. The investments carefully planned on helping to take up the slack in the future have somewhat tanked. I have discovered that The Ostrich Method of Not Looking seems to be the healthiest and best course of action concerning these developments at this time. There is not much else to be done about it right now.

The push/pull of social media is just that. Grateful for the venue of connection, yet not enjoying the dependency. Initially enjoying the dark humor of some of the cleverest memes (and still do to some extent), I’m starting to skim past the constant COVID stories. Before, those stories were just about “the distant others”. I could cry about the distant others. Now the degrees of separation have narrowed and oddly, it’s harder to cry about that. More numbing, or denial, or something else.

Diversions – Lately I have posted daily photos of favorite record albums from the past, of the silly socks in my dresser drawer. Things that are light, of little substance. Look away.

Dreams – Has anyone else had the weirdest of the weird? More vivid and convoluted dreaming than usual? Disturbed sleep? Every night has been another strange journey.

Routine – Get up. Make the bed. Take a shower and get dressed, even if going nowhere. Clean the kitchen floor. Brush the dog. Bake. Cook and freeze the extra for another meal. Call the family. Speak to a friend. Pay your bills if you can manage to. One hour of news only, if that. This last part has helped a bit.

I’ve read that some people are starting to lose some of their mental grip. I believe it is so because I just experienced an incident concerning someone last week. There was the unfortunate need to totally block all contact with a person after they became increasingly and inexplicably paranoid, plunging into such an alternate reality that I actually started to feel afraid, both for them and of them. Almost as if the threat of virus removed a veil of normalcy they had been wearing. There was no reasoning or ability to fix it or help them. That was pretty disturbing and has left a troubling aura in its wake.

And speaking of alternate realities, it has been most healthy to immediately change the TV channel the second that egotistically bloated, inept toddler spewing idiocy who is supposed to be leading our nation comes on, choosing instead to tune in to the brand of sane, intelligent and mature leadership that is being broadcast out of New York State during this crisis. Listening to someone grounded in reality and substance while also adept at stringing together a sentence/paragraph/concept is beyond necessary. Anyone who is bothered by my opinion on this, please feel free to click on by.

All of that has been the bottom of the wave, but then the wave comes up and we ride atop again. The scent of the slow greening of Spring is an uplifting drug. Spending the time in nature, even if only in the back yard, has been healthy. Sitting on the ground, pulling weeds in the sun on a cool day with the dog lying in the dirt by my side has been satisfying, healing. Simply chatting with my neighbor, from a distance, over the fence has left an unexpected glow that has lasted for hours.

The woman who lives next door has a small koi pond. The fish have managed to survive through the winter. If I stand at a certain angle, I can look down and see their little orange bodies dotting the water from my second floor bedroom window. Both their survival and bright color bring a bit of joy, finding the gift in the simplest of things.

The Dog. There is probably not so much coincidence that dog spelled backwards is God. They are just there for you, accepting and loyal, no matter what. Comfort, like a teddy, but much, much better.

Another interesting thing I experienced many years ago when going through a life-threatening illness concerned those who were there and those who weren’t. How some people you never would have expected anything from suddenly came out of the woodwork, while some people you were sure would always be there for you surprisingly ended up not. There seems to be parallels with that scenario during this viral situation, the disappointing and the heartening occurring at the same time. I’m sadly missing some old connections, yet enjoying some of the newer ones, while greatly delighting in a few surprisingly renewed ones.

A roof over your head. Food in the pantry and fresh food still available. Keeping in touch with loved ones who have managed to remain healthy through this. Incredibly grateful to and humbled by those health care and other essential workers who are balancing the weight of it on their shoulders for all of us, as we try to navigate the waves and not wipe out.

And for the reader who sent the message – thank you. This post is for you. Stay safe! Be well!

~~~~~~

 

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Coping, grief, Perspective, Uncategorized, Weird | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

These Lovely Boots

It’s been eight years since I posted this story. The boots still sit in my closet.
Remembering all the moms and other loved ones we are missing this holiday season ❤

daeja's view

Every time I would visit my mother, she would dig the boots out of the back of her hall closet and urge me to take them.  As the story went, Aunt Rose, who had expensive taste in clothing and often bought things on a whim that she later did not use, gave her “these lovely boots”.  The boots were winter boots, about calf high, a heavy leather/suede combination with  fleece lining and rubber soles.  I don’t know that they were necessarily made for snow, but they were definitely made for cold weather.  My mother insisted that they were well-made, beautiful and that they would keep me snug and “warm as toast”.  She had only worn them a couple of times.  I don’t know why she was not keeping them herself, but my mother was hell-bent on having me take them.

I resisted.  They looked like old lady boots to me.  They were…

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Little Bird

Following a quick but torrential downpour and some gusty winds, the S.O. discovered a fledgling robin scooting around between the dying iris foliage in our front yard. The linden tree immediately nearby is the most likely place it came from, although there were no nests that could be immediately spotted. Perhaps it fell from very high up.

The woman who lives across the street feeds a multitude of feral cats (a major sore point for me) and the people who live a few houses down on either side of us let their own cats run free throughout the neighborhood (another big sore point). Cats cruise our yard like sharks. They kill often enough that while out walking the dog it is not unusual to come across the remnants of songbirds on the sidewalks. Given that, I figured if I left this little guy flapping around on the front lawn, it wasn’t going to last very long at all.

I very gingerly picked up the wet little bird. It squawked at me in alarm and looked at me with its large, beautiful dark eye. Some of its downy under-feathers came off and stuck to my hand. It was so fragile, such light, delicate little bones, so I tried to contain it using as little pressure as possible.

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Looking around for a safer place to put it, there were no trees with branches low enough to reach, so I tried placing in in the tall Rose of Sharon bush by the porch. But it would not grip the branch with its feet and immediately tumbled down into a tangle of weeds and old, wilted Lily-of-the-Valley leaves below. I then went into the house to find a box to put it in until I could decide what would be the best thing to do for it.

When I came back outside, it was wedged between the stalks of plant debris it had fallen into. Trying to pick it up, it then scurried through a hole in the lattice fence underneath the porch. I figured at least it was safe from any marauding felines for the moment, and also in a dry place out of the rain. Later on I took a flashlight and tried to locate it, but it was getting too dark out to see, so I decided to check on it in the morning, hoping it might remain there overnight.

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This morning when I peered through the porch lattice, the little bird was still there. It was gasping and trying to move its wings – the situation looked critical. I started to cry and went hollering for the S.O. to come outside and pull the lattice off the house so I could get to the bird. He did that. It was moving its legs and one wing feebly and its once beautiful dark eyes were an opaque, whitish blue. Not good. Placing it into a box while frantically scrolling through Google to find the number of any local bird rescuer, my call went to her voicemail, so left a message and also texted her too. And then I watched the little bird start to die.

By the time the wildlife rehabilitator called me back (which felt like an eternity but in actuality was only ten minutes) the bird was lifeless.

Please little bird, don’t be dead. Please, please don’t be dead. I stroked it’s little feathered body gently with a fingertip. I cried. No, I actually bawled and wailed. I’ve been crying all day. Over a little dead bird. Of course maybe it was more than just the bird. Of course it was.

This past week has been a weird one. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the death of a very old, very close friend. To compound that, it also marked the birthdays, one day after another, of two close childhood friends who had died fairly young. I had been thinking of all of them as these anniversary dates ticked off throughout the week, walking around in sort of a leaden haze, a pervasive shadow in my peripheral vision, a floater that keeps rising up and moves away when you try to look at it. Sadness, but in a mature keeping-it-together, “que sera sera” kind of way. And then this bird thing happens and the floodgates open. Who am I crying for? Maybe all of them. Maybe me. Grief by proxy.

It reminded me of my sister who remained stoic and unable to cry after our father passed away. And then her pet rat Bubba died and she was beyond a mess. I kind of think it might be a little bit like that. Perhaps the robin provided a conduit to vent my tears.

But back to the bird situation – usually I would leave a fledgling alone and see what happened. In this case though, it would not have had a chance in our yard. Even as I was scooping it up I could see a couple of the local cats hanging around the neighbor’s driveway from where I stood. Yet I question myself. Should I have not picked it up? Did I hold it too firmly? Did I cause its death while trying to save it? Was it actually already injured beyond hope? Should I have left it for the cats? Did it suffer? Should I have tried to get it out from under the porch last night and not waited? I think probably that. If I could do it over, I would have gotten it to a rehabilitator immediately. I feel like my heart is breaking today.

I wrapped the fledgling in a couple of large hosta leaves from my garden and decorated it with a few flowers before laying it into the ground in the backyard. I would like to find a beautiful rock to place over it.

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Oh, little bird! I am so sorry.

 

~*~

Posted in Animal Stories, Birds, Coping, Daeja's Garden, grief, Regrets, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bullies

A few months back, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning following a tribute event for a departed loved one, someone crept up onto our porch and stole one of our wicker chairs while we slept. In the scheme of life this is not major, although it felt quite violating. Loss after a loss, in a way. The chair was not new, but it was one of a set of four, and it had been a gift. So now there are three. It probably would cost about $75-$100 to replace just the chair if you could even find one like it again. It was the chair I sat on while I brushed the dog outside on a nice day. It had an extra cushion pad on it and a weather-proof pillow. They took that too.

The issue really was not so much the value but more that someone came up onto our property and took something that did not belong to them. It was surmised that it was “just some drunk coming home from the bar after it closed” or “drunk kids”. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for “just some drunk” taking advantage of other people. Their toxicology does not give them a write-off for things like this.

Following this event and because of occurrence a few years back where we actually had delivered packages stolen off our porch, I started pestering the S.O. for a video surveillance system. I really hated the idea – it felt so Big Brother (or really more like Little Brother) but it seemed perhaps it was time.

It was installed not even a month ago and it didn’t take very long to catch the next would-be thief (which I think is probably the same one as last time) on video. Here he is, creeping up onto our front porch at 4:20 am on a Sunday morning. How would you like to find this outside your front door in the dark?

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He came up to the door, noticed the surveillance, turned around and split, moving on to the next house, where we see him take something off the neighbor’s porch and move on. I guess he decided taking another chair (or whatever) from us might not be worth it. His buddy accomplice was with him, following along down the street carrying a flag stolen off someone else’s porch a few houses back. That guy stood in our flowers for a while and then moved on. This lovely guy pictured moved on to the next neighbor, took their snow shovel, then took a geri-walker off another porch of someone who had just gotten out of the hospital.

They kept moving on down the street, pranking, breaking things, taking things from people and discarding them elsewhere as they went along. The next morning we found out they had broken another neighbor’s fence and stolen the potted plant from a woman’s table – a woman who does not have a lot of money to spend on extras. The table they took her plant from is chained down along with her chairs exactly because of people like this. Pathetic.

I sent this and a few other incriminating photos around to some of the neighbors to see if anyone knew him. Word got around like wildfire. One family did some very good sleuthing and found out who it was. Social media can be an amazing tool and the internet is full of information. We discovered a lot of things about our intruder. The most surprising and disappointing discovery is that he is not a fifteen year old “kid” – he is a married Marine in his mid-twenties. That is all I will reveal about him here.

Perhaps I am deluding myself to expect a bit of a higher standard, not only because he is a Marine, (although that is part of it, being the daughter of a veteran and proud aunt of my Army godson) but that I cannot imagine my own kids or their friends at that age ever doing anything so juvenile and disrespectful to other people.

I thought about a few things.

  • I reflected on how lucky he is that he was not attacked by some of the guard dogs on this street, or shot by an armed homeowner.
  • I wondered how his wife feels about him out carousing the streets, drunk, at about 4 am.
  • I wondered how he would feel if someone went to his own mother’s lovely front porch in the little hamlet where she lives and stole her wicker chair and plants off it, or frightened her by creeping up to her house like that in the night.
  • I wondered what his mother would think of her son doing something like that – she probably would not be too proud.
  • I wondered if he even gave a thought or care that he was stealing and destroying things from people in the neighborhood; people who are seniors, or disabled. Some that are poor. Some that have families and children. Neighbors that work hard for their things, even if they are just little things on a porch that make them happy, like flowers and flags and pillows. Because that is all and more that we are here, just people trying to live life and get by.
  • What I think is that he really doesn’t care. His drunkenness is not a valid excuse. And it’s not funny.
  • He is a bully.

Returning from the supermarket this afternoon I started thinking about how great it would be if he replaced the potted plant of the woman down the street with a beautiful new one. If he fixed the neighbor’s fence. If he apologized for trespassing and being scary. How it turned out he had my chair from last time and brought it back. If he got himself to some 12-step meetings. I was thinking how I would like to sit on my porch and talk to him and share some ice cream together, and that he would end up being a nice guy and we could be friends.

As I was driving home having this fantasy (and yes, it is that because it will never happen), I came up to a two-way stop sign at the same time as another car and waited to let him go first. After he drove through, it was my turn. I was already in the intersection when a huge black pickup truck with tinted windows that had been behind the guy I let go through bullied its way through the stop sign and kept coming at me without waiting its turn. I stopped my car and the person inside (I could not see who it was but I would guess a male – giant pickup/ tiny appendage syndrome) pulled his truck all the way up even closer to my car to intimidate me. After I went through, I parked in front of the post office and he slowed down and pulled up to me so close that he almost took the mirror off my car. Another bully.

It used to be one of the most fundamental things you learned in kindergarten was taking turns. Take turns. Share. Don’t take things that do not belong to you. Keep your hands to yourself. Show respect. Do they not teach that anymore? We live in a country where our own leader doesn’t even follow those basic tenets. Another bully setting the example. The whole situation is sobering. It leaves me rather low-spirited, aching not just for the past but for the future.

After all of it and oddly, I somehow found myself having empathy for this sad guy on my security camera. I’m not sure why. 

~*~

 

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Rant, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Second Coming

About seven months ago I posted a piece called Rage , concerning a not very good day I had been having that culminated with some crazy-ass woman chasing me into the parking lot of Kohl’s department store in an intense road rage. If you follow this blog and don’t remember it, you can click back on the link above or here for the backstory.

Her hard face, clenched jaw and set of her mouth, the tight headscarf she was wearing, her shaking fist – all of those images remain sharp in my memory. But mostly it was the massive, rolling wave of prickly, negative energy she was sending out which I recall the most. Over the past year it has become just one more story in the small repertoire of road rage incidents I have encountered over the years, those scary, crazy people you hope to never run into again.

The other day I had lunch with my old friend Kim. Afterwards we ran errands and she needed to go to Kohl’s. We had just walked through the doors when suddenly this blasting force of determined woman with an invisible cloud of intensity around her came striding forcefully into the store and charged past us. She appeared on some kind of mission she was not to be deterred from, in her tight headscarf, clenched jaw and angry face. I turned to my friend Kim and said “Oh my God, that’s HER, the Road Rage Woman!!!.”  Back in Kohl’s again. What were the odds? Kim noted immediately the crazy not-very-good energy of the woman. “Whoa, that’s some high voltage!” she said as we moved quickly away from her, peering from behind a rack of clothes to spy as she headed into the children’s section and furtively started picking up items.

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Staring at her face I wondered, was it the same person? I recalled that in her vitriolic spew months ago she kept mentioning “What if I had had children in the car?” and there she was in the children’s section. Perhaps a further clue, or maybe just circumstantial. If you had put her in a lineup I would have picked her out of a crowd without hesitation. I wondered if she would remember my face from that day. She had been so focused and angry at me, and I have sort of a distinctive look myself – I almost expected her to glare at me, or accost me. But if she did recognize me, she ignored me.

I fought the sudden urge to walk up to her and say “Do you have a large, black SUV?” and then when she said “Yes, why?” I would tell her off, saying all the clever things I had wished I had said to her that day in hindsight.

We lost sight of her while we shopped and forgot about her, until Kim got to the check out and the intense woman stepped in line behind her. I don’t know why, but I suddenly, surreptitiously snapped a photo of her on my cell phone. Looking back at the photo, I have a feeling the woman may have suspected I had done that.

When we got out to Kim’s car, we decided to wait out in the parking lot and see if the woman got into a big, black, mean-looking SUV. Then I would know for sure it was her. She exited the store shortly after us and we circled around the lot like a couple of teenage spies. I can’t believe we are doing this, we are laughing, but we are doing this.

But wait! The angry-looking woman strode past all the black SUV’s in the lot and got into a friendly-looking blue Subaru Forester. “Maybe she got a new car”, Kim said. “Or maybe she is driving a different car today”. 

I looked back on my phone at the photo I had taken of the woman. Was she actually the same one? She certainly looked a bit older than the woman who had accosted me last September, although she had been a screaming person inside a car, determining age was difficult. I laughed again when Kim suggested maybe this was actually the Mother of the Road Rage Woman. I couldn’t tell if she had tattooed arm sleeves because she was wearing a long sleeved jacket.

Are there that many angry-looking women with clenched teeth and tight headscarves with in incredible force-field of negative energy that frequent Kohl’s? Or was this perhaps only some iron-willed lady out on a mission to grab some children’s clothes on sale for her grandchildren? As I had mentioned, I would have picked her out of a police line-up. But I might have been wrong! Or it might definitely have been her!  Anything is possible. I mused over the fact that I had already sent this woman to my own private mind-jail and maybe she didn’t even do it. It’s all moot anyway, but thinking about that sort of thing on a grander scale is a little unsettling.

I hope I don’t run into her again, because she will probably recognize me as that weird woman that peered at her from behind a wrack of clothes and snapped her picture in the department store.

~*~

 

 

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Friends, Perspective, Shopping, Uncategorized, Weird | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Expiration Date

 

Hey! I never redeemed these….. I wonder if they are still any good?

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coupon breakfast

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~*~

 

 

Posted in Aging, Humor, kids, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ashes

Left holding the bag again

Or box, as it so happens

A container of dust

That is not really him

*

Okay it’s true the person is gone

Their spirit and essence

Does not reside in this unworthy cube

of generic black plastic

*

I inherited

The u-shaped outline

From the seat of his greasy work pants

On my cane kitchen chairs

*

I inherited

The burned cord

Of my brand new mini-chopper

When he draped it across the lit burner

*

What I have left

Are photos and laughable memories

Quotes cerebral

And this box of gray ashes

*

Some people don’t care what happens

With their own remains

Or anyone else’s

Well, good for you

*

Let this be my thing, okay?

Tough shit

If you don’t like how I grieve

*

The way I see it

These shards of a brother’s bones

Deserve the honor of loving placement

As a rite of passage

*

How many times would he laugh and say he didn’t care

Then tell me

In a moment of earnest

With eyes shining

“I know you’ll take care of it”

~*~

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, Coping, Friends, grief, Perspective, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hockey Puck Spy

The box addressed to the S.O. from Lowes Home Improvement arrived some time in late October, minus any paperwork inside to indicate who had purchased it or sent it. Inside was one of those hamburger-shaped personal assistant devices that you speak into and it answers your questions. There was no occasion, no birthday to warrant a gift.

“Did you order this?” “Nope.”

“Could someone in the family have sent it as a gift?” Inquiries were made and nobody took credit for it.

“Could it have been a surprise from a customer?” “Doubt it”.

“A promotion for something?” “Not that I am aware of”. 

img_7024So now we have this small, flying-saucer looking disc plugged into the wall in the kitchen. When you say “Hey..”  it wakes up and four little lights come on to indicate it is listening to you while it fields your question.

Aside from asking it what the weather is going to be like, I haven’t found too many uses for it yet. A couple of times it converted measurements for me while I was cooking. Another time I asked it what time a particular store opened. The S.O. has streamed the news through it to listen while preparing food. It has been good for asking who was in that movie when you can’t remember the actor’s name. Or what was the name of that movie that so-and-so was in. That’s been about all I’ve used it for. Of course, you can do all of that with your smart phone already. And sometimes it is not able to answer a question.

I suppose if one had mobility or motor skill issues that it might be helpful in dialing a number or contacting emergency personnel, or looking something up. We have friends and relatives who have either the Apple Alexa or the Google Assistant and enjoy using it for all sorts of things. Shopping lists. Music. Answering trivia. Making a call.

To be honest, it kind of creeps me out and I find myself unplugging it. Not to get into any real paranoia, but there is something a little Big Brother surrounding the premise of these things, yet one more item to add to the already standing issues of smart phone and internet privacy invasion. I can’t help but wonder just a little bit if it is listening in to household conversations when it is not being activated; a “who” behind that innocuous little hockey-puck-shaped disc doubling as a spy.  Not that we have anything all that interesting to say. But it arrived in the mail without explanation.

I laugh (but not so much) when imagining it going rogue and taking over the systems in the house somehow……which of course is not possible……. Still, there is something very HAL 9000 about it –  “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” as it locks the pod bay doors.

 

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~*~

 

 

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Sugar Shack

I’m into wild mushrooms. From spring until the end of autumn you might find me foraging around in the forest, hopefully emerging triumphant with a small basket of woodland goodies, yet other times thrilled to have found just one or two. More often than not I just come home sweaty and empty-handed, with twigs stuck in my hair and clothing covered in deer ticks. Yet if you are into wild mushrooms, there is an excitement connected to the finding, learning about and especially eating of the edible specimens (of course only those that can be safely and unquestionably identified).

While attending a mushroom festival near her home in Oregon, a family member kept texting me photos of various mushrooms and mushroom products she was seeing that would cause the heartbeat of any mycophile to start pounding. A generous and fantastic gift of dried candy cap mushrooms arrived shortly thereafter in the mail – Lactarius rubidus to be exact – native to the west coast and a very big treat for me. “Candy” is the key word of their common name. I had tasted them in delicacies made by others but never had the opportunity to prepare them myself.

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The dried mushrooms arrived in a sealed plastic package which did not even remotely conceal the scent of the contents. The smell of maple syrup emanating from them was so strong that they perfumed the entire kitchen with a blast every time the kitchen cabinet was opened. As a second measure, I put the entire package inside a zip-lock bag, which did nothing, as the maple odor seemed to drift through the second layer as if it wasn’t even there. How is this possible? So I then put the entire double-bagged package into a glass mason jar, which seemed to do the trick. There they remained until a chilly December day seemed like the right time to bake some candy cap cookies.

In the back pages of The Complete Mushroom Hunter by Gary Lincoff is a basic rolled cookie dough recipe with instructions for adding candy caps to make an addictive cookie bursting with maple flavor. After reconstituting the dried mushrooms, I proceeded to saute them in butter as directed. The unmistakable, sweet aroma of maple syrup filled the kitchen, putting me into a Vermont state of mind. If you are into the chemistry-nerd aspect as to why that is, according to Wikipedia, a specific lactone is hydrolyzed when the mushroom is dried into a “powerfully aromatic compound” called sotolon – sotolon being “one of the main compounds responsible for the aroma of maple syrup, as well as that of curry”. Powerfully Aromatic. They are not kidding.

By the time the cookies were done, the house reeked of maple syrup. And I mean reeked. Not necessarily in a bad way (as reeking might imply) but in a pervasive, very intense way. It was everywhere, drifting up the stairs into the bedrooms, filling the dining room, living room, hallways. Into my hair, on my clothing. Everything smelled like maple.

I will admit I ingested a significant amount of dough before the cookies ever went into the oven. Eating raw cookie dough is one of those pleasurably-bad-for-you things that just cannot be helped. Honestly, I could eat an entire bowl of dough and never feel the need to bake them in the oven. I am one of those people who cookie dough ice cream was probably developed for and targeted to. Luckily, there was still plenty of dough left to make actual cookies. Those were sampled too. It was all exciting and remarkable in a cool sort of way to actually be eating cookies laced with mushrooms. You could hand them out to anybody and they would love them and never even think that it could be a mushroom (no, I didn’t do that, and no, in case you are wondering, there is no psychedelic component attached to these). I think even the Significant Other was genuinely impressed, seeing how he ate so many of them.

The following day the house continued to smell strongly of maple, seemingly wafting and recirculating through the forced hot air system. At this point the odor was beginning to be a tiny big cloying. The cookies were stored in a covered container. The utensils and dishes had all been washed. I had showered upon waking up and yet it I could still smell maple clinging about me.

That morning I had an appointment with a massage therapist. Towards the end of the session I started to tell her about the unique mushrooms that tasted like sweet maple, at which point she said “Aha, so that’s what it is you smell like”. OMG, seriously? Apparently it can come out through your pores, get right into your sweat, similar to people who eat a lot of garlic and aren’t aware of it. Except I was aware of it; I can smell the maple on my skin as if I had bathed in it. When I leave the house to walk the dog and then come back inside, the smell of maple hits you in the face like a syrup-soaked wet towel in an IHOP. While continuing to eat a few cookies…. because they were just so good (just can’t stop) I can barely detect the maple taste anymore. The maple is all around me. The maple is in me. It is as if I have become the maple.

On the third day following the making of the cookies, a friend and fellow mushroom aficionado walked into the house and commented that the house smelled like curry. I hadn’t yet consulted the internet to equate the curry connection, but clearly the “Powerfully Aromatic Compound” continued to be at work here. I gave her a few cookies to try out. She could taste the maple flavor and thought they were great. I haven’t asked her yet if it’s coming out of her pores.

 

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Asymmetrical Candy Cap Cookies

It is now day four following cooking with candy caps. There are only a few left, which have now been stored in a container within another container.  Although I am craving them, I have stopped eating them in an attempt to purge that mysterious aroma from my system. The SO continues to enjoy them, although he says he can’t smell anything and can barely taste the mushroom in them now. I suspect we both are walking around in a sweet, syrupy cloud but we just can’t tell. I have stripped the bed and washed all the sheets, my clothing, and myself again.  The house has been vacuumed, the floors have been washed, essential oils have been diffused and I’ve taken out the kitchen trash that might have any residue of L. rubidus. And yet on day four the scent persists. I think I can detect it on the dog’s fur.

Would I make something with these again in the future? Yes. Because…. yes! They are precious, delicious and something special, as they don’t grow here on the east coast. Perhaps next time, eating a third of the raw dough laced with candy caps would not be something to endeavor. Maybe contacting some experts on the subject might yield a suggestion. Certainly there are worse things one can smell like than like maple syrup.

In the meantime, I am wondering how many more days it will feel like we are living in a sugar shack. While searching for information I read that a 64-year-old sample of L. rubidus was found and it had still retained its smell.  Egads.

tiny mushrooms

 

Posted in Are you kidding me?, baking, Cooking, Mushrooms, Uncategorized, Wow! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Crayfish/Karma

When my grandson’s elementary school class sent home a notice saying they have eleven crayfish that are coming up for adoption at the completion of their science unit, my daughter immediately said “NO WAY” and expressed how she is still traumatized from the one we had when she was a kid.

We kept a small fish tank in the kitchen filled with the usual suspects – a few zebra danios, a swordtail, neon tetras, guppies, and a tiny albino catfish. The white catfish with his bristly mustache continued to slowly grow and became a family favorite due to its longevity and overall cuteness. Periodically we would lose some of the others unexpectedly and go out for replacements. It was during one of those forays that we discovered you could buy aquarium crayfish.

My exposure to crayfish occurred at about age seven or eight, catching and releasing little ones in the stream that flowed beyond our neighborhood. Those were magical, sweet memories, so discovering a tank of tiny ones for sale in our local pet store was alluring. The kids would be fascinated. “How cool, they’re like miniature lobsters!” my friend Emrose said. So we bought one of the little guys, not even an inch in length, and added it to our kitchen community.

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It actually was fascinating to watch this creature. Perhaps we did name it, but for the life of me I can’t recall what we called it, nor can my children, and Emrose – who had been living with us at the time and had the best recall – is no longer with us to ask. It liked to eat chicken, so we would save little pieces for it and then gather around to watch it quickly scissor up the meat into miniscule bits with its front pincers and shovel it into its weird vortex of a mouth with a whirling, chaotic motion of tiny front legs.

The crayfish grew. Every once in a while it would outgrow its shell and molt, leaving a ghostly exoskeleton image of itself at the bottom of the tank – which it would then efficiently scissor up and eat the same way it ate the chicken pieces we fed it! The molting and shell-eating continued to happen maybe seven or eight times throughout the year until the crayfish and the albino catfish, although both still small, were the dominant size creatures in the tank.

One day Emrose noticed one of the fish seemed to be missing. “Didn’t we have four zebras?” Perhaps it jumped out of the tank (fish do tend to do that sometimes). Or maybe we really didn’t have four zebras to begin with (space cadets). We shook our heads at the mystery. A couple of weeks later we noticed that a few of the neons also seemed to be gone without a trace. We also observed the albino catfish was no longer hanging out on the bottom as usual, but now lurking above and behind the filter. How were we so naive to not realize what was happening?

Everyone was rushing around before breakfast getting ready for work and school the morning the horrible discovery was made. In my mind I equate the event with “The Horse Head Scene” in The Godfather, because it was about that shocking to me. Within a fish tank suddenly eerily devoid of fish, there perched the crayfish, happily scissoring away. In its claws, held like an ice cream cone, was the upright body of the headless catfish it had been devouring.

We all screamed at once. With a knee jerk reaction I threw my car keys into the tank at it as it let go of the decapitated catfish and scurried to a corner. You would think after all the chicken it was fed that it would have been enough to satiate it, but no, it had to go and eat all the fish in the tank too. I don’t know what planet we must have been on to have missed this.

There was no question as to what needed to be done. Emrose scooped the crayfish up into a cup and we paraded down to the pond with it in order to get rid of the thing. As I tossed it as far out as possible, a bass quickly came to the surface and ate it before it barely hit the water. Emrose turned to me and said, “Karma, né?”

That was the end of our adventure in fish. After that we moved on to lizards. Given our history, I can’t blame my daughter for not wanting to adopt her son’s class crayfish. Years ago one of them brought home the class chicken (no longer a chick) over the holidays and we had a fiasco in our kitchen. But that story is for another time….

~*~

 

 

Posted in Animal Stories, Are you kidding me?, kids, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Religion

It felt like everyone was waiting “forever” for autumn colors to happen, since it was definitely later than usual. The leaves stayed green, but a dull green, and some trees had already turned brown without any show of color at all. There were a few flames here and there, but mostly not bright ones. “I guess this fall is not going to be one of the better ones”. “Sort of dull”. “Kind of a bust”. “Too much rain this year”. “Climate change”. “Wonder what this will do to the tourist season?” “So disappointing”. “Is it over?”  But then ever so slowly, about three or even four weeks past what was “the usual time”, things began happening, and with that change I became edgy and felt the urge to shake things up a bit. The light had changed but it was more than that.

In yet another typical last-minute decision, I took off to visit a group of people usually seen only about once a year and decided to take the back roads to get where I was going. Literally over the mountains and through the woods where, through light rain and mist, I stumbled into such color I could feel my pupils dilating and heart pounding from the intensity of it all.  Alone in the car, saying “Wow. Just… WOW” to nobody. Around a bend the vista opened to a couple of farm silos near a pond edged by low vermilion foliage, which grew beneath glowing amber trees juxtaposed against a moody gray sky. All of this reflected as if bleeding watercolors into the pond. The scene was so emotionally intense that my chest ached as I passed by.

There was no place to pull over. I considered turning around just to “take the picture”.  But the picture was already taken in my head – one of the many memory photos that are permanently stored in an archive that cannot quite be accurately described. If I had stopped with my phone camera to take the shot, it was doubtful justice could have been done to what lay before me, and certainly not able to interpret what it did to the soul. Further on unfolded scene after scene of intensely golden-tangerine hillsides pulsating in that strange light against the steel-colored sky.

A few moments onward I wished I had someone with me to share the incredible beauty. Wistful memories rushed back to the vibrant autumns of the past and the moments shared with loved ones. Music by The October Project probably would have been an excellent accompanying soundtrack, and yet there was something about being alone and quiet in thought and alone with myself that seemed important in what was now becoming a rather introspective and personal journey.

Further on it appeared the Fall had already peaked, leaving only nut-brown mountains and patches of bareness as an indication of the season to come. Well, OK, that’s that, it was great for a while. Yet in another mile those hills became punctuated by spears of citron and school-bus yellow. Around another turn and there is a Japanese Maple of scarlet and carnelian pulsating against a dark stand of fir trees. A palpable presence of something beyond awe began rising up inside and radiating out as if electricity. It became so unbearably beautiful, I wept.

Then aloud, to myself, to nobody, I knew with certainty – “This is God”. For the rest of the trip I sporadically cried. Memories of other precious, fleeting experiences throughout life floated up like so many fragile, iridescent bubbles.

Autumn. The light is like honey, the air tinged with wood smoke and apples, pine needles and frost. The trees, mountains and sky pulse with the blood of the universe. Arriving at my destination, I was so overcome with emotion that I had to lie down for a while and let it wash over me.

Thirty-six hours later I was on the road again for the trip home. Coming from a different direction, it would be a new view to appreciate. The morning sky was a crisp blue, the early light creating a different portrait to step into. On the return the thought was to stop at the silos and lake and snap that missed photo.

Here and there was another foliage blaze to gasp at. One sigh after another. Exclamation points of goldenrod yellow spires against a hillside of darkest spruce. A flash of crimson oak, a burst of marigold tinged maples. I found myself thanking them out loud, all alone in the car.  “Thank you yellow tree! Thank you! Thank you!” and then thinking “you are getting crazy”……but it felt so right to thank them for their precious gift.  And then I hit more beauty that made me tear up some more.

Finally coming upon the lake and silos, I slowed down in order to find a place to pull over for that photo, only to discover that all of those vibrant ruby leaves that had been reflected in the lake were now a drab gray-brown, their vibrancy fleeting and gone in just over a day.

Nothing is permanent.

I found my religion again this weekend. There were no new revelations or discoveries, it’s still the same religion, just renewed. The preciousness of those small moments between people you love or care for, those still here and those who are gone – eyes meeting over a shared moment, across a table or a room. A laugh. An adventure, a sliver of intimacy. The beauty in an emerging seed, the turn of a flower petal. A flock of birds turning in unison overhead, the shadow of a cloud on a hillside.  The devotion in the eyes of your dog. The magic of a baby being born, the glow on your child’s face, being moved by music, art, a rainbow.  The incredible, hollow hole someone can leave in your heart when they are gone. It’s not new, it was only an in-your-face reminder.

I try to avoid using trendy cliché phrases like “Feeling Blessed” and “Grateful” and “Enlightened”. They are just so overused these days. Often one could just as easily say “feeling cursed” depending on the circumstances; although it is so unpopular to admit that truth, I’m there more than I would like to be. But this weekend I felt all those things, as if the trees were calling out, as if their voices could be heard through their colors. As a person who doesn’t hear well, over time everything seems to have become more visually intense. As the ride winded on, I felt profoundly at one with the vibration of the universe. It made me want to be good, to be patient and kind. It made me think about and ask for forgiveness. It brought forth words like “appreciate” and “gift”. It made me wish for the capacity to “accept life’s difficulties with grace”.  It was an exercise in introspection brought on by intense natural beauty while taking the back roads, the longer way, the (oh, OK…) “road to enlightenment”. The annual friend’s visit was not the focus; it was merely the vehicle provided in order for this dose of religion to occur.

As someone special quoted to me a number of times in the past, “It’s not the point that’s the trip, it’s the trip that’s the point”.

Amen.

autumn hf

 

 

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I Found Your Wallet

It’s the second time in a few short months that I’ve searched out the owner of a missing wallet. The first one showed up in one of our garbage pails, only noticed because the area around the can was surrounded by strewn business cards and receipts belonging to the owner. There was no cash inside (didn’t expect to find any either) but there were credit cards, an insurance card and an out-of-state driver’s license. The kinds of things that are a headache to replace. Everything was soaking wet from the rain and dirty, but I went through it and made it a mission to find the owner.

According to the driver’s license, it was a guy in his early twenties. With the advent of cell phones it is pretty much impossible to find someone’s phone number on the internet anymore (unless you want to pay for it). So I turned to Facebook (the place I have recently loved to hate) to search for him.

Hardly anyone’s driver’s license photo (those mug-type shots) looks quite like the selfies people put out on social media, making it a bit of a challenge at first, especially since this person was from out-of-state and there were multiple people with the same exact name who lived closer and showed up at the top of the search. I didn’t think he had a very common name, yet there were over three hundred and fifty people on Facebook with that same name (yes, I counted, or started to, then gave up when I realized how ridiculous that was). And some of the guys with the same name actually lived in close proximity to where the wallet was found but were not him.

Luckily, he didn’t have all of his information hidden, so I was able to track down a few identifiable tidbits based on his license photo that “might” be him –  that he was working for a local candidate running for Congress (which meant, despite his driver’s license of origin, he was in the area); that he had recently graduated college (which lined up somewhat with the birth date on the license). So I sent him a message on Facebook. “I think I found your wallet, can you give me some proof it’s you?”  He got back to me in mere minutes with proof it was him.

It turns out he had recently moved to the area, and while canvassing the neighborhood for his candidate had left his wallet in his unlocked car, where it was promptly stolen. I pondered the wisdom of that and chalked it up to youth, or being a newbie to the area, or….. who knows what he was thinking…..or not thinking. Of course the cash was gone and he had immediately cancelled his credit cards, but that health insurance card, driver’s license and some other personal things inside were items he was very glad to get back, along with his soggy, dirty wallet.  When he said “I have to go call my mom, she’ll be very relieved”, I had to smile.

lost wallet2

The second one was found in the gutter this morning by the S.O. while he was walking the dog. He tossed it to me and said “Here’s another one to track down”.  The wallet was wet from the rain (what is it about lost wallets and rain?) and so thick with credit/debit cards and papers that it was absolutely bulging. Of course, there was no cash inside this one either, but given the amount of stuff in it, it looked to be otherwise intact. I got to work.

This guy was in his late thirties and had a way more common name. By just scrolling down and guestimating, I would say almost eight hundred guys with the same name as his are on Facebook. It is staggering how not unique we sometimes are. Some of those people were local. And just like the last guy, the driver’s license photo didn’t quite look like what I was seeing on Facebook (glasses/no glasses. Hat/no hat. Facial hair/sort of facial hair, etc.). However, the address on the license was for a multi-family house right down the street. Which didn’t mean the person still lived there, so I didn’t want to hand over a wallet full of credit cards and other very personal info to a stranger. There were no contact phone numbers inside.

As I scrolled through the most likely photo of the person pictured on the license, I saw that it appeared they worked locally and there was a card in his wallet that also had the name of that business. People were also wishing the guy a recent happy birthday, which lined up exactly with the birth date on the driver’s license. I sent him a Facebook message but he didn’t pick it up. It didn’t look like he went on very often and he was probably at work anyway…..freaking out about his lost wallet. So I looked up his work number and called him at work.

You can imagine how wary he was when some stranger called and said “Is this ________?” I was guessing he probably thought I was a collection agency or a subpoena server, or something worse. He kind of grunted without quite telling me it was him. So I said “did you lose your wallet?”  He responded with, “Is it a black wallet with debit cards in it?” (at which point I almost said “Aren’t almost all guy’s wallets black?“). I told him I wasn’t comfortable handing over a wallet fat with bank cards to anybody without more info.  But then he told me his address and started ticking off familiar names of the neighbors, said he hadn’t noticed he lost it but must have dropped it when he got in his car for work this morning, which was parked pretty much where it was found. He also said he kept his cash in his pocket separate from his wallet, which I guess in this case is a good thing for him. He quickly left work to come and retrieve it.

So I guess in the event you might ever lose a wallet, it could be helpful to leave up a photo or some even slightly identifiable info on social media so people can find you. If it was one of those blank hidden accounts some people have, they might not have gotten their stuff back. The guy messaged me to say thank you, and I messaged him back to say maybe he wants to keep his social security card in his house and not his wallet. Not that I wanted to sound like his mother, but it’s probably one of the worst pieces of ID to lose.

Both times it felt rather satisfying to be able to get those wallets back to their owners. And now I know another person in our neighborhood.

~*~

 

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Rage

Okay, it was clearly my fault.

Today started out poorly, following a week without one solid night’s sleep. Perhaps it was because I stayed up too late watching a forgettable movie with loathsome characters and a predictable outcome, but last night was the worst, tossing around with some unspecified, vague anxiety lingering beneath the edges of insomnia, which went off into multiple directions of angst and obsession.

What have I done with my life? What can I do right now to change my life? My friends are dying off. Am I next? How are my kids going to deal with all my stuff? I have too much stuff. What is going to happen to me? I should do _____. I should do _____. I should have done _____. I need to finish _____. I want to do ______. How am I going to afford _____?  Why did I ever ____? This room is too hot. The fan is blowing on my neck. Maybe the flu shot I got is keeping me awake. There’s nothing good on TV.  Am I depressed? I don’t want to be depressed. I refuse to be depressed. I feel something like depressed. What did they find on that CT scan? I don’t want to know. I don’t want to do this. I’m sick of this. There’s nothing to worry about on the CT scan. You shouldn’t turn on the TV or look at the phone when you have insomnia because the light will keep you awake. Don’t look at the phone. Why are you looking at the phone? Stop it! How come the S.O. can fall asleep with the TV on but I can’t?  I’m hungry but if I get up I’ll never go back to sleep. Maybe the tea I had is keeping me up. Maybe the chocolate I had is keeping me up. For a little dog, he sure takes up a lot of space in the bed.  It’s 12:30 am, I should fall asleep soon. It’s 2 am. It’s 3:14 am.  It’s 4:05 am.  And on. And on……

insomnia

It’s been a summer of highs and lows – people in my general age group have been dying. My friends and I are in that demographic zone now where this is how it is going to be, where Mick Jagger is on the cover of AARP, where we stare down the tunnel of our own mortality. It’s been a bit sobering, affecting people in my direct social sphere. A very old, very close friend and co-adventurer, essentially a brother that didn’t share my DNA, unexpectedly passed away eight weeks ago, just a couple of days after we saw each other. We used to joke about a whole group of us retiring to his mother’s (long ago sold) condo in Florida when we someday got old, because of course that day would never come since we were young and immortal. We were going to go to Italy next year and eat lots of good food. We were going to California soon to visit his sister. Just that week we were going to drive up to my daughter’s home to see her before her new baby arrived. He was going to make the special glazed orange cake he always makes for an occasion to take to her. We were going to collect the free dessert we earned with our points at the lunch place we met at every few weeks next time we went. We were gonna. We were gonna. We were……..

For a while I was able to pretend as if we just hadn’t had the chance to get together for a while. I was able to immerse myself in a wave of “recently-departed-oriented-tasks” which was enough of a distraction to keep from looking at what was now gone. Those diversion tactics have long since served their purpose.

So I got out of bed this morning in a sleep-deprived funk. I realized I was depressed, not just about losing my friend, but with other good causes. The “D-word” is not a place I wanted to be heading, so I tearfully tried calling a few friends who would understand. Chatted with one for a little bit. Unfortunately, the other one who is also deeply mourning the same loss didn’t answer. Maybe that’s just as well…..

Feeling isolated, useless and really not liking myself very much, I stupidly went onto Facebook, a place I have been seriously disliking lately, figuring it would divert my attention. Don’t ever go onto Facebook when you are feeling poorly about yourself or life. While there are many interesting and fun things to see there, when in A State of Mind all you notice is the superficiality and ego, which prompted me to methodically start removing some of my photo albums, with a plan to perhaps take a break from the platform altogether.

Upon getting dressed, I discovered – as I have discovered every morning for the past few months – that all my clothes were uncomfortably and unattractively too big, especially my pants. For a while this was cause for personal celebration, as I have deliberately worked hard to drop a number of pounds, motivated by health reasons, and had triumphantly reached that goal. But then my friend died and the weight kept dropping beyond my intentions. Maybe it is The Grief Diet, usually seen surrounding divorce and death. Not a healthy way to lose. Getting back to a balance will be necessary, but in the meantime, I’ve been belting my pants overly tight to keep them up, giving the impression of a scarecrow with a cord holding up bunched, baggy, lumpy, straw-filled jeans. I figured perhaps a little retail therapy for a pair of pants might be a good thing to do today to help snap out of it. The other errand while out was to stop by the medical center and pick up the copy of my recent CT scan and radiology report they had waiting for me – just another nagging and sobering thing at the back of my mind I have been trying not to think about too much, but adds to the the weight of the day.

scarecrow2

So anyway, with the above background and distractions in mind, this is probably the reason it was my fault.

There were two lanes of left-turning traffic into the shopping center. I didn’t see the big black SUV when I moved over one lane. It was either there all along, or might have zoomed up suddenly to get ahead of me, which is what I suspect is probably what happened. Either way, I should have seen it but didn’t notice it until it rode right up on my rear bumper and leaned hard and long on the horn – a very large, shiny black SUV with one of those menacing looking grills, with tinted windows hiding whoever was inside. Sorry and a little embarrassed at my faux pas, because yes, I must have cut the person off in my distraction, I mouthed “I’m sorry” and made the apologetic face and gestures that you give other drivers when you do something stupid like that. But the person couldn’t let it go and pulled up right next to me (while we are all still in motion up the road), letting down their passenger side window and extending “The F-U Finger” towards me while leaning on the horn some more.

Well, most of us have been there. As a toddler, one of my kids suddenly started saying the word “Ath-ole”. When asked where she learned that word, she said it was “In the car, Mommy says it when she’s driving”. So I get it. Since I was apparently the “ath-ole” of the day, I mouthed “I’m sorry” again and continued to turn into the store parking lot.

the finger

The SUV changed lanes and came right after me, close on my tail. Great, I had a road-rager following me.

Pulling into a parking space between two cars, I tried to get close enough to the store where other people coming in and out might witness what was going on, just in case. Then I sat in my car for a while and waited to see if the person was going to give it up and just go park. The car seemed to have disappeared and I hoped it was over and hopefully we would not recognize each other in the store, or if we did, I would apologize again and move on. I was just about to get out of my car when the white car parked to my left pulled out of the space and suddenly, like a shark on the hunt, that black SUV slipped in neatly next to me and rolled down their window. And I thought “Oh boy, here we go“.

I don’t know why I was surprised to see it was a woman, maybe in her thirties or early forties, hard to tell. She had tattooed sleeves on both arms, was wearing a bandanna scarf on her head and was yelling. I rolled down my window and I said to her “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you. I’m truly sorry” and put up my window again. But she wouldn’t let it go, she kept yelling and shaking her fist at me. Finally I let down my window again and said to her “I don’t know what else you want me to say. I didn’t see you. I am truly sorry I cut you off. It isn’t necessary for you to be so aggressive and get all road rage-y on me, give me the finger, tail gate me and follow me into the parking lot. It’s done. I’ve apologized. Why don’t we continue on our ways and just go shopping?

But she still couldn’t let it go! And at that point I couldn’t totally understand what she was saying (because I’m kind of deaf) but it was something about “I’m not being aggressive” and “What if I had had kids in the car?” and “You need to know what you did” or “I want to make sure you know what you did” or something like that. Yes, I cut her off. It was my fault (I think). Nobody got hurt, there was no accident. I just kept saying “I said I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to tell you.” It occurred to me that she was overreacting so much that she could have even pulled out a gun. Maybe another time I would have come back at her with a different response, a more confrontational response. But I couldn’t get angry or even worry about it, I was that disassociated and in my own stuff. Clearly she was having a much worse day than I was.

Finally she stopped. I expected her to get out of her car and follow me into the store. But she pulled out of the parking lot and zoomed out to the road heading in an entirely different direction. She wasn’t even going to go shopping there, she had just followed me in from the street in her rage.

sharpeiAfter that I spent a ridiculously lengthy and unproductive amount of time in the store attempting to find a decent fitting pair of jeans and trying on a number of other things that just weren’t going to work. Going into a dressing room when you’re not feeling that great about yourself is about as bad as going on Facebook. Yet another something I hadn’t thought out before embarking this morning.

I’m home now, eating chocolate. That’s about the best I can do today.

~*~

 

Posted in Aging, Coping, grief, Perspective, Rant, Shopping, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Butterfly Sheets

On the day I was changing the bed linens, I came across a set of butterfly pattern sheets that had migrated to the back of the shelf in the closet. The pillow cases were long gone and the elastic on the fitted sheet had lost its resilience, yet I felt compelled to pull them out and maneuver them onto the mattress.

I felt a little flutter in my chest as I went about this task. My mother had gifted two identical sets of these new queen-size butterfly sheets to me back in perhaps the nineteen-seventies or early eighties.  I think they might have come from a store called Caldor or a similar department store that was prevalent back then. At the time my then-husband and I had been so monetarily challenged that a gift of sheets like this was an extravagance and a luxury, and yet two identical sets seemed silly to me. Even my mother had remarked, “I don’t know why I bought you two of the same”. In retrospect I do know why though. She wanted to make sure I would still have something nice that would last.

IMG_3645

my butterfly sheets

Given that we didn’t need two sets and were not in the best financial straits at the time, when a holiday came around and it was time to give presents, I (guiltily) re-gifted one set of the new ones to my sister-in-law.

I used my own set of sheets for decades. They were of the softest cotton, made even softer over time. My new babies lay upon those sheets. I have dreamed and cried into those sheets, and there was a comfort in the fact that they had been given to me by my mother, a connection to her and typical in the way I hold on to many things. As the years went by and the sheets started to wear out, I realized why she gave me two sets and regretted not keeping the second as a spare. One more piece of mom gone. I could not part with them or use them for rags. They made their way out of sight but not totally forgotten.

So there I was, putting those butterfly sheets on my bed decades later. While carefully folding back the top sheet I wept silently for my mother, who has been gone many years. Back in the day she would have ironed those sheets, which would have added a further level of comfort and bliss – there is something wonderful about sleeping in fresh, clean, ironed sheets which I have not experienced since childhood.

I snapped a photo of my butterfly sheets, which I imagine anyone old enough to have had them will recognize, as they were a popular pattern at the time. I even asked my sister-in-law if she still had hers in hopes of coercing them back to me, but of course that was silly as it’s been ages ago and she didn’t have them anymore.  And that was to be the end of my blog post, which was going to focus not only upon my compulsion for holding on to things, but for the appreciation of what you have at the time.

But during the week I slept in those butterfly sheets and the time it came to rotate to another clean set on the bed, I didn’t get around to posting because two very powerful things occurred in my sphere. The first was the unexpected death of a very close, extremely dear friend who could rank up right up there with being called a brother. He was someone who shared a home with us back in the day those butterfly sheets were on the bed; someone who shared those meandering, colorful, free days of youth when we let the wind take us where it would before the colors faded from our wings and the spring flowers gave way to the autumn of our lives.

A few days following this incomprehensible loss, I watched my second daughter deliver my first granddaughter into the world, emerging wet and shiny and new like a magical butterfly from her cocoon. Circle of life and all that.

little feet

The metaphors concerning butterflies and the elusiveness, fragility and brevity of life have been flitting through my mind and heart.

🦋

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, Coping, Friends, grief, Perspective, Regrets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Grubby

It’s not as if I need any more books, but it seems they accumulate faster than they get purged. Library book fair day is always something spontaneously attended as there are a number of small libraries scattered throughout our area where book sales occur throughout the year. Never planned, I always seem to find myself there. Usually it means running into a variety of local friends and acquaintances, some that are only seen once or twice a year.  Pleasant chit-chat ensues amidst a bit of crowding as we meander through the long rows of stacked books looking for a few gems of interest to entice the eye. This year though, something was different.

It was a sunny, clear morning as I set off for the library. Detouring down one of the usual neighborhood side roads, I discovered too late that there was a block-long tag sale going on. Every single house on the street had tables, driveways and front yards filled with the contents of their garages and attics for sale. Cars were haphazardly pulled over to park on both sides of the narrow street, emptying their contents of eager and fast-walking bargain hunters, creating a palpable static. There was no room to back up and no room to move forward – I remained stuck as a large pickup truck totally blocked my path while waiting for someone to get back into their car and free up a spot. The driver scowled at me from behind her steering wheel. With no place to pull off to let her by, I threw up my hands in a “what am I supposed to do gesture.” But she wasn’t going to back up and let me through, so we were at a stalemate. It was suddenly not such a nice start to the day. I edged my car over as far as I could without denting one of the parked cars, finally allowing yet another scowling woman to pull out of a parking space. The truck edged in quickly, clearly suspecting that I was going to steal her space (I wasn’t), narrowly missing my fender. Continuing further down the street and on to my escape, I could not help but notice that the pushy throng of treasure-seekers on the sidewalk did not look happy, but rather intense and grabby, as if at a Black Friday sidewalk sale in early June.

The library fair had only been going on for about a half hour when I arrived. It was the most crowded I had ever seen it, with streams of excited bibliophiles striding purposefully towards the tents filled with books. Elbow to elbow, bumping and tripping over each other, profuse with “Excuse me,” “Oh, I’m sorry!” we made our way down the rows as we browsed. That is when I noticed something different was happening.

book fair

Crouching under tables, reaching around the feet of the browsers, rifling through boxes and cruising along the tables at high-speed were a perhaps four of five people using their cell phones or other devices to scan the books. They were not enjoying the titles or searching for a subject of interest. Clearly they were book dealers with scanners trying to find the titles that were rare or would be able to bring in money. Without even looking at the title they would quickly scan the book jacket with the disinterested demeanor of a supermarket checker running through a large order, dumping large quantities of books into their boxes.

On one hand, I suppose it is a good thing for the library to be able to sell as many used books as possible, regardless of what the reason is. And yes, everybody has to make a living, including second-hand booksellers, who do take the work out of searching for titles an interested party might want to find. Yet there was something that felt rather grubby about seeing these somewhat mercenary individuals at a friendly, small-town library fair zipping through the stacks at lightening speed without really caring what each book, each story, each gem of information, had to hold within its pages beyond its monetary value. There was something unsettling about not allowing the book-lovers there to even get a chance to see what treasures might have been available before they were dumped unseeing into the dealers boxes.

What happened here, and on the street earlier in the day, is one of the reasons I rarely frequent flea-markets anymore either. Browsing tables of bric-a-brac used to be something I loved, but the competitive air surrounding many of them these days has definitely taken some of the joy out of it. I came away with a few interesting books for myself and for friends and saw some people I knew. The point wasn’t that I missed out on anything “good”, because there were thousands of choices and certainly enough to leave one pleased with what they found. For sure, second-hand dealers have been doing these searches for years and technology has just sped up their process. But somehow, seeing people mechanically rifling through the books with scanners seemed to lend a sadly distasteful air to the event.  It was just a little bit…… grubby.

IMG_2909

my fun finds

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Impermanence

I lost something today.

My birthday morning was spent hopping from place to place with a very old friend. After opening a goody bag full of fun and thoughtful gifts, we headed for Starbucks for a free birthday Cold Brew. Then off to a local CSA plant sale for tomato plants. Onward to two different hardware stores for wire tomato cages and flower bulbs. It was a nice day, culminating with a plan to take our dogs for a romp. But when I got home to fetch my dog, I discovered the chain around my neck had broken and the silver spiral pendant that I have been wearing almost daily for about the last twenty years was gone.

spiral2

The pendant was not just any piece of jewelry to me – it held substantial significance and emotional importance. When I had first seen it years ago, I had such a strong reaction that I bought it right off the neck of a sales girl in Sedona. It was something I purchased for myself while on the verge of a life-altering change. Throughout the years it has been worn for all occasions, including through hell and back.

Spiral designs have been discovered as far back as 10,000 B.C. and exist in a multitude of cultures.  People are drawn to the symbolism for many reasons – they can signify continuity of life (birth, growth, endings, beginnings again), nature (galaxies, hurricanes, whirlwinds, tornadoes, whirlpools, snails, shells, plants, animals, vortices, black holes, DNA, fractals, The Fibonacci Sequence, the hair whorl on the crown of a baby’s head), infinity, and more. All of these things appealed to me, but it goes well beyond that. It is a symbol of change and evolution, and I was on the brink of a major transition at the time it came into my life. In addition, it is the spiral shape of my very curly hair, which has defined me since birth. It is also the shape of the cochlea within my ears that are damaged and responsible for my deafness.

nautilus shell

My silver spiral was a substantial piece, about the diameter of a quarter. One side was cut in so that if you ran your thumb across it you could feel the edges, which were not rough but very tactile. The other side was smoother and rounder, almost as if it had a male and female side to it. If held long enough, you could feel it warm in your hand. It originally hung from a snake chain which was comfortably long enough to be able to play with it while wearing it. I would find myself holding on to it while in thought or concentration, when worrying, during moments of stress, distraction, or even times of enjoyment.  It became an unconscious habit. While I didn’t wear it every day, most days it was against my collarbone and has become a part of me. I have actually envisioned that someday after my death, one of my children might want my spiral as a memory. Perhaps not, but sometimes those weird and somewhat maudlin thoughts can go through your head. Eventually the original chain, a rather odd length at 19 inches, wore out. In the interim, while waiting to find the right one again, it was strung on a thinner, shorter chain. That was the one that had broken.

One of my young grandsons has a little piece of cloth with an animal head that he sleeps with and often keeps nearby for comfort. He calls it his Lovey. He doesn’t need it with him all the time, but when he feels he needs his Lovey, it is important that it be available. When his Lovey periodically becomes lost it is always cause for distress. Because of this, my daughter found a “Backup Lovey” for just-in-case. This lesser Lovey temporarily became “Car Lovey” so that it could go in the car while the more important Lovey would remain safe at home. Car Lovey is not as special as original regular Lovey, but definitely good in a pinch. Eventually he will outgrow his Lovey, but in the meantime it serves a purpose.

lovey

Lovey

There were actually a few times where I thought how sad I would be if I lost my spiral. While there are many other beautiful spiral pendants out there – indeed over the years there seems to have been an upsurge in their popularity – none seem to have the exact heft and feel that resonates exactly with me. I have looked for the same spiral but have never found exactly that one again. More than once the thought has occurred that perhaps it would be a good idea to find someone who could make me a new one from a cast of my original so I could have my own sort of  Backup Lovey. But that idea was never pursued. Perhaps it is a ridiculous idea, highlighting my attachment to things.

Upon the discovery of this loss, there was at first a mild sense of disbelief. Really???? And I lost this special item on my birthday???? Doesn’t that just figure!!!! What does this mean? What is the universe trying to tell me?????  The search began in my driveway, along the garden beds where the new tomato cages had been placed. Among the poppies, the porch, the stairs, the dining room, the kitchen, the bedroom. Along the fence, beneath the Rose-of-Sharon. Retracing my steps. Nothing. A sad, sinking feeling hit me. I lost my Lovey.

I texted my bad news to my children (we share all our news) – “I lost my spiral!”. They were aghast. “Ugh 😦  like it fell off your neck?”…“Oh no!!!!” I contacted my friend K. and headed over to her house to see if it had fallen off in her car. Not there. I realized I was going to have to return to every place we had been and walk backwards through the morning everywhere I had stepped. Even though K. had been just about to plant the iris bulbs she had purchased and we were planning on a dog walk, she graciously offered to accompany me back to all those places, theorizing two sets of eyes would be better than one.  Feeling grateful, we got into the car and headed back. That is where our philosophical discussion began.

We talked about what it feels like when you lose a piece of jewelry, like one of a favorite earring.  I conceded it was not as devastating as losing the bracelets my father had gifted my sister and I as a children, or my mother’s wedding ring.  But still, pretty upsetting. Perhaps my time with the spiral was meant to end and it was time to let go. If it is not found, perhaps the person who does find it was meant to have it for some reason. Nothing is forever. Everything has an end. Things change. The futility of attachment. Life is transient.

Impermanence.

“Impermanence, also called Anicca or Anitya, is one of the essential doctrines and a part of three marks of existence in Buddhism.  The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant”. All temporal things, whether material or mental, are compounded objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction.”

While Buddhist tenets in theory make sense and speak truth to me, I have always struggled with them in practice. Perhaps this was a strong lesson in acceptance. Perhaps this loss, which occurred on the day of my birthday, was not inauspicious but actually a kind of gift which would lead me into the contemplation of impermanence and letting go. But I was not ready to just let it go so easily.

As the day warmed and moved into afternoon, it was back to the CSA plant sale to scour the area. While searching, we discovered a small snapping turtle walking across the grass. Drawing upon magical thinking and surmising how profound it would be if that little turtle led us right to the spiral, I almost believed that could occur. It didn’t happen.

Into the parking lot at Home Depot, peering under cars, scrutinizing the floor of the nursery section, leaving word at the service desk. Not there, not there, not there. Next, the second hardware store where they promised to call but nobody saw it. Sadly I drove home and made another tour around the back yard, under the Solomon’s Seal, around the hostas and Jack-in-the-Pulpit, under the peonies, behind the newly planted basil. Nothing. It was probably in somebody’s pocket right now, a found prize, an alluring talisman, a silvery charm. I was envisioning reward posters taped up in stores and “lost” posts on social media. I had to get over it.

Turning to go back into the house for yet another sweep, a glint of light flashed at the top of the driveway by the garage, next to the old tomato cages from the previous year that the S.O. had mangled and crushed when he backed over them with his van. While tangling with them as I dragged them over to the metal scrap pile, they must have broken my chain. There was the spiral, sitting on the cracked blacktop.

spiral

It was an odd and unexpected sensation. Picking up my spiral from the ground did not result in a rush of relief in so much as just a solid and familiar sense of “home” – sort of like the feel of your house key in your hand when you blindly run your fingers over it and are able to open the door in the dark, or the sensation of comfort as you absently stroke the fur of your dog.

Upon inspection, there is now a little dent on the inner curve of the smoother side, a tiny scar. I carefully tucked my spiral within a pouch inside a drawer until a solid, strong chain can be found for it,….and might pursue finding a place to make a spiral Backup Lovey, which, while not the same, might be nice to have as it is not unlikely that this spiral will someday be lost once again in the future. For the meantime, finding it safe and sound felt like a birthday gift, but the lesson is not lost on me.

This day ends with contemplation of the acceptance of impermanence.

“All Things Must Pass”.

spiral emoji

 

 

Posted in Friends, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fakers

There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.

  U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, July 20, 2015

You know, I’m just going to come out and say it instead of building up to the point here.  I am just totally sick of these people with fake emotional support dogs. Of course there are some individuals with severe PTSD, autism, other diagnoses that honestly and absolutely depend on an emotional support animal to function, in addition to those who rely on assistance dogs due to a disability.  These are considered “Service Dogs”. But suddenly more and more people are going on the internet and paying fifty dollars or more for a phony certificate, ID and a vest, or saying “Oh, I’m anxious” and asking their doctor or therapist for a letter. Or even acquiring a “verified” letter by a mental health professional by answering a few questions on a website, so that they can take their pets anywhere they like; on vacation on a plane and into public places at their convenience. They also do it so they can rent a house or apartment that specifically prohibits pets otherwise.

A few weeks ago I got into it with someone I know who was proudly displaying her dog’s new fake ESA (emotional support animal) certificate and service vest on Facebook, and boasting that she could now take him across the country on the plane with her on vacation instead of leaving him home. This woman is a feisty, independent, outgoing person who drives across the country alone and has enjoyed traveling and camping in her little tent all by herself for years, even in remote places. While it might be nice to go camping with your dog for companionship and protection, I was surprised about the ESA part, so I asked her why she suddenly went the service dog route with her pet. She said “I got a note from my therapist….. sometimes I have anxiety”. I wonder more if in the near future this is actually to make it more convenient for her to find a place to rent with a large dog.  Maybe that sounds terrible but I think my suspicions are probably true. I mentioned that those sites are fake, but I think she already knew that as much as I knew by my saying it that it would push her buttons. I could feel her getting defensive but I don’t care. I know this sounds judge-y, but I just respect her a little bit less now.

In a different vein, my neighbor, due to her long-standing, legitimate and severe mental health issues, insists she has to take her emotional support dog to the supermarket – in the cart. Just what everyone else wants to be exposed to; her dog’s butt in the shopping cart where the next person is going to put their food. Doing that is not OK under the ADA. They must be carried or remain on the floor.  This sudden plague of emotional support dogs (and cats, rats, birds, pigs, etc.) has become such a frequent problem that one of our local supermarkets actually has had to post a sign as you enter the store saying dogs are not allowed in the shopping carts. Also I have to wonder – I’m sorry, this may sound a bit harsh and might create some backlash – but if you are out and about doing lots of things without your ESA when it suits you but claim anxiety when you feel like taking your dog to buy groceries and stare at it while it sits in the cart, maybe try taking a friend with you instead. Or bring your teddy bear. Or take a pill.

shopping cart dog

Cute, but really…not so OK

Why, this afternoon, after not blogging for a seriously long stretch of time, am I ranting about this? Having just returned from the city clerk’s office where I was dutifully renewing my dog’s annual license, providing proof of vaccination and a check, I inquired whether they would like you to provide any documentation if you have an assistance dog. I asked this because I am severely hearing impaired and I depend on my dog in the home always – and sometimes outside – to alert me to certain situations. There is nothing “official” about my dog as there is no “official” registry for them at this time – ESA or otherwise.  He has not been trained at a facility and is not required to be – I will provide the back story to that further along.

The nice lady behind the desk said “Oh, a therapy dog? You just need a certificate or a letter from your doctor.” If so, they don’t charge you for the license.

First of all, a Therapy Dog by definition is a dog trained to provide comfort and affection to people in nursing homes, schools, hospitals, hospice, trauma situations or disaster areas.  While a therapy dog needs to complete a certain criteria to gain a certificate and access to these areas, they are neither Assistance nor Service animals. They are not covered or protected under the Federal Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities act, nor do they have public access rights beyond the specific places listed above where they are visiting or working. I realized that she was not talking about a Therapy Dog though -what she actually meant was an Emotional Support Dog. And that’s where I kind of lost it when I told her those certificates and cards are fake and sold on the internet, and that there is actually no such thing as a legitimate registry. She didn’t seem to care and deflected my statement, refusing to engage in dialog about it.  I suspect she might happen to have an “emotional support dog” herself. These days it seems about everyone does. This society must be really over the edge since everyone and their mother suddenly needs an emotional support animal.

I am going to put the facts here. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Disability Rights Section, “emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.  However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places.

The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained  to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.”

Somehow I think that most of these supposed support animals who are taken into stores, restaurants and on planes are not taking any “trained” specific action to avoid an oncoming anxiety attack.  Furthermore, the section states that “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

I find myself in a limbo place concerning all this. A number of years back, as my hearing began to worsen, I started looking into the possibility of acquiring a hearing assistance dog. There are a few places that train them. At the time, the wait list was about one to two years, with dogs going to those who are profoundly deaf and are a priority. Perhaps I was in denial, but I felt I was not there yet. The cost of training a hearing dog is huge, about $10,000 and upwards.  Although they are provided free to those in need, they are first made available to people who live alone (I don’t), who have a specific amount of dB loss (I now easily meet that criteria but I didn’t back then) and some of the providers urge recipients to hold fundraisers in order to offset the cost of the dog. This suggestion causes some discomfort, as I would not even allow a well-meaning friend to initiate a GoFundMe to raise money for my mega-expensive hearing aids which are not covered by insurance. I felt I just couldn’t justify a fundraiser for me while people are suffering  greatly after losing everything after hurricanes, that there are children with life-threatening illnesses in need of support, people’s homes have burned down and are left with nothing, people are being bombed in Syria…..I just didn’t feel like I deserved to be high on that kind of roster.

Another roadblock was that I already had a dog, which is considered a distraction to the job of the service dog, therefore negating eligibility.  So I found myself in the position of having to train my own dog.  According to the ADA, “people with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.” And so we began.

My dog is not social. He is a rescue mill dog who does not like strangers reaching out to pet or grab him and will shy away, although he will not react negatively and is not aggressive. Being a pet with an odd personality to begin with, he is not the most suitable material.  He would fail basic eligibility before ever getting into a hearing dog program as he is not a relaxed little guy. But it is what I have to work with now and at least he is very bright.

I started by attending basic obedience courses with him, then inquiring further about trainers who could help to train my dog for the tasks specific to my needs. But there was nobody local who would accommodate us further, so I had to turn to training videos found on the internet. He already provides a service to me in the home – oddly enough (or not) he is totally in sync and stays by my side.  When someone is at the door, he lets me know. If there is some kind of commotion going on outside or strange noise inside, he alerts me. When I am out walking with friends and other dogs in the woods, he stays close whether off-leash or on, always keeping me in his view and within a few feet radius. He came and got me when the toaster oven was on fire. He has large bat-ears which are very expressive, so I pay attention to them and depend on them to see where a noise is coming from. I watch him and he watches me. It is clear he is aware of my deafness.

06-IMG_3288

My ears

When I take my hearing aids out at night, there is pretty much no sound beyond clicks and thumps and the shrieking of tinnitus.  If I am alone and not hearing, it is scary. This is where the dog comes in especially handy, not only in the home but very much in a hotel.  If the Significant Other is trying to get my attention from downstairs, he will ring a bell, which I cannot hear, but my dog can. The dog will then come and alert me, barking, tapping me and running back and forth from the source to me until I respond.

“The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability.”

The dog should be able to demonstrate two tasks that assist the handler with their specific disability.

So we pretty much have it down on the home front. Taking the dog in public is where I walk a fine line. There are deaf people with trained hearing dogs who feel that dogs who support hearing just in the home are not actually assistance dogs. I don’t necessarily agree with that.

One of the biggest problems I have in public is when someone comes up behind me and says “Excuse me”.  This constantly happens to me in stores, outdoor markets, waiting in lines, on the sidewalk.  I might be standing in the way with my back to someone who has asked me a number of times to move out of their way, or tries to speak to me, yet I just don’t hear them. Inevitably they think I am rude at the very least, and it has actually caused some people to become extremely annoyed to the point of nastiness when I am intently reading the ingredients on a box, admiring something at a craft fair, a flower garden by a sidewalk, or making a decision about which pasta sauce to buy while inadvertently blocking an aisle. Subsequently, the first task became training my dog to tap me whenever someone says “Excuse me”.

He’s been doing that with more consistency. While I have taken him into the supermarket a few times, I don’t really like to. He’s small, small enough that he could get run over by a shopping cart. I also constantly have to tell strangers not reach out to pet him as he is supposed to be working. He’s so cute that everyone instantly wants to touch him. He doesn’t like it, I don’t like it, and it is distracting. This includes adults allowing their children to rush up to an animal they do not know. You would be amazed how many people do not respect boundaries when it comes to petting a strange dog.

The other thing he does is let me know when someone is walking up behind me on the street, which encompasses safety. That has been a big help. What I would like him to do is alert me when I drop my keys or some other item, which has happened a number of times. When I dropped my keys outside of Trader Joe’s, he merrily trotted away without a backward’s glance. Luckily, he responded to the woman who saw it happen and came up behind me yelling “Excuse me” while waving my keys behind my deaf back.  So we are working on that.  I have also been trying to train him to alert me to traffic. Not much progress with that task. Unfortunately I think traffic isn’t going to be one of his skills.

Because most of the support I receive from the dog occurs in the home, I don’t take advantage by bringing him everywhere. While he has made the occasional trip to Home Depot and we enjoy dog-friendly outdoor dining, he doesn’t need to come inside a restaurant – he isn’t going to help translate what the waiter asked and order off the menu. I don’t need to take him on a plane. If anything, I think that would be stressful for him and just one more thing along with the suitcase for me to look after or hold on to when I don’t really need to. When I am out and about with other people or traveling with others, they are able to help me if necessary.

I have a vest for the dog, which is not required by law nor is it provided by any official source.  The vest is rarely used, but I keep it for those times where it clearly makes people feel better to see it (like in the hotel), even though it is not required. It has also been useful when pointing out to people that the dog is supposed to be assisting me and not petted.  However, it is likely that probably 95% of these service vests you see on dogs (except for those that you see on seeing eye dogs, which is a whole other legit subject) were bought along with the fake ID’s and are most likely on animals that are just pets.

fake dog vest

an example of a service vest that can be bought on the internet

One last thing about some of these ESA dogs, both the real ones and the ones that aren’t, is how often you see people who are just disrespectful dog owners in general. They allow them to sit on chairs in restaurants, lunge out of control at people and other dogs from the end of long retractable zip line leashes, bark incessantly, don’t clean up after them and interfere with dogs that are being used for real support. Because of their actions, they generate negativity and resentment from business owners and the community, not only towards those who actually do need their dogs to help them, but towards responsible pet owners as well.

In the event that there ever ends up being truly certifiable criteria for my dog to prove – and that day will surely be coming in the future – I figure it would be good that we are prepared. It is ridiculous that it is easier to buy a bogus certificate and get a licensed health professional to write a letter saying the dog provides comfort due to the stress of my hearing loss rather than the fact that the dog actually is being used to assist with my hearing and having to worry about meeting proof of such.

And that just pisses me off.

~*~

 

 

 

 

Posted in Deafness, Dogs, Hearing Impaired, Rant, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Found and Lost

During the gawky, dark, painfully insecure pre and early-adolescent summers of my youth, I attended what was advertised as an “inter-faith, inter-racial” summer camp out in what was once the wilds of Connecticut, before it became greatly suburbanized. From what I could discern, at least in my age group and bunk, the token “inter-faith” ended up being only me and the “inter-racial” one other girl. I was a skinny, tiny, frizzy-haired horse freak, finding my comfort zone mostly down the sun-dappled dirt road where the horses were kept, and I spent a lot of time there in my own bubble.

riding Buttons

Amongst the bug juice, the folk songs and hopeless crushes on cute guys with Beatle haircuts from the boy’s bunk, I met a fellow camper named Fran. She too was a horse lover. She also struggled to tame her curls in the summer humidity. She was a bit aloof, with a dry sense of humor I could appreciate, and some special quality I couldn’t quite describe but was drawn to. We ended up becoming friends over those short weeks, trying to learn to play protest songs on acoustic guitar, talking about the boys we liked, fighting our hair to get it straighter, walking down to the field to round up the horses, groom them and ride. Once camp was over, we parted ways, not living near each other at all, but remained pen pals for a while. I attended a sleepover party or two with other campers at her parents’ house somewhere out on Long Island. Eventually the contact faded out.

Decades have gone by, leaving only a few powerful memories from that brief time. Outstanding is when the counselors took us to Newport Folk Festival, where I saw Bob Dylan put down his acoustic guitar and suddenly go electric. Some people in the crowd were booing in protest. I was standing way back, straining to see what was causing all the excitement. The other memory is of my friend Fran. Over the years I have often wondered where she ended up.

dylan goes electric

Fast forward and suddenly there is The Internet. Who hasn’t done a search to find those “Whatever Happened To” people? Periodically I would look up those whose lives had crossed paths with mine in the past. Surprisingly, I never located Fran, even though her last name was uncommon, her middle name distinctive enough that they should have stood out. With the advent of Facebook, it should have been even easier, but there was no sign of her that I could find. Sometimes when I would hear a certain song from that era or find an old photo from that time I would get a fleeting memory, but eventually stopped looking.

Fast forward again to last spring. I’m wasting time on the computer and suddenly got into my “Whatever Happened To” mode.  I typed in Fran’s name. Her father’s obituary came up. A mention of her divorce. Oh, the amazing, scary, invasive marvel of the internet that tracks our lives! Now I had a last name, her married name, and I struck gold.

First I found her blog. Then I found her on Facebook. It amazed me that all these years later – we are talking over fifty years – she was still recognizable. In some of the photos she actually looked just like the girl I remember in our youth. She was specialized in a holistic approach to diet and healing. Her writing was intelligent and interesting. In reading her blog and posts on social media, there was so much that resonated with me, not only about her approach to healing but also the parallels in her life to mine. She had a following of people who she had helped who truly adored her. She was still into horses. Like me, she had two children and a little dog. I was floored. And excited. I sent her a message.

I’m sure my contact must have been both surprising and maybe a little bit weird to her. She told me she had blocked out a lot of things in her life during that time, those earliest of adolescent years apparently being equally as difficult for her as they were for me. She had snippets of camp memories here and there; the name of a guy with stringy hair at a party, the cute boy she liked. Honestly, I don’t think she remembered me at all, at least not at first, although she didn’t quite come out and say so. She was probably being polite.  I wish I could have found the photo of us in our safety riding helmets with our frizzy hair pulled back, but it disappeared long ago, as did all those childhood letters I never saved. We messaged back and forth a bit over early summer. We shared a few personal incidents in our lives that were similar . It turns out she lived only an hour away from me and I told her I would like to come see her. She said she would be honored. My plan was to try to get there after the busy of summer was over, sometime this fall, and was actually looking forward to it.

A week ago, I learned via Facebook that Fran had passed away. She had been terminally ill, a disease not easily cured by either conventional or complimentary medicine, both of which she had been doing.  It is clear her expertise helped ease her into her transition.

As we age this kind of terrible news about friends and family leaving us is becoming more frequent. Each time it knocks the wind out of us, leaves us reeling and gasping emotionally like fish out of water, has us re-examining our lives, perhaps vowing to make the most of the unpredictable time we have left.

I struggled over my feelings about Fran’s death. I didn’t know her as an adult at all, aside from the scraps of messages we recently shared and from reading her posts and articles. I barely knew her even back when we were young tweens so briefly in summer camp. We had not been in contact in over fifty years. And yet, it was as if I had suddenly found a glittering jewel on the beach, put it in my pocket to examine later and then discovered I had lost it before I got home. Beyond disappointed, I felt disoriented and definitely in mourning – for her life that ended at such an early age – my age; for her children and little dog left behind, and perhaps for a small sliver of my own past once again lost to the ages.

A memorial service in her honor was held this past weekend at her home. I felt compelled to go and yet feared I had no right to. My friend E., after commenting that weird things happen to me in general (and who, after I told her my friend’s name, happened to be a reader of the very same Fran’s newspaper column), said I might regret it if I didn’t attend. One of my daughters thought it actually would be a nice thing for someone from her far and long ago past to show up.

And so I drove up to my summer camp friend’s home, perched in a beautiful field overlooking the mountains on the bluest of days – clearly a sanctuary. Knowing nobody, I walked into her yard and was greeted by her friends who were welcoming, dispelling my fears of intrusion as irrational. The tributes given by her children and those close to her honored her spirit in the most touching of ways and words – it was clear her love and nurturing had raised very beautiful people. I could not help but think the quality and depth of the tribute was something I would have wanted for myself, and others echoed the same sentiment.  Along with photos around her home and conversations with people there, many blanks were filled in, giving life and color to the years. She was loving and kind, decent, intelligent, resilient and strong in the face of adversity. I know without a doubt, had we connected, we would have become friends along the path again. I mourn the loss of that opportunity.

path at frans house

We were sent on our way with garden zucchini, a pot of chrysanthemums, essential oils and literature from her office. I teared up on the way home, realizing I was crying for losing another piece of my own past as much as for Fran and her family. Without a doubt, attending her memorial created some kind of closure for me. I had to wonder if she thought it strange, or merely saw it as part of the circle, by having a friend from half a century ago suddenly contact her out of the blue during her last few months earthside – oddly, perhaps, adding its own type of closure on those scattered fragments that make up a life.

~*~

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, Autumn, Friends, grief, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Purging With Regrets

Serious clutter-bugs hoping to change their ways were buzzing with excitement about how The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  by Marie Kondo was helping to unburden their lives. Being the Collector of Lots of Good Stuff, it seemed like just the thing I needed to kick-start a new, unencumbered life.  So at the next gift-giving event where my kids asked “Mom, what do you want?” I requested and received this best-seller anti-clutter bible. I began in earnest, following the suggestions in each chapter religiously. I went through one category at a time, starting with clothes.

Per instruction, I piled everything on the floor and then picked each item up to see if it “sparked joy” when I held it. If it sparks joy, you keep it, if not, you let it go. What I found was that a lot of my clothing, even if I hadn’t worn it in a while or planned to wear it in the near future, happened to spark some joy.  I discovered I actually had an entire closet filled with decades of unworn Joy.  It was a challenge to winnow things out with all that sparking going on, but when I was done, a number of large plastic bags had managed to get filled and on their way out the door. Somewhat liberated, I plowed onward.

It went along like that for a while. I learned how to honor my socks by rolling them into little sushi rolls and to stack my shirts like color coordinated files in a drawer. Upon completion, there was some feeling of accomplishment, so I moved on bravely to “Books” as the next formidable chapter. And this is where I got stuck.

My books are my people. They are the dreams and memories, the escapes and fantasies, the doorway to knowledge, the loved ones. Following Marie’s instructions, I put the vast collection of books in a giant pile on the floor and then picked up each one and held it, to see “whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it”.  Difficulties began to arise here. I reluctantly sorted out many great novels I enjoyed but probably would not read again, including those I had started and meant to finish, or those I had purchased but hadn’t gotten around to reading. There were some which were gifts, and that was especially hard to consider parting with, as a vision of the person who gifted it was strongly attached to the book. Some, of course, were clearly keepers. I kept the books written by people I actually knew, some reference and how-to guides, all my childhood favorites, or anything from my family. Despite this, I did manage to fill a number of bags and boxes for the local library book sale, actually reducing the amount down to one-third of what I originally had. However, there was one small paperback I struggled with.

It was an herbal from the 1970’s called Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli Levy, which I had purchased back when I was a hippie girl living alone in the woods. It had been my go-to reference book back then, an eye-opening first introduction to an approach I still value today.  Even though many more comprehensive, current and easier to follow books have come out since, I just liked having it on my shelf and seeing the cover, if only because it was a reminder of those challenging times of growth. So why not keep it? It was small enough that it didn’t command much room.

The issue was that since its publication there has actually been a revamped version edited by a local herbalist, which I promptly purchased due to the larger, clearer typeface, the easier reference index, updated information regarding health and effects, and the fact it was edited to better reflect the political correctness of these current times. So I had both versions on my bookshelf, side by side, and when it came time to purge, I felt it would be silly to justify keeping the old, worn and outdated version with the small print that I never looked at with these aging eyes, aside from the comfort of its familiar cover. It seemed to go against the Kondo-ian principles outlined in her guide, as it didn’t actually “spark joy” in so much as invoke some wistful tug of almost melancholy “memory”. Given I had the new and supposedly improved version, this was a perfect example of how I would get stuck on things. I resolved to move forward. So I reluctantly scratched my name out from the inside of the cover and into the discard pile it went.

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my original copy

Once it was gone, I regretted it. I am not particularly missing any of the other books I have passed on (so far) except this one. Of course it is purely emotional, given I have the reworked, “better” copy.  I considered looking for another old copy of the one I had given away, but it would not be MY copy, the one I held in my hands and pored over so many times while trying to cure a cough or sooth some irritation, or just to assimilate knowledge; a companion while living by myself in that young, transitional state of being so long ago. So I don’t know if anything but the original would satisfy the feeling of loss or not. Perhaps it would. But it’s just more stuff, right?

common herbs for natural health new

the new version

Even though it is not her fault, I found I started to really resent Marie Kondo. While I forged through the remaining sections of her book, ridding myself of years of papers, dead files, sample cosmetics, boxes of unnamed cords, plugs and electronics, kitchen items, stockpiles of cleaning products, extra towels, drawers of odds and ends and even photos, I repeatedly found that further on down the road I would suddenly find the need for something that used to be stashed in a utility drawer, or was only used irregularly – one of those things that you are glad to have at some odd time – an eyeglass case, an old towel for a wet dog, an extra charger or key ring, a spare pair of shoelaces….and would have to go out and purchase it all over again. Each time that would happen, I would say “Damn!” or worse. I wonder if she gets letters and emails from disgruntled purgers, or from actual hoarders gone crazy?

While looking for another reference book the other day, I became keenly aware that my original little herbal was not on the shelf. I keep coming back to that small, missing book, hopefully now in the possession of an herb-lover (who are you?) the name of the former owner scribbled out to avoid detection as she attempted to move forward from her past.

~*~

 

 

 

Posted in Perspective, Regrets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Circle

Of course I remember July 20th, an image burned in my brain, because that was the day I looked up at the solar eclipse and got slapped in the face by my grandmother, while she shrieked “You’ll go blind!

It was moving day. I stood on the stone steps of the new house watching the moving van being unloaded. I assume Grandma F., my father’s mother, was there to help, although we usually only saw her on holidays and she never lifted a finger to help out with anything when she came to visit. Out of the two grandmothers, it was no secret she was not my favorite one.

That bright July day, I ran in and out of the door excitedly, arranging objects in my room, unpacking my model horses and other precious possessions – but acutely aware something more momentous than the move was about to take place.  The moon and sun were aligning; ancient mystic voodoo was about to occur, something weird, magical, mythic, scary.  I was nine years old.

Grandma F. stood on the slate steps like the figurehead on the prow of a ship.  I was never very fond of her – she was a domineering, vain woman with long, lacquered red nails, darkly dyed hair often accentuated by hair pieces that she called “wig-lets”. She used Jean Nate perfume too liberally. Her lipstick was deep red, her face heavily powdered. She was always dressed well and adorned herself with costume jewelry. Giving her the expected greeting kiss on the cheek always produced an inexplicable static shock, which further repelled me from her.  She expected to be waited on while she held court. She was condescending to my mother, bossing her around and making her demands in a throaty voice much like the crowing of a rooster.

Grandma F. was the opposite of my other grandmother – Nona – who had a deep voice and thick Old World accent that fell somewhere between Count Dracula and the sound water makes going down a bathroom drain. Nona, with her blue-gray hair, who told stories of her childhood, sang songs to us in French and Italian, hugged us, made us “angel bread” from toast fried in butter and sprinkled with sugar and secretly pinned holy medals to the sides of our mattresses to protect us.  Unlike Nona, Grandma F. shared nothing.  Our history from her side of the family was a mystery;“I don’t bother with all that”.

On holidays she would descend upon us, eclipsing our moments, overshadowing my mother with her demands, until the blessed relief of her leaving.  Afterwards, when we imitated her or complained about her, my father would only say she had a hard life and had been a very hard worker.  To him, she was the original liberated woman and a survivor. He was proud of her accomplishments. She certainly knew how to take care of herself.

What I came to learn about her later was that she had been widowed at a very young age, left with three small children to raise.  Her husband was carried out of the house with some sort of infection and died on Christmas Eve.  So Grandma F. went out to work and struggled as a single parent back in the day, as did her three young children to help make ends meet – my father began delivering newspapers at age five.  She was a disciplinarian and was not beyond taking a switch to her children if they misbehaved, an image that was further dis-enamoring. She was an excellent cook. She liked to go out on dates and expected her boyfriends to treat her well.  She was careful with her money and saved, but she liked nice clothing and paid attention to her looks.

If I try to look upon her with more benevolence, I can recall examining the gold charms on her bracelet with wonder – specifically a little gold cage which contained a dollar bill folded up into the tiniest square. Somewhere packed in a box I must still have a little gold jockey charm on a tiny bracelet, which she gave me knowing I loved horses. She used to come bearing Italian bow tie cookies she had baked for the occasion, dusted with powdered sugar.

So I don’t recall exactly why she was with us mid-summer while we were moving, but there she was. She stood on the stairs wearing a big circle of a hat, casting her shadow on the operations, pointing with her claws, questioning everything, calling attention back to herself amidst our hive of activity, her moon moving across our sun.

As the moment of the eclipse drew near, the light began to change and the air slightly cooled. I heard my mother’s distant voice from somewhere within the new house say “I think the eclipse is starting“.  I could feel my senses becoming alert as I lifted my eyes to the specter, awaiting magic.

Suddenly I was struck with a tremendous blow to my face, Grandma F. standing over me, having slapped me hard and raked my cheek with her red talons as she shrieked, “You’ll go blind!”

It took me a long time to appreciate that she probably/definitely saved my eyesight and that her action sprang from a moment of panic and yes, actual concern. But at the time I felt nothing but loathing for her, as my eyes welled up with tears, I lifted my hands to my smarting face and ran into the house.  I can still feel those nails upon me. As a result, even today, long painted nails remind me of vanity and I find them unattractive and distasteful.

As this eclipse approaches, I have as strong an urge to look up to the sky just as I did when I was a child. I will not stare into the sun but I will reflect upon that moment again as I have whenever there has been an eclipse, and actually, almost every July 20th since the incident happened.

It has taken me a lifetime to come full circle and truly appreciate her swift action as a moment of caring, and perhaps, in her own way, of love.

Faeroes Europe Solar Eclipse

 

Posted in Perspective, summer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pushing the Feline Envelope

There will be some people who have serious disagreements with this post.  But I’ve kind of reached a bit of saturation on the subject and feel the need say something. If you can come up with a better solution, I’m sure many would be interested.

In this small city, in this residential neighborhood, we live on a street filled with diversity. There are people from all walks of life, different races, different nationalities, different ages, some with disabilities, employed and unemployed. One thing the majority of us appear to have in common is that we are pet owners. For the most part (aside from the occasional inconsiderate), people leash, confine and pick up after their dogs, save for an infrequent escapee. This is not the case regarding some of the cat owners, and honestly, there needs to be some brainstorming and a solution to this problem. Because it is a problem.

Of the cats that are not feral, most of them are indoor pets (again, with the sporadic escapee). However, there are a few owners who don’t seem to understand that are pushing the feline envelope, with multiple cats which they indiscriminately allow to run freely throughout the area. Aside from leaving them at risk to be run over by cars, getting into fights with other cats, attacked by dogs, raccoons, fox, coyotes or fisher cats, a few months back one of these neighbors experienced the horrifying situation of having six of their ten (or maybe it was eleven) outdoor cats suddenly dying within a very short period of time, and without explanation.  They were convinced that the cats were being poisoned and contacted the police and whoever else was necessary to make that determination.

When it happened, we pet owners, both of dogs and cats, went into panic mode. Who would do such a terrible thing? We started to look at everyone with suspicion, imagining some evil person sitting in their basement mixing up toxic chemicals and rubbing their hands together with demented delight. We scoured the sidewalks and our yards looking for dangerous material. Was somebody spreading poison all over the neighborhood? Was it a deliberate act or was it actually an accidental something inside their very own home that caused this?

There is some background that possibly lends to this situation. The people who were losing their pet cats let them roam freely outside. They all seemed to be healthy, well-cared for and loved, and supposedly had regular vet checkups and neutering, which seems contradictory to compromising their well-being by letting them out. I don’t know how far the prowling territory for these cats reached, but I did a little research and was surprised to discover that the home range of a domestic house cat who goes outside is actually almost five acres! That covers a significant amount of area, especially in a tightly packed neighborhood. Domestic cats also tend to lurk within about 980 feet of a building when they are out there cruising their range.

I was familiar with most of them, as they were a regular fixture (and nuisances, yes) around our house and yard. No doubt they were also visiting other people’s property, considering a five acre range could take them blocks away, making it likely they were doing the same thing they were doing on ours. Spraying all over and beneath our porches. Sharpening their claws on the outdoor furniture. Using our gardens as one giant litter box, including around the entire perimeter of the house. Killing the birds that came to the feeder with regularity. Leaving bunny ears and dead baby chipmunks on the stairs. Getting into fights and stand-offs in the back yard. One of them even rushing out from the bushes to attack our very small dog – while I was walking him on a leash!

Even though the cat situation was aggravating, I did actually have a few favorites out of the pack that would come around.  Some of them were friendly, some were beautiful – I used to photograph the one I liked best, who was engaging and often tried to sneak into our house when I opened the door. Looking at this face, I have to wonder why anyone would not realize it was endangering him, or any of them, to roam the streets, and it saddens me that he was one of the first ones that died.

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This sweet guy was my very favorite

Although I didn’t encourage them and I wasn’t happy about the lack of response from their owners after mentioning it (“Um, hi, you know your cats have been using our yard as a litter box…”. “Um hello, did you know your cats are living on our porch?” ) in order to avert them we gave up planting flowers and put down slabs of stone around the house over the now former flower beds in the areas they liked to defecate. We periodically sprayed down the porch and furniture with lemon scent in hopes they wouldn’t like the smell, and would aim the garden hose or plant mister with dish soap at them if we happened to be standing outside when they came by. I will say that these methods did not discourage them at all, as they would look at us with impunity and often return in less than an hour. I used to think to myself that they were lucky we liked animals.

So it is highly possible that they infringed on the property of someone who doesn’t like animals, or someone who was eventually just pushed over the edge by their intrusions and finally had enough. I can easily see that happening. There are children who play in their own backyards. There are people who enjoy digging in their gardens. There are neighbors who like to sit outside on their decks and porches. There are people who have businesses around here, including a bed and breakfast. I imagine multiple cats using their property as a toilet would be construed as a major negative. It’s a health risk, among other issues. Who wants that in their child’s sandbox? What pregnant woman working in her garden wants to risk toxoplasmosis? Who wants to sit on their own patio and smell cat urine?

So the cats mysteriously started dying. Not disappearing, but actually found sick or dead in their own yard or house. It was baffling. The tests run by the local ASPCA were inconclusive. At first it was thought that they had gotten into some kind of garden pest poison, but last I heard that was not the case. I have no idea what they keep in their home or if anything like that might have played a part in it or not. There was a large container of antifreeze on their porch at the time but they said it was not the cause. After the loss of so many cats so suddenly, they decided that it might be safer to keep their remaining cats inside. A good idea.

Although I was sad knowing my “favorites” had met such a sad end, I have to admit that the absence of so many cats has actually been rather nice. Of course we are still plagued by the woman across the street who feeds the feral ones, of which she has attracted many (and, come to think of it, they seem to have not fallen victim to the supposed poisoning). Her house and property reek of urine and excrement, and when the west wind blows, the immediate area is bombarded by the stench. Almost everyone in a three street vicinity hates it and complains to each other about it. She has been spoken to and someone from the city even came out to investigate, and yet nothing has been resolved with that, which is a whole other story. Anyway, there was no more peeing on our porch. No more cat crap in the garden. No more bird massacre.

Things have quieted down.  Aside from the ferals, we haven’t seen any of their cats. They started replacing them with a number of new ones. I think maybe they are even back up to ten again. It seems that over the last couple of weeks maybe one or two cats are appearing outside again. The other day one of them left this in the driveway, which is actually what has prompted my lengthy post:

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Thanks neighbor

I don’t know if it is disrespect or cluelessness that causes people to be so disregarding of their neighbors regarding loose pets. This goes for unleashed dogs as well as outdoor cats. Given they are animal lovers and are fairly friendly, I am going to go with the hopeful assumption they just didn’t understand the scope of the problem.

My thoughts on all of this: If you live in a rural area, having barn cats is a whole other topic. But anyone who owns a cat in a city or a busy suburb municipality should be required to license their cat the same way dogs are required to be, with micro-chipping and proof of vaccination provided at the time of licensing. They should not be allowed to roam free. If you want your cat to experience the outdoors, install an enclosed cat-patio (a “catio”) or take your cat out in a harness and leash.

Animal control should be called for cats running loose the same way as for dogs. The cat can be identified by microchip and the owner contacted. No chip – to the pound. If the owner repeatedly lets their cats out, they should be fined, each incident fined more heavily. Repeat offenders – massive fine. If you can’t keep your cat from roaming the neighborhood you shouldn’t have a cat. Feral cats need to be trapped, vaccinated and neutered, but in cities and more heavily populated areas not re-released. In this case, the younger or more docile ones would be made available for adoption at pet stores or humane societies. Feral cats that are sick or dangerous would be euthanized.

End of story.

I imagine this might not be a popular sentiment with some cat lovers, but it is a responsible one.

~*~

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Animal Stories, Are you kidding me?, Birds, Rant, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Appreciation Day

My Facebook feed has been exploding with pink gorgeousness from friends doing the “oooh-ahhh” from Japan, Washington D.C. and other places around the globe. The cherry blossoms have been blooming. cherry blossoms

K. and I were reveling in the herald of Spring when she mentioned hearing that in Japan, people take off from work in order to view and celebrate the arrival of the cherry blossoms. We surmised it would be great if we did that here in our country. I did a little research, and indeed it is a big deal.  The centuries old custom of flower viewing, called Hanami, these days involves an outdoor party that can occur both in the daytime or at night beneath the blossoms, where people celebrate their beauty and the arrival of spring. cherry blossoms- national geographic

I can imagine taking a day off (or more!) to enjoy such transient splendor. Actually, wouldn’t it be wonderful if schools were closed for the day, or a field trip was organized, and employees were given the time off at the peak of these moments in order to celebrate the earthly joys? “Inhale The Lilacs Day” or “Arrival Of The Peepers Day”. “Smell The Roses Day” or “Appearance Of The Monarch Butterflies”. “The Robins Are Nesting Day!” or “The Hummingbirds Have Returned Day”.monarch butterflies

In these times where the earth is so abused, where people have their faces immersed in their smart phones and computers and are not in sync with nature, we could use days like this to get back in touch and appreciate these natural, fleeting gifts. robins eggs @ steves digicams

~*~

 

 

 

Posted in Holidays, Spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hoarding

Beneath the kitchen counter there is a corner cabinet with one of those two-level turnstile type lazy-susan gizmos which is supposed to allow you to easily view and access your stored canned goods and other groceries. I hate it. I hate it with a passion on a daily basis. Having had one in my last kitchen, I vowed I would never, ever, want one again.  It gets loose, becomes wobbly and doesn’t turn well. Smaller items fall off of the back of it and land in the corner into a dark no-man’s-cabinet-land, where it jams the flow of the turnstile and will never see the light of day again, until you move away and someone else finds it while doing a kitchen demolition years into the future.

corner kitchen cabinet

Example of a lazy-susan corner kitchen cabinet.  This tidy one is not mine.

Therefore, it is with tremendous dismay that I ended up with yet another one of these abominations.  When the Significant Other was renovating the kitchen about ten years ago, I kept making suggestions as to what I wanted in a kitchen, figuring this was probably the only opportunity I was going to get regarding a new kitchen. He quickly got fed up with my input. It really isn’t the kitchen I had envisioned, but at least it was new, and at some point amidst the reno chaos I realized I needed to back off and allow him some say in it. As part of his man-decision, he insisted a corner turntable shelf was something that should be installed. There comes a point where you need to pick your battles, and so I stayed quiet – but I am so sorry I did.

So here we are in the present day, where I do regular battle with the hateful turntable shelf.  I try to transcend how much I absolutely loathe it. It is an awful thing to actually despise something every. single. time. you use it, even if it is only a kitchen cabinet. One way to avoid dealing with it is to store things that are not going to be used too often.  The popcorn maker, the salad spinner. Extra boxes of tea, pasta sauce, obscure spices. It is laden with those things – apparently too many of those things – because it had gotten to the point where it has tipped to one side and you have to balance jars and boxes carefully within. Recently it has reached critical mass and will not move more than a few inches, making it necessary to finally sit down on the floor and tackle cleaning it out.  That happened yesterday.

The S.O. tends to buy multiples of the same item.  He will open the refrigerator, a cabinet door or drawer and stare into the space without looking, then make a declaration that the item does not exist, even though it is staring him right in the face. Historically, this seems to be a common occurrence not only with men, but also with teenagers. Then he will buy another one and lose that one too as it mysteriously becomes invisible. Needless to say, I have been on his case about this in the past, for example, during “the great nail-clipper discovery”, which was mentioned during a major clean out in a past post.

the-sos-nail-clippers

He keeps buying nail clippers. I found eleven of them in the house.

Or the fact that not too long ago, he was grousing around the kitchen complaining that there was no relish left. I ventured into the dreadful turntable cabinet and found (no exaggeration here) six jars of relish. Six.

So as I sat down to deal with the turntable shelf contents, I was prepared to find more cans and jars of S.O. hoarded groceries. There were a few. He seems to have a penchant for barbecue sauce.

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Gearing up for summer?

But it is with great embarrassment that I discovered in this case, the hoarder is actually me.

Aside from the four large bottles of lemon juice, five new boxes of assorted herbal teas, five jars of pasta sauce, multiple jars of cinnamon, extra bottles of vanilla extract and containers filled with fennel seed (!!!) there were the expected odds and ends like peanut butter, jam, mayonnaise, and corn starch. However, there were some unusual surprises. I am adding photos of what I unearthed here so you can get the gist of this. Of note:

Three jars of coconut oil, one expired, in addition to the two existing opened ones. That’s five.IMG_5514.JPG

Three jars of chutney, to add to the two open jars in the refrigerator. Total – five.

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Because you know, a person can never have enough chutney….

Three bottles of green hot sauce.  There is one bottle of green and two of hot red in the refrigerator already.  Total – six.

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Because you can never – ever – run out of hot sauce.

From here it gets a little more interesting. Six bottles of tamari sauce. Plus one in the refrigerator. Total – seven.

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In case I ever want to open a restaurant

And finally, all things pomegranate and tamarind. Six bottles of varying sizes, containing pomegranate molasses, pomegranate juice, pomegranate concentrate, along with tamarind syrup, tamarind paste and jallab syrup.  There is also a bottle in the refrigerator. That makes eight.

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Because when the revolution comes, running out of pomegranate molasses would be devastating

Given all of this, you can only imagine what the inside of the refrigerator looks like. I’ll spare you! Of course, unlike a classic hoarder, all of these items will actually be used. The reason they keep getting purchased is because they are things I use in meals or as condiments, and they keep getting lost in the void of that shelf-from-hell.

I guess I better get cooking……

~*~

 

 

 

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Cooking, Food, Humor, Shopping, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Vibration

Approaching Exit 21 on the Thruway, an inexplicable sense of weirdness suddenly permeated the drive north. At first I surmised that the early spring sky, low and leaden with moisture, could possibly be the cause of some atmospheric disturbance. But within another few seconds my mind was suddenly able to register what was “off”, as I slowed down and entered a construction zone.

The landscape, the center median to my left, had been stripped of all the trees, hundreds of trees, for an entire mile. They lay strewn as if giant pickup sticks, while their hacked and torn stumps jutted achingly from the earth. Construction machinery perched like steel vultures atop the exposed, jagged rock cuts, painful in their nakedness, glistening with mud like darkened blood as they were picked apart.

As I drove past the army of machines, the sudden disturbance became so palpable, the invisible vibration so crushing, so heavy, that I welled up and actually started to cry.

I have driven by hundreds of highway projects before without something like this occurring. I’ve even worked on highway projects myself in the past. There was nothing specifically emotional going on with me that day – it was actually a good time of day for a commute, with very little traffic, and I was just on my way to get a haircut.

Perhaps it was the size of this particular project that was causing a psychic outcry? I tried to find some otherwise logical explanation for the aura of sudden grief and disorientation, but could not shake the feeling of being witness to a massacre, to a rape, the trees copiously weeping, the birds in mourning, the earth so deeply sad. I have no doubt that this is exactly how it was, and yes, this is logical.  To me it is logical.

Finally the End Work Zone” sign appeared.  An audible sigh actually escaped from my lips.  I felt the tension release as my body sagged into the driver’s seat. The ribbon of gray road stretched ahead.  As I drove on, it occurred to me that a highway itself is actually one long concrete cemetery, covering trees and wildlife homes that had once been.

trees

~*~

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Amp-Bump

Out of the blue, my usually uncommunicative brother sent my sisters and I this text:

Do you guys remember amp bump???

Amp bump?  I could almost feel my brain physically shifting into a time warp. Amp bump. Oh my God, Amp-bump!

Different from the 1950’s stamped metal doll house and plastic furniture of my earliest years (which rusted when I left it in the back yard and got dents in it that left raw edges which could slice your fingers), in the 1960’s my mother purchased a doll house – a Bavarian/Tyrolian themed doll house which she called “a Swiss chalet” – for my younger sisters, who we called “The Babies”. Even though The Babies were a number of years past being babies, I don’t think they had actually reached the age yet when they would become offended by the reference, and the nickname stuck to them for a good long time.

1950s doll house

The 1950’s doll house popular in my childhood

The Swiss chalet house was a simple, tidy house of maple, painted white with red and green flower accents and shutters, curtains and a little balcony. The furniture within was also Bavarian style in blue and red, with painted wardrobes and chests to place at the feet of the four poster beds, flower motifs on the little chairs and table and checkered bedding. There was a tiny toaster with teeny slices of toast that you could make pop up and down.  The pieces of doll house food were realistic and had the scent of marzipan – I can still remember the smell of the doll food.  It came with a family of dolls dressed as if ready to tend goats with Heidi. swiss chalet outsideIt was no secret our mother had actually bought the doll house for herself, not only as a reference to her Swiss roots, but more so to satisfy her own unfulfilled 1930’s childhood dream of a doll house.  She shared many stories of playing with her best friend Lucy, whose father had built a spectacular doll house which she so coveted in her own impoverished life.  Her glowing memories and descriptions were so vivid that she planted a fantastical image in my mind that most likely was greatly exaggerated.  When my mother bought “the Swiss chalet” doll house, she let us have free range playing with it.  Still, I remember the way she would look at the house and furniture pieces and could tell it meant much to her on many levels.

inside chalet My siblings and I, staggered in ages over a span of eight years, would come together in different configurations as we wedged our bodies close together in front of the open side of the house to play.  Many scenarios would be orchestrated.  We even developed our own short hand and sound effects.  Thus amp-bump was born.

A little doll-person comes to visit the doll-people of the chalet:

Knock-knock”.

Come in”.

(visitor makes the sound of a creaky door opening) – “Aaaaaaaammp

(visitor makes the sound of door closing shut) – “Bump!”

Every time a doll-character would enter or exit the doll house, the person holding the doll would make the sound effect: “Aaaaaaaaaaammmmp BUMP!”  As the doll-people were in and out of the doll house at a constant rate, eventually it became abbreviated to a quick “knock-knock, Amp-bump”, which was said rapidly and without emphasis on any syllable.  Amp-bump.  Amp-bump.  Amp-bump. The sound of coming in the door, or leaving.  If you left angrily and slammed the door, you could even say AMP-BUMP. swiss familyWe moved across the country.  The Babies (“We’re not babies anymore!” said with indignation) had reached the age where they were not playing with the doll house.  My mother carefully packed up the furniture, but somehow in the final moments the doll house itself did not make it onto the moving van.  In haste, one of the last things my mother did as she was saying good-bye to relatives was to bring the Swiss chalet to my aunt and uncle’s house and ask if she could store it there until we could get it at a later time.  I remember my aunt saying “Sure, it will be there for you”, and carefully placing it in the basement with a towel over it.  That was the last we ever saw of it.  My aunt, uncle and cousins have no recollection of the doll house, although my mother always suspected it was given away to one of the relatives on the other side of their family.

When I had my own children, my mother would gently unwrap the few pieces of chalet furniture that she had saved and let my daughters and niece play with them while she exclaimed with a wistful sigh, “I wish I still had the Swiss chalet”. inside furnitureI searched everywhere to try and locate the exact replacement.  The pieces were so nicely made that I was sure it must have come from F.A.O Schwarz back in the 1960’s. I looked at flea markets, tag sales, antique shops and eBay, hoping to someday surprise her, imagining the look on her face when she received it and lovingly placed the remaining furniture inside.  But I never did manage to find one for her.  And then one day she passed away.

Amp. Bump.

After her passing, I went through her address book in order to notify anyone who might want to know.  I found the name of someone named Lucy who I surmised was her old friend.  So I wrote her to tell her about my mother, mentioning how our entire lives we had heard stories about their friendship and her doll house.  Lucy wrote me back.  In her letter, she included some photos of the doll house her father had made for her, the one she and my mom spent hours immersed in and which was now in possession of her grandchildren. It was every bit as amazing and detailed as my mother had described it. I could imagine her longing and envy as a young girl.

I stopped writing this just now to look on the internet for the Swiss chalet once more, in hopes of finding a representative photo to post here.  Wouldn’t you know it, I discovered a number of photographs, sadly, much too late.  FAO catalog doll houseThere is nothing spectacular about the house.  My own daughter’s doll houses were elaborate dwellings made from kits, with many rooms, realistic furniture, wall paper, flooring, roof shingles, siding and carpeting, and even electricity – much, much grander than the simple three room Swiss chalet of our youth. And yet, all that size, those details, are clearly not necessary catalysts to bring forth what can come from a child’s imagination.

As a matter of fact, in my hazy recollection, the house was much bigger and painted blue. But the more I looked at the photos, like a creaky door opening (“aaaaaaamp”), the clearer those memories suddenly became. The hours of imagination, fantasy and camaraderie I had with my siblings filled the spaces of those few simple rooms to make complex adventures and keep us connected in a small heart space of time and history that is uniquely our own.

swiss door

Amp.  Bump.

~*~

Posted in Aging, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Littlest of Things

It has been many months since I have attempted a blog post – essentially rendered speechless and saddened by what is going on in our country and in the world. In this time of tremendous stress, uncertainty, conflict, fear, and the pockets of hate that now engulf our nation and our planet, it has come to a point where I am frozen between small bursts of taking action and longer periods of taking to bed to hide beneath my covers.  Finding joy in the littlest of things has become my way of coping.

A bathtub drain catcher. You know, those little strainers that sit inside your bathtub drain and catch hair and other odds and ends before they end up sliding down the drain? Yesterday that is what gave me an odd sliver of joy, which segued into a metaphor.

My hair is the stuff of plumbing nightmares.  It is long and wild and I probably shed enough of it on a regular basis to stuff a sofa.  Every time the SO cleans out the trap, which is way too often because of me, there a great display of waving around the drain linkage draped with slime, accompanied by the annoyed/disgusted face that goes with it. I shrug with a little bit of guilt.

Trying to take responsibility for this dilemma, I bought two different drain strainers, which ended up being a fail – either they didn’t fit well enough to stay put or the holes were too large in them, allowing things to slip through.  Finally, not too long ago, he came home with what I was told was “the right one”. It fits into the drain snugly and collects pretty much anything besides water that wants to go down there, leaving a neat little pile at the bottom of the catcher that can be emptied.  Aside from keeping hair and soap bits from gunking up the pipes, it also will catch that loose earring that slipped out of your ear, or that ring you left on the edge of the tub that got knocked in, or the cap to the shampoo bottle. It is perfect. It solved the problem. For some reason, I grasped upon that small accomplishment with an overwhelming wave of well-being and satisfaction, if only for a few brief moments.

Our country – suddenly it feels as if the drain cover has been removed and there is a big open hole with no protection, leading down the pipe and out to the sewer.   We could use a drain catcher –  something that is going to let the dirty water go while keeping the pipes from getting gunked up, and also catch our most precious jewels before they are lost forever.

drain

 

Posted in Coping, grief, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments