Friday, March 19, 2010

One Snowy Day In Iowa

The forecast for Iowa is snow.  That’s not surprising as the forecast for Iowa has been “SNOW” for five months.  We are a white powder state.  There was more snow and colder temperatures here than they had in Canada for the winter Olympics.  However, I have heard no rumors of plans to move the winter Olympics to Iowa any time soon.

Snow in Iowa this year started out with a wallop back in November, right around Thanksgiving.  Until that time, the temperature was quite decent.  We had a mild not too hot and not too humid summer.  That in itself is unusual.

It was so mild that it was actually cold in August.  I was working on a movie shoot here in August.  Movies work on a 14-hour day and we were doing night shoots around the time of the Iowa State Fair.  It was so chilly that we were wearing layers of clothing, winter coats, boots and hats.  That’s very freaky.  Normally, around that time the temperature hits the hundreds with humidity in the drench your skin if you’re out for a minute range.  Normally, they start school then and have to let the kids out early because it’s so hot.  Not this year.

I suppose the good news from those cold August nights was that we didn’t get any chigger or mosquito bites.  It was simply too cold for those pests to come out and suck our blood.  That’s probably a good thing because we were shooting a zombie movie at the time.

Iowa set records for the most snow on the ground, the most consecutive days of snow and so on.  My husband set records for the number of times he had to plow out our driveway with the snow blower.  He also set records for the most items eaten by the snow blower.  This included our doormat, and a few electrical cords.

The doormat was by the back patio door.  I thought it was safe because it has been by the back patio door for years and has been safe for several winters.  Being the back patio, this mat is in our back yard.  When we had beasties, my husband did clear some paths for our short-legged basset hounds to go do their doggy duty.  The back patio was safe because if it was shoveled out, he always did it with the snow shovel.  We have a hot tub sitting on our patio.  Our house has a walkout basement and the patio was a great place to put the hot tub.  It never occurred to me that he would try to run the snow blower around there.

That was silly of me.  Of course, this year he got the bright idea to run the snow blower through the back yard and make a path from the front driveway, down the side of the garage, through the gate, down into our back yard, past the deck and right to the patio door.  Once he got to the patio door the snow blower grabbed the poor rubber doormat and ground it up like sausage – like a basset hound with a tasty ham bone.  I am not sure exactly why Pat did this.  He’s generally vague about where he gets his ideas.  Most likely this had something to do with his bike, though.

Winter weather can be pretty and a little eerie as well.  We had several days of fog.  It was very cold outside so the fog clung to the bare tree branches like gauze on a zombie.  

The fog was followed by ice storms.  The ice clung to the bare branches, and everything else, like frozen colorless zombie tears.

The ice was followed by more snow. No "January thaw" this year for those of us in Iowa. Of course, we weren't the only ones to get snow.  There was one point where Hawaii was the only state not to have snow.  In other states they came up with clever names like "Snowzilla"and "Snowmaggedon".  Here in Iowa we just groaned like snow zombies and went out to fire up our snowblowers once again.

Pat’s main job with the snow blower was to free us from our house and to plow a path so that the mail carrier could deliver our mail.  We have a mailbox by the street.  When the city comes by with their plow, they leave a foot tall ridge of snow blocking our driveway.  They also leave a ridge that prevents mail truck access to our mailbox.  So Pat dutifully went out and plowed out the driveway and our mailbox. Meanwhile, I stayed inside and polished off the remaining boxes of last years Girl Scout cookies.

Mail is delivered on one side of the street by mail carriers driving English style.  This means the steering wheel for the mail truck is on the right side of the car (vs. the left side that the rest of us drive on).  This lets the mail carrier drive up to the box and tuck the mail in.  Our mailbox is located right next to the neighbor’s mailbox.  The mailboxes looked like two little eyes peeking out of the mouth of a snow mound monster most of the winter. It was like they were pleading with us to save them.  

Believe me when I say that I would love to have mail delivered to our front door.  But, that most likely would require both a change in the city ordinance which rules where mail boxes can grow and a lot of federal red tape involving mail delivery specifications.  The mail boxes didn't have a chance against odds like that. 

In spite of the snow records my husband continued to ride his bike. We can insert adjectives here.  One could say he faithfully rode his bike.  One could say he stubbornly rode his bike.  Both would be accurate.  
What is a little bit crazy is that he didn’t ride it yesterday.  We have had a bit of a warm up, albeit short-lived.  Yesterday the temperatures were almost 60.  It was sunny.  There was little to no wind.  It was a perfect day for being outdoors.  I used the time to take the Christmas lights off of our outside trees.  But, Pat did not go for a bike ride.  This, my friend, is scary.  Very scary.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How Many Men Does It Take?

How many men does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is that it probably only takes one to change it, but it will take a battalion to clean up the mess one man makes while changing the light bulb.

After all, men are descended from wild untamed hyenas. This is why they (men and boys) throw wild boisterous parties in high school and college. I long ago realized that my guy is an alien. So it stands to reason that the original hyenas were actually space aliens themselves. Most likely they were kicked out of their home planet for having loud parties and boisterous behavior.

Picture the following scenario. A stately aged hyena sits in his easy chair simultaneous watching two football games, a TV reality show about hyenas living in the wild who have become lumbar jacks and are racing a neighboring tribe to harvest an entire forest while driving 18 wheeler trucks across icy lakes. Outside on the deck he recently built little birdies feast on seed from his feeder. A 16 gauge shotgun is at his side to fend off any marauding crows which try to hog the feeder. He has told his wife the entire purpose of the deck and TV programs are for him to waiting patiently in his living room blind while attracting humming birds to his feeder so that he can observe their nest and advise her of the best spot for harvesting humming bird eggs to bake into a pie or cake for the church charity auction.

But then, his peaceful afternoon is disrupted by what sounds like a heard of deranged rhinos playing a discus toss with bowling balls and setting off noisy fire crackers while wearing football cleats which and track mud across a newly varnished floor. He reaches for his shotgun, reminding himself that there are reasons why some species eat their young. Refusing to admit that this eyesight is changing and also refusing to wear glasses, his attempt at focusing his sights on Junior are interrupted by the ringing of the phone.

The phone that rings is not just any phone. It is a “man phone”. Therefore the ring is not just any ring, but the bleeting sound made by an elk, only more funky and electronic. The grumpy elder hyena answers the man phone because his lovely wife is out gathering coveted resources from the weekend sale at the mall. Both he and Junior know that her eagle eye will immediately spot any new scratches in the newly varnished hardwood floor she made him put in as a prerequisite to inviting all of his buddies over to drink beer while allegedly building the deck.

On the other end of the phone is another grumpy elder patriarch hyena who asks “What the beep is going on over there?” in a raspy, disgruntled and angry voice. “I was in the middle of watching the army hyenas trump the flying squirrel squadron. The game was in double dog dare overtime, the deciding touchdown was being tossed and my reception went out because a bowling ball came hurling through my sliding patio door and took out the TV screen. It also knocked over my wife’s plant and she’s going to kill me when she gets back from the sale at Godzilla Villa.”

The elders agree it’s time to call an emergency meeting of the neighborhood daddy dog hyenas and come up with a plan. It’s time for junior to move out. They pack him into a space ship and send him sailing off to earth. Since then they have continued to monitor junior’s progress in his new environment through regular reports known as the Darwin Awards and You-tube videos.

Back on earth, junior evolved into modern day man. First came the need to grow opposable thumbs. This came about after a number of dog with a bone dilemmas. The first junior had a bone. Then he spotted another one. Junior wanted both bones but couldn’t get both bones in his mouth. He tried carrying one bone in his mouth while nosing the other bone along the ground back to his man cave.

The bone eventually became round from being flipped along the ground. This was useful but junior lost a lot of the bone that way. Ultimately paws became hands so Junior could scrape his knuckles along the ground and carry two bones at once, one in each hand. And so, teenage mutant space alien hyenas were the origin of today’s modern Cro-Magnon dudes.

And, back to the light bulb. Hyenas are pack animals. Therefore, it is only logical that modern day men are pack animals. Therefore it is virtually impossible to get a guy to change a light bulb (or to do anything else on the ‘honey do list’) without major complaining and without six or seven of his beer drinking buddies around for support.

Of course this support is not hold the ladder support. It’s conversational support. It’s guys coaching guys on the best light bulbs from the ideal real man’s hardware store along with stories about all the light bulbs ever changed since the dawn of man.

Of course, many of the stories involve harrowing near death feats. Men consider these events to be acts of bravery. When changing light bulbs, the stories involve flying sparks of electricity, exploding light bulbs that spray tiny shards of glass everywhere, precariously balanced tipping ladders stacked on uneven chairs with wobbly legs with an occasional slippery slope thrown in for dramatic effect.

The sad fact is that many of these stories, albeit possibly exaggerated, are based on true events. Today, we call the subjects of these true events the winners of the Annual Darwin Awards.

And so it goes. My husband changed a burned out florescent light bulb in our kitchen fixture today. This only involved standing in a chair, removing the cover plate while dumping remnants of dead bugs all over the kitchen counter and floor, and sparking the new bulb so it instantly burned out and tripped the circuit breaker. While he was up there, he discovered some sticky spots on the cover plate, most likely the result of our last exploding bottle of wine. This resulting in his taking the cover plate over to the sink while he held the sprayer nozzle very close to the cover plate and sprayed water at full blast over the cover plate. Gently wipe is, after all, a foreign concept and not one that can penetrate the concrete shell of the male brain.

And so, an hour later, I’ve finished mopping the kitchen floor, wiping off the countertops and cupboard doors, sweeping the dehydrated dead bugs from the floor and vacuuming shrapnel from everywhere.

But now I have a new dilemma. I have to decide which is worse – an electrical fire or telling my husband that something is jammed in the vacuum cleaner, causing the motor to emit the bad electrical burning smell that immediately precedes sparks flying. It might be better for my sanity just to go hunt humming bird eggs or troll the mall.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Winter Warrior Rides Again

Iowa has been getting slam dunked by snow this year.  We had the snowiest December on record.  And, to top it off, it is snowing right now.  But, snow doesn’t slow down the hardy.

I’ve been keeping my bird feeders filled.  We have deer that visit and eat from the feeders in the front yard.  Our suburb actually tried to pass an ordinance against feeding deer.  But then, I rather like to battle city counsel and I don’t think they can bust me for the deer being resourceful.  My INTENT is to feed the birds.  Squirrels, bunnies,  and deer just happen to be clever foragers. The bunnies were smart enough to move closer to the feeder.

Actually, we have an over population of deer.  They are everywhere and seem to be very adaptive toward urban living – which translates into vanishing prairie.  After all, they were here first.

My husband sees deer all the time throughout the year.  They either stand by idly and watch him or bolt, often the wrong way so he has to avoid them.  But one young fella deer, complete with shiny new antlers, has taken up a game with my husband, Pat. 

It’s not exactly a reindeer game, but close enough.  When this deer spots Pat riding his bike along the trail, this deer runs along side Pat for quite a ways.   But then, the reason Pat has to be buddies with the deer is because Pat rides in weather everyone else considers inclement.  The deer, being outside anyway, are just stuck with whatever the weather dishes out.

The deer are so plentiful here that they are hazardous to drivers.  As a result, the city actually allows bow hunting of deer at certain times.  I hope this attracts real woodsmen, who genuinely know what to do with a bow and arrow and how to hunt with them.  My brother can actually hunt with a bow and arrow – and so can I, for that matter.

I don’t hunt, but I know how to use a bow and arrow.  I’m a pretty decent shot, both with a bow and arrow and a handgun.  This is why we don’t have any of these around our house.  I would have used them on some of our neighbors, in particular one former neighbor.

My bow and arrow use is limited to target ranges.  I find it very therapeutic to pull back a tight bow and let the arrow fly into a nice bull’s eye target.  I’ve also “hunted” Styrofoam animals.  I nailed a Styrofoam deer right in the eye once.  I caught a fake turkey in the neck.  My second arrows were a little truer but then, real deer and turkeys wouldn’t stick around for the second shot like their Styrofoam cousins did.

Most of the residents in our suburb are more likely skilled in using those annoying leaf blowers than any weapon.  They are also pretty good on tennis courts and golf courses.  To my knowledge, though, no game animals have been downed by Dunlap tennis balls or Titleist golf balls.

But hunters come annually and thin the herds, filling their freezers with venison.  There’s even a program for donating deer meat to inmates and the food bank. We have no game in our freezer.  It’s used for popsicles, ice cubes, ice cream, those gel bags for sore muscles, and occasionally some frozen vegetables.

So, hopefully Pat’s buddy will grow more antlers and keep himself out of harm’s way.  All the snow in Iowa has slowed down Pat’s cycling a bit.  The bike trails are not plowed and currently sit under 20 some inches of snow.

But this will not slow down the hail and hardy.  One of Pat’s friends organizes an annual New Year’s Day bike ride.  The length of the ride depends on the weather.  If it happens to be 30 degrees, they ride 30 miles, starting from a local Starbucks coffee shop.  If the temperature peaks at 10 degrees, they ride 10 miles and so on.  The one kink in this happens if the high is zero.  Then the game plan is they ride a “century”, which is 100 miles in bike talk.  Personally, my suspicion is that more people show up when the weather is warmer than when it is in the deep freeze zone.  But, hey, whatever gets the guys out of the house is a good thing.

Unfortunately, lately it has just been snow getting our guy out of the house.  If we have just a bit, I’ll use the shovel to scoop.  Any more than that and it’s a job for the “stunt daddy” and his ridiculously big snow blower.  He bundles up, and heads out for the he-man job of clearing our three car driveway and our corner lot sidewalk.  It’s a lot to do.  But then, if he had a way to hoist the ridiculously big snow blower in and out of the truck he wants but we don’t own, he would most likely plow out the bike trails himself.

Of course, the snowfall is only one obstacle.  Here in Iowa we get plenty of wind.  We have so much wind that wind farms are springing up all over.  Enormous pillars support three giant curved blades that spin, producing electricity.  The bad news is that this same ever present wind causes those big white fluffy flakes of snow to drift into giant piles, which block streets – and bury the bike trails even deeper. 

So, his only hope is to wait for a thaw – or invent a blade to put on the front of the bike that parts snow like the blades they use for the same purpose on trains.  Until then, I guess his little deer buddy will just have to wait until the winter warrior rides again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Not An Itsy Bitsy Spider - Another Good Reason to Stay Out of the Kitchen

We’ve been having adventures. Eight legged adventures. I was eating some grapes the other day. Not just plain regular grapes, but delicious, juicy organic grapes when I discovered a very large spider was in my bowl! I rocketed out of the chair and did some sort of terrified 10 yard dash to the sink with the spider bowl. Fortunately spidey stayed in the bowl just long enough for me to flush him down the kitchen drain.

This was a rather ugly spider. It was black and had a large round bulbous body. It was very big, too. From what I can tell from the spider pictures I forced myself to look at on the internet, it was a black house spider. They are venomous. Great. Apparently the bite is poisonous but not lethal. The bite causes muscular pains (I have those daily), vomiting (so far no to that), headaches (okay, I have those), and giddiness. Giddiness? Are you kidding? Who gets giddy from a spider bite?

The experience might not have been so bad if organic grapes weren’t more expensive than regular grapes. And none of this might have been so bad if my grandparents weren’t raising my parents during the depression. They were the original earth mothers, those people. I know for a fact my grandmother Emma saved every glass jar she ever had and recycled it for decades.

If one of her jars could talk, it would have said, four score and seven years ago I was a new jar. Okay, maybe, just maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. After all, Grammy Emma only lived for four score and nine years. Never mind, I take it back. My great grandparents were frugal (aka tight fisted) German folks and my Grammy Emma probably was saving jars starting when she was two.

Grammy Emma used and reused jars for canning. When the lids rusted off she did actually buy replacement lids to the extent she could can the entire garden produce grown in Knox county Nebraska. I remember picking tomatoes, peeling tomatoes and I remember the bugs, too. They were huge and creepy and ate big holes in the tomatoes. Grammy would curse them, stomp on them and then carefully cute around the hole eaten by the bug. I’m very sure the bugs were a large part of the reason why I wouldn’t eat tomatoes as a kid. Besides, what kid eats tomatoes anyway?

Tomatoes are the kind of thing you acquire a taste for. Especially vine ripened tomatoes grown from your own plant. My brother’s dog had a taste for their home grown tomatoes. This dog was a dumb dumb. It was supposed to be a hunting dog. Instead, it was the most pampered princess ever. First of all, it was named “Madison”. That’s a clear sign that the dog will never live to see a day in the field hunting birdies. A dog with a name like that might as well have a hand tooled collar that says “I’m a surrogate child – spoil me”.

Yes, my brother and his wife had kids. I just can’t remember which came first. Niece number two or the no brain purebred dumb dumb.

I have earned the right to make fun of my brother’s dog. We have had way dumber dogs over the years. Every one of them was a basset hound. Basset hounds are short on brains as well as legs. But they make excellent couch potatoes and are fantastic pets. Further, they don’t eat tomatoes.  Okay, they are probably too lazy to eat tomatoes.  Heck, they are too lazy to fetch a stick.  This is our first basset hound, Radar, examining a stick from a comfy place laying down in the grass.

Back to my brother’s dog. I can’t remember whether she demonstrated her affinity for eating furniture first, or the tomatoes. I think they might have happened around the same time. I distinctly remember her eating the arm of their couch. That might be when they chucked her outside. Being a purebred, she was destined to have too much energy to be a house dog. So somehow she wandered over to the garden and the rest is a big vet bill. Although, as I recall, it wasn’t the tomatoes themselves that were toxic, it was the leaves and stem of the plant.

Tomato plants contain oxalates. Oxalates are organic acids. Oxalates aren’t necessarily always bad. Many fruits contain oxalates and our bodies need them. In fact, our human bodies convert vitamin C into oxalates. The bad side of oxalates is that form sharp pointy acid crystals. They bind to calcium and iron. When they bind to calcium, they can form kidney stones. When they bind with iron they prevent iron from being absorbed in the bloodstream (remember the commercials for iron poor blood?).

The thing is, my brother and I grew up with dogs and tomato plants. Neither of my parents’ dogs ever bothered their tomato plants. This is because my mother ruined my dad’s hunting dog, too. It at least had a dog type name – Rags. Actually, Madison was the same kind of dog as Rags. This had to be a bad omen from the start.

Rags was the name the breeder gave to the dog and my dad kept the name. Rags actually did go hunting a few times. Rags was a virtually worthless hunting dog. She got car sick and ate all the donuts in the car. Apparently, hunting trips with my dad and brother meant taking thermoses of hot coffee and stopping for donuts. Actually, Rags hunting career was over before it ever started. Great hunting dogs are made by great trainers. Great trainers have a plan, routine practice, and patience.

My dad was excellent at planning. He would plan things for years. He enjoyed planning so much and was so good at planning that he often never got past the planning stage. My dad had several routines but practice wasn’t one of them. When it comes to patience, that’s another story. On a scale of one to ten with one being the absolute lowest and ten being the highest, my dad had zero patience.

Rags quickly became a house puppy and spent her younger days chasing my mother’s dust mop and her older days being mostly flatulent. But, the thing is, my dad had a huge garden. After all, he and my mother were children of the depression and my mother had all those canning jars from my grandmother.

So their entire back yard was a virtual urban produce farm. They planted enough tomato plants to feed all of Nebraska as well as a few developing nations. I also recall broccoli, cauliflower and onions.

Back to the tomatoes. Old flatulent Rags spent plenty of time out fertilizing the food producing forest my dad erected every year. But not once did she eat a tomato or a tomato plant. The ASPCA warns about tomato plants and dogs on their website at Eating a tomato plant can cause a dog to have gastric distress, confusion, weakness and a slow heart rate. I think my brother’s dog got diarrhea which was followed by a $400 vet bill.

That’s four hundred 1980 dollars. Heck, in this millennium, four hundred 1980 dollars are like at least two thousand eight hundred dog dollars today, aren’t they? So, basically, they had so much money invested in old dumb Madison that they had to keep her. And I don’t think she ever hunted a day in her life. At least not in sporting goods terms.

Madison was actually pretty good at indoor hunting. Nothing much edible was safe. Rags was the same way. Onetime Rags made off with and consumed a nicely roasted unlucky ducky in its entirety. Only some slobber remained.  Basset hounds, it is true, have plenty of slobber.  This is Radar's son, Rambo.  He was one of our favorite basset hounds.

Back to the spider and the grapes. I despise anything with more than four legs. I cannot bring myself to eat food on which some disease bearing multi-legged creature has landed. I just cannot eat food outdoors if flies are nearby. After all, they’ve most recently been on rotting decomposing organic matter procreating future disgusting wiggly nasty things that will become more flies. If you own dogs, this means flies spend their time buzzing around dog poop and have it all over their feet. So I cannot eat food they’ve walked around on because their feet are not clean. This goes for spiders.

But the grapes were organic, really good and healthier than pesticide coated regular grapes. This was a dilemma – to save or not save the grapes. Unfortunately I knew that no matter how many times I washed the grapes, I would see big hairy legs walking on them. End of appetite. The spider apparently knew this. I think it had a grudge about being washed down the sink.

I think this because it came back to haunt me. Later in the day, I walked past the sink. I might have been rethinking the possibility of saving the organic grapes. Then I saw IT. There, in the sink was the same big hairy round back black house spider. If there is a Guiness Book of World Records category for the amount of time needed to turn on a kitchen faucet, my name heads it up, especially if there is a subcategory for doing it while screaming bloody murder at unhuman decibles. The spider went down the garbage disposal drain nicely, minus one leg that was sticking to the sink.

Had I been thinking more clearly at this moment, I am positive I would made sure that I ran the garbage disposal for four or five hours while boiling water in every pot we own and pouring it down the drain for insurance. But those depression era thoughts about wasting grapes were haunting me. Not enough to wash the grapes. But enough to make sure the garbage bag containing the grapes was tied securely, taken outside, tossed in the garbage can and that the garbage can was moved a few more feet from the house. Just to make sure the spider from hell that wouldn’t die didn’t have any more friends hanging around the grapes.

Having to fight off the same spider twice in one day is bad enough to give me a serious case of the heebie jeebies. But this spider simply would not die. A few hours later I was thinking about what to make for dinner because my husband would be home soon. Pat rides his bike to work while I work at home. He has a ten mile commute. I have a few feet. Making dinner translates into “what do we have that I can heat up?” I may be the grand daughter of the jar saving Grammy Emma but I was liberated from the kitchen somewhere along the way, possibly as an embryo.

I think it’s a good thing, actually. Grammy Emma was my mother’s mother and a great cook. My mother was a great cook. But they are both gone. My father’s mother, Grandma Thelma, was reportedly not such a great cook. She lived well beyond both my mother and my Grammy Emma. Her mother, Grandma Randolph, or “Grandolph” as we called her, lived to be 103. I don’t know about her cooking skills but it would seem that cooking is a bad idea and their longevity seems to prove it.  I think it also proves that my dad was skinny for a reason.  But then, so is my husband.

So in moving the ten feet from my dining room ‘office with a view’ to the kitchen to rummage for leftovers or to decide what cans to open, I noticed movement in the sink – again. Again, it was the spider. It just would not die! It had climbed back out of the sink. I know it was the same round bodied very large black house spider – because it only had 7 legs. EW!

Three was not a charm. This meant war. After all, I had to throw a perfectly edible bunch of delicious organic grapes away. About that time, my husband came home to find me standing at the sink, although jumping up and down hysterically might be more descriptive. The garbage disposal was running. Pans of water were boiling. I told him about the spider.

He came downstairs after his shower. Since he rides a bike home from work he gets sweaty so he always showers when he gets home. The garbage disposal was still running. He told me “I think you got it”. Just to be safe, I ran the disposal for five more minutes. Thankfully, we haven’t seen the spider since.

This week, Pat fixed the sprayer from the sink. It had somehow been yanked out of the little ring that holds it in place. Also, we’ll be spending “black Friday” looking for a new garbage disposal. At the moment we have a large pot under ours to catch the drips. He discovered our garbage disposal was leaking when he had to go on a bug hunt under the sink to make sure spidey went down the drain and didn’t have a large family of relatives waiting close by.

My husband thinks our garbage disposal was just old and claims our daughter told him a while ago she thought it was leaking. Personally, I think the spider tried to eat its way out from the inside. Venomous spiders are like that, you know.  Besides this whole poisenous spider thing just brings home another good point.  Kitchens are a dangerous place.  The giant man eating spider the size of a Buick is a good reason to stay out of the kitchen and eat out.  Heck, restaurants have to be inspected so they must be safe.  And besides, my favorite thing to make for dinner is reservations.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Falling For Fall

It’s fall. One of my favorite seasons – right next to spring, summer and winter. Seriously though, I love fall and it is absolutely one of my favorites. I’m a fair weather friend when it comes to winter, especially if my joints start to ache in the cold. I like looking at white stuff, but not shoveling it and snow makes an obstacle course for me to get to fill my bird feeder. Although I bet my sweet husband would snow blow a path for me, if I asked him to. Especially if I removed the landscaping rocks that tend to booby trap the snow blower.

Back to fall. I’m a bit of a fair weather friend when it comes to fall, too. I like fall when there’s still green grass, but no bugs. I like fall when there’s still leaves on the trees, especially after they turn all the wonderful colors. I like fall before frost, although the frost is pretty on things.

I don’t like frost if we have to scrape it off of windshields, particularly on the mornings after we’ve forgotten to put our cars in the car. I also don’t like that frost kills all my flowers and the plants I’ve painstakingly put in the flower beds.

But there’s a reason for everything, isn’t there? This year, I tried to persuade the squirrels to give the birds a break and leave my bird feeders alone by bribing them with peanuts. I bought a bag of unsalted peanuts in the shell from our grocery store.

I toss a few of them on the front porch and the ground squirrels, whom I’ve named “Chip” and “Dale” come and scurry them away. The front feeder is on a shepherd’s hook and the squirrels haven’t figured out a way to get to that feeder, although they have relentlessly tried. So the squirrels have to be content with what falls on the ground in the front. There is plenty on the ground for them so they should have no worries.

Being creatures of habit and not trusting that the bird feeder will always be filled, the squirrels – and ground squirrels I am sure, have stored away plenty of the fallen bird seed, as well as quite a few peanuts.  I discovered this because they like the two pots I have on the front porch in which I’ve planted geraniums. The geraniums in the pots have quite a time. It was not unusual this summer for me to get the morning paper and discover dirt all over the front porch. The geraniums would look bedraggled and it was clear that someone had ulterior designs on the pots.

So I would patiently sweep the dirt up, put it back in the pots and water them, hoping the geraniums would pull through. They did. The ulterior motives became very clear, though, when I discovered an assortment of sprouts popping up beside the geraniums. I patient pulled the sprouts out and began my war with the varmints.

We also have a feeder on our deck. The squirrels, “Itchy” and “Twitchy” have a hey day with this feeder because they can get to it. They bound up the deck steps, climb the railing and gorge themselves.   One is a little braver and more agile than the other. One keeps his feet on the railing and reaches for the feeder, and then spends several minutes chowing down. The other leaps on the feeder and hangs upside down from the top, picking through the seeds to get the corn and sunflower seeds he wants.

I say “he” because there is another squirrel who is not so fidgety who comes just for the peanuts I toss on the deck. I don’t have a name for her yet. Maybe I’ll call her “Black Beauty” because she is an oddly marked squirrel with a lot of black in her coat, reminiscent of the black squirrels I have seen in Council Bluffs. Around here, squirrels are basically a reddish brick brown.

I am sure she is a she because she has figured out there is plenty of food to be had without risking life and limb for the bird feeder. Call it women’s intuition or faith or maybe lack of testosterone, but whatever it is, she has figured out that the birds will spill the seeds on the deck and that there will be peanuts and breadcrumbs daily.

I did have to move the birdfeeder from the deck to the back yard this summer, though, when our youngest daughter was home from college. I spent summer mornings on the deck drinking my morning coffee, reading the paper, writing and enjoying my bird visitors. She spent summer afternoons sunning and reading. The birds got used to us and, while they kept their distance, they would still flock to the deck. I found them cool and wonderous. She found them creepy and messy. And, so the feeder was moved to a shepherd’s hood in the back yard until she went back to school in the fall.

My war with the varmints has continued. They dug little holes all over our back yard. In particular, one spot under a tree is hazardous and pockmarked with a whole village full of holes. I have a bit of trouble with that spot when I mow. I never see critters by it, so I filled it up with potting soil and compost this fall. No one has dug a way out, so it must be an abandoned place.

I discovered a talent that my little friends have that I covet. I have tried for years to grow sunflowers and I have never been successful. This spring I tried again. I bought “systems” for starting plants. I bought fancy packets of seeds. I poured water on disks of peat moss and inserted sunflower seeds. I waited for sprouts. The sprouts came and croaked. I was able to get a few moss roses to grow but that was it. No sunflowers again this year. Maybe next year will be better for growing giant sunflowers. But, under the front bird feeder we have all kinds of sprouts – corn and sunflowers. The sunflowers were not the giant ones I envisioned, but tiny ones that grew, made flowers and wilted. Some were volunteers that thrived among the landscaping river rocks. Some were ones that were planted for future use by my buddies.

We are having glorious fall days with temperatures in the 70s. Who knew? Back in August I was wearing my winter coat on night shoots for the movies because it was dipping down to the low forties and I was freezing. Our night shoots were outside in a cornfield. I had on a long sleeved sweater, my cuddle duds, my winter coat, hat, gloves and waterproof thermal boots. Now I am wearing my short sleeved polo shirts and working outside in the yard. I saw a number of people in shorts today. This is okay by me. I can take 70 degree temperatures all month.

Last month my friend and I went for a train ride. We had been planning it for years and we actually got it pulled off. We had a blast. We drove to Boone, about an hour from Des Moines and rode the Scenic Valley Train. The trees were in full fall color and we snapped lots of pictures from the train. On one spot on the route, someone had carved faces in the tree. The conductor called our attention to the tree faces.

The ride goes for a few miles to a ‘turn around’. Then the engine does a little circle on the track and moves to the other end of the train. Then the engine pulls the train back to Boone. It was great fun and we loved seeing the puffs of smoke coming from our train engine. We had a fantastic day that day, complete with a lunch at a little tea place that both of us have wanted to visit forever but never had. Something always got in the way, usually my schedule.

Now that I think of it, there’s really little point in putting off those special places. Just go for the gusto, baby, and enjoy the day- all the way every day! After all, tomorrow could bring frost, no leaves on the trees and more excuses not to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.  So, pick up a leaf, make a wish and do something special for yourself – right now. There really is no time just like the moment.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Keeping the Good Parts

Now that it is October, rather the middle of it, I thought it high time to drag out my Halloween decorations. In September, once we reached the fall equinox, the cold nights had set in and the trees were changing color. I found it appropriate to set out my fall decorations. I’m sad to kiss summer goodbye but changing seasons is a reality in the Midwest.

I like fall. It’s one of my favorite seasons. I love Halloween. I’m not into scary gory creepy stuff. I am definitively not into spiders or any other large insects. But, hey, any holiday that comes with candy is okay by me.

I was in the mood for Halloween after working on horror films for the last two months. One horror film was about scarecrow zombies and one was about a haunted house. I knew about “ghost rules” before but I learned a lot about zombies. For example, zombies are after brains. Who knew?

In the theme of zombies, I found a great present for a friend in another state. I always send more of a gag present for her birthday. This year I found some books that were corporation style manuals about zombies and zombie management styles. Now, that I think of it, there are a lot of zombies in corporate America. A manual is a practical present after all.

The entire time that I was outside decorating, I was actually supposed to be operating as a self employed business woman who writes articles for magazines and companies for their internet. But, my artistic child wanted to put out Halloween items. I’m a sucker for children so it was easy for my artistic child to win out.

At the moment, we have no real children home to help decorate. This is pretty much a moot point because they stopped helping me decorate for anything several years ago. Although, I do get some occasional help if that particular child has a party planned. Ours is the house that often hosts the New Years, Valentine, St. Patrick’s Day, May Day, Fourth of July, Halloween or any other party. But, I have decorations for lots of seasons and holidays and today was the day to deck our outside for Halloween.

To be fair, I occasionally get help from my husband, Pat. Actually, I get help from him whenever I ask for it. But, he’s usually far more trouble than he’s worth so it can be risky and tricky to ask for help. Besides, right now he’s recovering from an outpatient laparoscopic hernia operation. No sense risking any complications there! So, he’s inside and has happily assumed the position in the recliner with the TV remote control. He is flicking from spaghetti westerns to nerd TV programs. Once in a while he wanders across a “He Man” program.

“He Man’ programs are reality TV programs about people who drive trucks across icy roads in Alaska, chop down trees in various parts of the country, or who catch big fish in the ocean for a living. I am sure all of these programs transmit testosterone through the airwaves to the remote where it can be absorbed through the skin by the holder of the remote. This is just in case any dude needs a top off of the guy stuff.

Decorating outside was a little more fun this year because I had my IPod to keep me company. I IPod is just loaded with tunes. I’ve discovered the CDs at the library. So, I regularly check them out and add to my music library. It doesn’t get much more fun than this.

So, when my artistic child asked me “Are You Ready”, I just Cast my Fate to the Wind, while Sloopy hung on as I staked out little lighted pumpkin warriors to protect all of us from the Eve of Destruction. I found that I didn’t really need any Help with this decorating adventure. My lilac bushes are sporting little cotton ghosts which hang from a branch on a string and Turn Turn Turn whenever it is Windy. Sometimes, the wind makes the lilac branches dance and the little ghosts go bouncing, a bit like a carnival ride. But the ghosts don’t mind as they have a Ticket To Ride. At night, in the light from the moon and the streetlamp these fun little ghosts can cast eerie Silhouettes.

Okay, if any of this sounds contrived, let me remind you that exercises in fantasy are what we do around here, baby! How awesome is that?

The IPod really is an inspirational tool. I wore it while mowing the grass and worked out a number of thoughts about upcoming books and passages in books that I am writing. It allows me to retreat to a sacred space where I can create. Some really special place where time stops and writing goes on and on, free from interruptions.

One of my projects at the moment is turning a basement bedroom into my office. I am almost drooling at the thought. At the moment, my “office” is located in the dining room, where I am prey to any number of distractions. Most of the distractions come on two feet and those feet are often in rather stinky men’s size 8 and a half bike shoes. The basement will be a haven.

Further, I can turn my artistic child loose. We can nail up a creative vision board on the wall, cut out all the inspirational pictures we want, pound nail holes anywhere we want, write on the walls and do just about anything else we want. All in the name of the story. Take that corporate America! This kind of behavior isn’t permitted in cubeville, I am sure.

Actually, I recently had the “pleasure” of reading some companies human resources manuals recently. Some companies won’t let their employees put up anything at their “workstation”. Pictures of kids, pets, friends, and anyone else are contraband. The same company allowed employees to have a calendar but only one. Hmm. Wonder if it was a conflict of interest if the calendar had pictures. Sigh. Silliness. There’s only one way to combat this kind of thinking. My artistic child wants an ice cream cone right now. And this is about to become a wish come true because the last time my artistic child and I went shopping, we bought an ice cream scoop, ice cream cones and ice cream. No sense saying good bye to summer without keeping on a few of the good parts.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Abba Blabba Do

It’s another lovely autumn day. I am multitasking – updating this blog while loading my CDs onto my laptop so they can go on my IPod. Hey, just because I’m old doesn’t make me a square.

In the meantime, two of my daughters are happily flitting about Europe because all of the world, literally, is their playground. One is in England doing a semester abroad study program through her college. The other is in Ireland doing an art internship, which resulted from a study abroad program at her college.

Back to my IPod. I’m rather proud of this. I got the IPod six months ago and took it out of the package the morning of my husband’s trip to outpatient surgery for a hernia operation. I knew without daughters to keep me company and entertain me, I needed reinforcements. Electronic reinforcements will do just fine.

So now I have over 2000 tunes on my IPod and lovely noise canceling Bose headphones to listen to them. It only took me three pairs of Bose headphones to get to this state of almost euphorbia. I had a pair of Bose headphones before. I also had music on my old laptop. I liked my old laptop but it was big, clunky and heavy. Very heavy. I used it while traveling back and forth to Chicago every other week. I had to take it out of the briefcase and put it in a bin to go through security then shove it back in my briefcase and trudge to my terminal. This isn’t too bad in the Des Moines airport, but it can be challenging at O’Hare. But there were benefits – I am sure it made my wrists strong.

I also worked in a cube. I hate cubes. I hate working in offices where anyone has to sit in a cube. Cubes are basically just awful. This is why innovative companies don’t have them. Innovative companies put people in private offices where they found their employees are far far more productive. This is understandable. The “cube” concept must be a hold over from those one room school houses they had in the 1800s. The ones where children just sat in desks in the same room regardless of their grade. This didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. It is basically distracting and an impediment to learning.

So when one works for a company that isn’t proactive enough to put everyone in a private office one simply needs noise canceling headphones. Therefore, I rescued myself from this predicament compliments of the Bose company. I loved those headphones, but I left this job and didn’t need the headphones so much. Then, my music loving artist daughter came home and discovered them. Of course, I gave them to her. She uses them regularly and loves them too.

Then our youngest daughter put a pair of headphones on her wish list. She had tried on a pair during a band trip and loved them. I think it was originally a Christmas wish list. But the problem was that she didn’t specify which kind of Bose headphones she wanted. Of course I got them for her. She tried out the ones I got and decided she wanted the other kind. Her birthday is a few weeks after Christmas, so, of course, I got those too. The end result was really a win win – a left over pair of Bose headphones. One for me! I don’t care what kind I have – just as long as they are noise canceling.

So, I put those lovely headphones to the test at the hospital. They worked just great. I was in bliss. I had transferred songs to my new very compact very portable Apple laptop. It had transferred the songs to my IPod. Pretty magical if you ask me.

There’s one slight problem. I have very distinctive kinds of music that I like. This basically means generally I don’t get to listen to my favorites in the car if anyone else is present. I like some pretty wild songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and almost all of the songs from the Disney kid shows – like “The Little Mermaid”. Another bad habit of mine is that when I really really like a song, I will listen to it over and over for hours. Sadly, this got the “Shrek” CD as well as the one from “The Little Mermaid” banned from my van. I guess my family just doesn’t understand the needs of my artistic child side.

Fortunately, I also like oldies rock and Beatles and Rolling Stones and “modern” groups like Lincoln Park and Fray. So basically, I get to listen to everyone else CDs or radio stations.

So, imagine my surprise when my IPod started playing a lot of my youngest daughter’s CDs. Like the one from “Mamma Mia”. That’s one of her favorite musicals. I like Abba but once is enough for those songs.

So, there I was, multitasking in the hospital waiting room too. It was a very lovely and comfortable room. I found a very comfortable couch across from a very lovely fireplace. I plopped down and began unpacking. I always drag a lot with me. Best to be prepared is my motto. So, I look like I’m moving in, wherever I go. I was set. I had munchies. I had my laptop. I had my IPod. I had those headphones. I had a book to read. And best of all, I had time to read it.

Back to multitasking. I quickly learned how to skip through songs. Then I discovered the most wonderful feature of all – yep, how to listen to the same song over and over and over and over. I was in hog heaven.

Then, suddenly, it was time to bring the old man home. The nurse bundled him up in a wheel chair and we trudged down the hallway to the door. I drove him home – listening to his radio station, of course. Today, he’s doing great after the hernia operation. He’s in hog heaven himself – in a rather blissful state from the wonders of modern medicine – pain killers! The Iowa Hawkeyes are playing and I doubt if he’s focused on the TV. At the moment he has a bit of a dazed look on his face and what could best be described as an idiotic smile. But then, that’s the way he looks most of the time. Unless he’s complaining. I’ll take this over complaints any day of the week.

And I am multitasking again. Loading my lovely CDs on the laptop so those wonderful tunes, like “Appalachian Stomp” and “Sing Sing Sing” can find their way on to my IPod. I’ve also discovered another wonderful feature. How to delete songs from my playlist.

Bye Bye Abba Blabba Do.