Wednesday, February 28, 2007


The plumber is here.

I waited three weeks for this day. He's down in the basement, working on a break in the main water line. When he finishes with that, there's a bigger job waiting for him upstairs.

He's whistling a tune.

I just realized what it is. He's whistling "If I Only Had a Brain."

This is not a good sign.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Strolling Mice

A friend of mine recently moved into a new house--a rental--and within a few days found the kitchen overrun with mice. I commented that a mouse invasion was rather unusual for a new building (it's the sort of thing I'd be more likely to see in my 1850 farmhouse if I didn't have a bunch of cats), and she said the landlord had explained that the mice came in when my friend accidentally left the side door to the garage open.

I laughed at the mental image of a family of mice strolling into the garage...or perhaps marching single-file across the threshold, determined in their mission to invade the premises. And I tried not to laugh at the fact that my friend believed the landlord.

"Did he explain how the mice got from the downstairs garage to the upstairs kitchen?" I asked. He hadn't. But implausible as it is, I still love the image of the strolling mice. It stayed with me all day.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine

Have you seen it? I really liked the movie. It didn't make me laugh continuously, but I felt it was layered...comedy on top of a good, thoughtful story with wonderful touches throughout. I found most of the characters to be sympathetic and real. I like a movie where I care about the characters. And I thought the final scenes were terrific — and very funny.

I do have one complaint, though. They have the grandfather snorting heroin. (This is not a spoiler.) I know it's an R rated movie, but a lot of young people will see it. I think it's a mistake to trivialize heroin use like that. They could easily have had the grandfather doing something else. It didn't even have to be related to drugs. The movie doesn't get into his drug use, so there's no mention of how highly addictive heroin is. It's just something funny that Grandpa does. Not a good idea, I would say.

I admit I have a strong anti-heroin bias. The drug has invaded our rural communities and is swallowing up our children. One reason heroin has been so "successful" is that kids are unaware of its wickedly addictive properties. They think it can be used as an occasional recreational drug. And that fallacy is exactly what this movie perpetrates.

When I saw the first drug scene in Little Miss Sunshine I thought Grandpa was snorting cocaine. Cocaine certainly would have fulfilled the intention of showing Grandpa to be inappropriately cool (in the extreme). Of course, to me, pot smoking would have served the same purpose. But maybe I'm unusual.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Pogo is Annie's black kitten. He had two orange siblings, and when we met them all three were terrified of humans. Leanne and I went next door on a regular basis to play with them, justifying it by saying we were socializing the feral kittens. This is true, of course, but we also simply found them irresistible.

They didn't socialize easy, and the process wasn't helped along when a neighborhood boy went after them with a stick. That evening, Annie moved her brood into my garage. They were all still living there when Annie became sick. The vet found several things wrong with her, and said she was in a weakened condition from nursing the kittens too long. This offended my La Leche League Leader sensibilities, but I agreed to facilitate weaning. Annie had to come into my home in order to rest and get her daily meds, and I brought her black kitten with her. I took the oranges (males? females?) to the shelter, something I'd never done before. But the staff said the kittens would probably get adopted quickly because orange kittens were popular and they were the only ones of that color. I want to believe that's what happened.

I hadn't intended to acquire two new cats, but I knew I was fated to hold on to the black kitten. What is it with me and black cats?? (More about that another time.) Annie spent a month in the guest room with her baby. During that time he overcame all his fears and demonstrated a great capacity for affection, a strong purr, and the ability to levitate in all directions. I named him Pogo.

This is Pogo's first winter. He and Annie are indoors most of the time, but he loves to go out to play in the snow if it's not too cold. Unlike his mother, he gets along well with the dogs and the other cats. He loves all the humans. At night he sleeps in Joey and Leanne's room. And sometimes he joins them for breakfast, sitting in a chair at the head of the table and looking hopeful.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I was sweeping about 10" of snow off my car last winter when I discovered--because the mound of snow at my feet began to move--that I'd been sweeping it onto a calico cat. She was unfazed by the avalanche; she she got out from under, shook herself off, and proceeded to rub around my ankles--or, more accurately, my boots.

She came around a lot after that. I learned that the woman managing the horse farm next door had acquired her, along with several others, to keep the barns free of mice. When this woman quit her job, leaving the cats behind, I decided to adopt my calico friend and get her spayed. A friend suggested that I name her Little Orphan Annie, which suited her perfectly. Those big yellow eyes! I invited her to spend the night in my house, and she readily agreed.

It was a peaceful sleepover, but in the morning I discovered that I was harboring a nursing mother. Back to the barn went Annie. Several days later Leanne and I found the kittens: two orange and one black. Thus began a period of waiting for the kittens to be old enough to be weaned so that Annie could be spayed. It dragged out quite a bit, involving medicating Annie every day for a month after it was discovered that she had elevated liver enzymes and couldn't undergo surgery until she was healthy.

Annie got spayed, moved in, and never looked back at the barn next door. She's a somewhat moody cat, affectionate one day, aloof the next. But one constant is her pleasure at finding warm, soft places to sleep. Annie loves to sleep. She also loves catnip, as you can see from this photo. And she loves her name. That is, she answers to it instantly, as well as to my all-purpose cat call: pssst! animal story with a happy ending. Little Orphan Annie is an orphan no more.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Postcards From the Past

Twenty years ago I bought someone's collection of postcards. An older couple was retiring and moving away, and they held a garage sale. My son and I were big on garage sales at the time (I still am, but he's not eight years old anymore), and we did well at that one. He bought their collection of minerals, all labeled and neatly displayed, and I bought their collection of postcards.

Were I a natural-born collector like my son, I would have taken care of the postcards with an eye toward the future. But as usual, my eye was more likely to be on the past or on something cooking on the stove than profits 20 years hence. The postcards remained loosely in their box for a long time, getting moved around from room to room for various reasons. They were covered, at least, which was most fortunate in this dustiest of old houses (or at least it was that way before the remodel). But the worst part was that I used quite a few of them for correspondence. No, it was even worse than that. You see, I chose the silliest, or most boring, or least attractive postcards to mail, just out of mischievous fun.

It was fun indeed, but I had no idea that the rarest, most valuable postcards are often the silliest and least attractive. I can only hope that a good percentage of those I mailed off were the sort that collectors would find boring as well.

Anyway, I paid $5 for the collection. I began selling them individually last week, and I can see that this is going to be even more fun than mailing them. I sold six of them for a total of $33.

I wonder what the minerals are worth?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Little Bird Feet, Litle Bird Trust

Indigo Bunting (see Alphabird at right) recently wrote about the experience of hand feeding wild birds. I started to comment on it, but my comment got so long that I figured I'd better put it here instead.

One winter in the early 1970s I read a book called Hand-Taming Wild Birds at the Feeder, by Alfred G. Martin. I was living alone in the country during the week, with lots of time on my hands to devote to this project. It seemed like an impossible undertaking. But the author said if you followed his instructions (which involved patience and cold hands) you would succeed. He was right. Of course, a chickadee was the first brave bird to eat out of my hand. It wasn't long before many others, including whole flocks of evening grosbeaks, followed suit.

I would go outside and call, "Come get your seed!" in a high voice, and they would land on my arms, my shoulders, my head. I think the biggest surprise (and thrill) was when a flock of migrating redpolls landed on me. They were just passing through, but apparently decided the resident birds knew what they were doing, and as a feeding station, I was okay.

I'm so sorry I can't do this at my present home. I didn't get started when we first moved here (I was busy being pregnant and raising toddlers), and now my Raynaud's is so bad that standing outside with a bare hand is out of the question. I'll never forget the feeling of little bird feet, though. Little bird feet and little bird trust.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The War(s) of 1512

When my daughter Suzanne moved to her present home, she gave me her new address and said an easy way to remember the street number was to think of the War of 1512.

"Wait a minute," I said. "That was the War of 1812. There was no War of 1512."

"Well," she said, "I'm sure some war was going on in 1512."

Ever since then--and it's been a few years now--whenever I mail something to Zannie I remember the War of 1512. Except I've never been very clear on who was at war. So I recently ran it past Google.

It turns out that in 1512 Russia invaded the Grand Duchy of Lithuania again. And the Battle of Ravenna, fought on April 11, 1512 by forces of the Holy League and France, was a major battle of the War of the League of Cambrai in the Italian Wars. And that is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

I found it hard to envision the forces of the Holy League (did they sport halos? habits? bibles?), so the next time I addressed an envelope to my daughter Tartar-eyed Russians charged into a quiet Lithuanian village, pale-skinned villagers scattering. I've always liked Russians, but these days I've been rooting for the Lithuanians, who seem to me to be the underdogs. I think it's time I looked up the rest of the story and learned how the war ended. In the case of war, at least, endings are better than beginnings.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Text Mess(age)

My cousin was excited about a special dinner date her daughter had this week with a new guy. Being a good, non-intrusive mother, she didn't call her daughter in the middle of it. Instead, my cousin sent her a text message. It read, DON'T EAT BEANS. CK TEETH FOR PARSLEY.

Problem is, she sent it to the wrong phone number. We have no idea who got the message on his or her cell. We can only hope it was taken to heart.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again (But You Can Drive Past)

This afternoon I listened to an NPR interview with a composer who has written the music for over 500 films. Driving my car through the woods at twilight, one of his scores swelling to a climax, I felt every inch the heroine of a romantic drama. (It doesn't take much, does it?)

Anyway, I was reminded of an experience I had in 2003:

The road was wet black with yellow leaves under my tires, the woods grey on either side. Warm air and Saint-Saen's "The Swan" poured into the car as cold raindrops hit the glass of the roof. Listening to both, I felt like a player in a movie, one where the heroine speeds off on a dark day to meet an old love. In a way, that’s what I was doing, although we can forget the heroine part. That day an afternoon appointment took me past the little house Joe and I bought in 1968, the weekend place that introduced us to Pennsylvania, living in the country, and all that came with it.

I drove down the roads we covered so many times in those early years. I saw a few familiar landmarks, and more changes than I could possibly count at 50 mph, or at any speed. It was an otherworldly trip, for in fact my head was in another world entirely, a world where we looked forward to Friday and dreaded Monday, a world where we made the decision to leave the city and live everyday among trees and birds and gardens, a world that brought us our first baby and the promise of more.

I made the turn up the hill to our first home, passing house after house where there used to be only three, and coming at last to the familiar hip-roofed structure. The roof, and parts of the garage that Joe built, were all I recognized. Our charcoal house is a pastel shade now, with chalet-type windows and doors. The garage sports a window box filled with plastic flowers. But even as my eyes took in the strange details, my lips whispered, “It’s so small…so small.”

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Queen

I enjoyed seeing the movie The Queen the other day, but I wonder what Queen Elizabeth thought of it. That is, IF she watched it. I also wonder how the filmmakers were able to get away with depicting real, live people (live being the operative word), their conversations and their emotions, in a movie.

It is unlikely that anyone will make a film about me without my consent or support (of course, with my consent and support is another matter entirely), but if they did I think I would find it WILDLY uncomfortable to watch. And even more WILDLY uncomfortable not to watch. I can see myself sitting in front of the screen--or rather I can hear myself, my vocabulary sinking another notch with every scene.

"I didn't say that, you son of a bitch!"...."Shit! That wasn't something I would ever do!"... "Oh my God, would you look at her effing hair!!"

Do you suppose something similar went on at Buckingham Palace? I think it's more likely the royal family tossed the movie reviews into the fireplace, gathered up the dogs and the cold lamb stew, piled into the Land Rover, and went stalking.