Friday, November 25, 2016

7 Quick Takes 44: Murder Most Fowl

... and rodent, and insect. In fact, it's pretty much like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot have taken up residence around here.

1. I lamented our new rodent lodger (courtesy of the cats) in the previous Seven Quick Takes. Just two mornings later, I opened the bedroom door to find the offending brown and white mouse stretched out, untouched, on the threshold, as if the cats were saying, "OK, enough of the internet shaming. Here's the fracking mouse." Praise and cat treats abounded...
Then, a couple of days later, I heard a yell in the kitchen as my husband jumped up to stop the mouse dragging lunch off the counter. Bob the Mouse was alive and well. I can only presume the body was a counterfeit the cats caught and left out to stall the complaints and threats to reduce their rations by a mouse's worth a day until he was dispatched. Or there's a colony of mice living in the walls. I don't want to think about that.

2. Bad housekeeping that lies firmly at my door, on the other hand, is our resident dead fly. It was perched on our larder door for a while. I thought it was just hanging out... and hanging out... and hanging out. Eventually it dawned on me it must be deceased, but since removing it required more than bare fingers, it stayed there. Then my daughter pointed out its backside had fallen off. Eventually, I decided to take a photo. And still left it there for another couple of days. But now it's gone. Unlike the mouse.

Still life with dead fly.

3. Sweet death: I could (and might) write a whole 7QT on our ant wars of the past several months, but here's a taster. The long months of drought here have meant that desperate ants are invading homes in the area, especially those tiny larder ants with a taste for sugar. After weeks of putting everything into ant-proof jars and caulking every crack in the kitchen we could find, I thought we'd almost beaten them back, but yesterday, I put a jar of honey back in the cupboard without realising the seal wasn't on correctly - today, it was swarming with ants bent on a viscous death. What to do? I strained it out and rebottled it, ant free. Waste not want not, and honey is anti bacterial :)

4. A positive commercial break:  Alcuin is going through another stage when he's adding to his vocabulary every day. The only thing is, he isn't too fond of beginning vowels. He'll help make the fire with "ick"s and "ogs", for example. This wouldn't be noteworthy, except that we have (d)ucks. I look forward (not) to explaining that at library story time.

5. Back to death: My husband wasn't even out of US air space when disaster struck. For the first time ever, a hawk got one of our chickens. Of course, it was one of my favourites, our only silkie hen, Mrs Dick Turpin. Alcuin and I entered the chicken yard to find all very quiet. At first, we thought the chickens were huddling under the coop to escape the cold weather. Then I got that feeling something was wrong. As we began an inspection of the perimeter, a hawk burst out of the bushes.  Of course, I knew what I'd find. Alcuin was pretty excited about it all - he's not been able to stop talking about the "awk".

6. Once again, she proved the truth that chickens never seem that big until you have to dig a grave for them. Especially when there's been a drought for months and the clay soil is more like granite. At least the sore hands and aching back distracted me from my grief.
The ducks, by the way, were quacking happily on their little pond the whole time. I guess they were saying something like, "Nah, nah, you're not an osprey. You can't catch us."

It was Thursday night, and I'd run out of photo ideas.

7. Out on our morning walk this past weekend, I spotted a shoe in the ditch - and then its partner close by. A nifty pair of Vans Off the Wall low-top converse (whew, that's a mouthful). And they looked to be exactly my size. Now, if this was the UK, I'd leave them on the nearest wall so that the barefoot loser could retrace her steps and rescue them. But here, with no pavement, or houses nearby, they could only have been tossed from a moving car, and there's no way of getting them back to their owner. So I took them home,washed them, and - they fit perfectly. And retail for $50 on the manufacturer's website. I feel ninety-eight percent triumphant, and, given how things are going around here, two percent worried they are the vital clue in a murder case.

Hope your Thanksgiving involved nothing deader than a turkey. For more Seven Quick Takes, hop on over to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, November 11, 2016

7 Quick Takes 43: Nah, No Wrigrets More

Where what started out as a structured idea morphed into a stream of consciousness post.

1. It's November - we all know that's NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. At least, over half the people on my FB feed do. And there's something about it that ignites even those of us who have sworn off novel writing. Because, although I've given up all ambitions for literary fame, I spend a lot of time in my head, and my little inner bubble gets boring even to me sometimes, and - pop - out comes a story.

2. And then, a little voice starts up: Hey, 50, 000 words in a month! That would be fun!! Just the intellectual challenge I need!!!  Except it's totally unrealistic given I've got a toddler who is a one-man deconstruction company. OK, maybe if I did nothing else while he was asleep, including sleeping myself. So that's a no-go, right? Except... my husband is going to China in the middle of the month (yes, literally), so what would he know? As long as the view on the video camera when we Skype shows a clean space in the house, how would he know the baby is living off the knee-high pile of cat food on the kitchen floor, and the dust bunnies are evolving into woolly mammoths? And if my teenager gets to live on Papa John's pizza and sleep in as long as she wants, she won't be telling...

Ahem, back to reality and my rambling point.

3. What actually happens when I see NaNoWriMo, is my poor aging brain does a double take. At least, I don't know whether it's my brain or my eyesight, but nowadays, I find myself glancing at words and totally misreading. I'll see a jar of "Squirrel Jam" or a can of "Tundra Flavour Car Food". So what actually pops into my head is "nah, no more....". Which led me to think, how about a lighthearted, themed post on what could I say no to in November?

4. ...Which turned out to be hard, because I've got about the willpower of a jellyfish. If someone told me I had to give up tea and chocolate or die, I'd start writing my epitaph. The only times I've been able to turn over the proverbial new leaf were when I was pregnant. With my first child, I gave up drinking like the college student I was, and to this day, only drink lightly. With number three, the thought of having to give birth at forty-five drove me to exercise every day. And now he's on the outside, I still exercise almost every day because my back hurts too much if I don't. Maybe if I'd had fifteen children, I'd be near-perfect.

5. But I do have NahNoWrigglingMouse. At least, we wish we could say that, but we have a rodent lodger of many weeks standing. Sometimes, our cats diverge from their shock and awe strategy and allow some of their prey to be eligible for their catch and release programme. That is, catch it outside, and release it inside. The current mouse has taken up residence in our walls, and occasionally emerges in the kitchen to drag off pieces of pizza and dodge the cats and (humane) mouse traps. We are about to reach our final solution: name it. In the past, giving up and adopting the mouse usually results in its demise within a couple of days. Any suggestions for good names?

6. Then there was the news of the week: NahNoWrightMountain. That is, something to really get outraged about: Toblerone has changed its shape.

It's supposed to look like a mountain range; now it looks like a mountain range with a motorway cut through it. Perhaps it's meant to be a stark comment on the state of the environment. Or a bid to cheat us on the amount of chocolate we're paying for. It's a toss up.                        

7. And to end, how about, Nah, No More Wrigrets? That's not me, because I can still worry about things I did 25 years ago, but sometimes I get the urge to rrrrrroll my rrrrrrrrs and do a little Edith Piaf. And I think we need it this week.

Well, good luck to those of you who are really, truly churning out those 50, 000 words. And of course, for the best writer's inspiration, pop over to Kelly's link up at This Ain't the Lyceum. Even better, please read this post and consider helping her family fund their hosting of two Latvian orphan siblings this Christmas.

Friday, October 28, 2016

7 Quick Takes 42: Unhallowed Confessions

In which the more I write, the more I tie myself in knots over the upcoming holiday, and explain why my husband thinks I'm a witch.

1. I start with a dangerous point, since readers of Seven Quick Takes are mostly American. But there's a nagging guilt I feel this time of year, that, up until this point, I've not been woman enough to confess to the Internet: I really dislike Halloween, US style. There, I said it. Thanksgiving - now that's a wonderful holiday. But Halloween? I've just never been able to understand what dressing up as a princess and walking around with a plastic bucket collecting cheap candy actually has to do with Halloween.

2. And what's with the Halloween season? Surely it's pretty tiring for a ghoul to be out of the grave from early September to the end of October. Having said that, I confess we have a total of one house on our street decorated in full Halloween style, and it's the one rented out by - and sitting next to - the Southern Baptist church. But I live outside town, where houses are far apart. I think we've had one single trick-or-treater in nearly twenty years. Most of the time our porch is darkened while we're in town getting richer pickings, because my children love the holiday even if I don't, and I'm not a total pumpkinpa-loser.

3. Actually, I'm more sorry that it's gaining such traction in the UK, because (cue alienating even more 7QT readers) it overshadows one of my favourite holidays: Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes). And let me quickly say to Catholic readers that, growing up, it was all about bonfires and fireworks, with a nod to celebrating our escape from the plot to blow up Parliament and the King in 1605. I was an adult before I learned that there's a remote place or two in the UK that actually has an anti-Catholic slant to the celebration. Generally, if we burn an effigy that's not Guy Fawkes, it's a modern-day politician. Not that I'm trying to give election-weary American voters any ideas...

And while I'm at it, here is an ad for fireworks safety from my childhood:

4. Aha, you say, so Guy Fawkes has evolved and that's OK, but it isn't acceptable that Americans have shaped All Hallow's Eve? And does it matter, anyway? There's no linear history of Halloween; like most liturgical holidays in the British Isles, it has the flavours of older cultural traditions. The one most cited - Samhain - is a festival reinvented by pagans. We know little about the original other than it was perhaps a time to celebrate before winter set in, and maybe a time when the veil between the natural and supernatural worlds was believed to be very thin, like Midsummer. The Scottish most likely brought over their version of Halloween to the US, where the middle classes eventually tamed the wild parties into something approaching the celebrations that go on now. Or some such narrative.

Well... no, I didn't say that. I've just never been able to feel the masquerade spirit. That's for Mardi Gras, another holiday the US does really well. I lived in Louisiana for a while. Enough said :)

5. We didn't really have trick or treating in England when I was growing up, but we did have the odd Halloween party, where you dressed up as a witch or ghost or something supernatural, and did things like bobbing for apples and telling scary stories. We didn't have pumpkins for sale at the greengrocer's, either. I remember buying a turnip to carve as a lantern for a Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) party. Sad, but true.

As far as I remember, mine looked about this pathetic.

6. And I was scared on the night of October 31. Really scared. I used to gather up all the crosses I had, tuck them under my pillow, and long for it to be past midnight. That was 'real' Halloween. No, I don't want my children to get nightmares, but I do want them to grasp the concept that there is a supernatural world, and that there are negative spiritual forces, but that we can overcome them every time. Just preferably not dressed as Barbie. Maybe Buffy, though.

7. And now you know I'm a Halloween hater, how is it that my husband still thinks I'm a witch? Well, the other week, he was suffering from being the last one in the family to catch a weirdly long-incubating stomach bug. As he was stretched out prostrate in the armchair, clutching his stomach with one hand and typing his symptoms into Google with the other, I offered to make him a cup of mint tea. He looked up from the World Wide Web and groaned, "Witchery." Which, as I pointed out when I stopped laughing, is technically true since herbalism comes under the umbrella of witchcraft by some definitions. But Google is apparently run by witches, too, since that was the number one remedy he found.

So, if anyone is still reading at this point, or can see the screen through the Holy Water they've thrown at it after #7, please hop over to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum. I'm sure she loves Halloween through and through.

Friday, October 14, 2016

7 Quick Takes 41: Of Schubert and Squirrels

1. I enjoy reading 7 Quick Takes about others' daily lives, even though I usually go for themed posts myself. However, I feel in need of the comfort of the ordinary right now- because I am sick, sick, sick of the elections. I'm avoiding Facebook for that reason - I tend to only be Facebook friends with people who are civil, but even my feed is being poisoned by the vitriol of politics. Honestly, I think that all campaigning should be halted, right now. Everyone can go home, we can all calm down and regain our sanity, and then those of you that have a vote (not me, I'm not a citizen) can go to the polls in November with a clear head.

2. Washing machines. Is that a non-political topic? We got only the second washing machine of our marriage the other week. It's a front loader - hurrah! I never did feel at home with my top loader. I suppose it's a cultural thing. How can you stand not to watch your washing go around and around through the little window? And the nice people at Samsung actually sat around and thought about how annoying it is when all your appliances beep at you, because when the cycle is finished, the machine plays a theme from Schubert's Trout Quintet, and very prettily, too, for a computer.

I don't think there are any little musicians inside my washing machine, but you never know...

3. Babies - surely that's a safe topic, too. Alcuin has finally got to his clingy stage. He steadfastly believes I have a diabolical plan to run away for ever, and that he can only thwart it by screaming "Mum-mum-mum" every time I leave the room without him. Not even going to the loo is safe - he has to run after me and sit on my lap. I think he knows I have the toilet equivalent of floo powder on hand and am about to disappear down the bowl.

4. ...and animals. The neighbour's dogs started to get very annoying on our daily walk. I don't really mind the yappy Boston terriers, but one of the larger, shaggy mongrels was beginning to get up very close, growling. Yelling just didn't seem to work. Then, after a few days of this, I got angry. I stopped, turned, pointed, and said sternly, "No! Go away." He stepped back a few paces, gave me a hurt look, as if to say, "Now you've spoiled all my fun," and left. The next day, he came running out at the sound of our approach, saw it was me, and stopped in the driveway. The day after - he didn't even bother. Just call me the dog whisperer.
The only downside is that the baby actually liked all this doggy entertainment. Now, he woofs, and shakes his head sadly.

5. It was "woof" because, despite having a wide vocabulary, he prefers to communicate with sound effects and gestures rather than words.  If he wants me to do something specific, he places my hand on the spot - literally, the task at hand. The other day, he pushed his dad to a clear spot in the bedroom - so he could ram him with a cardboard box.

Maybe it's because he was raised by chickens...

6. A couple of mornings ago, I got up to a squirrel head and upper torso on the rug. (Imagine: head, shoulders, and little arms sticking out. You're welcome.) Used to the cats' Godfather-like offerings, I stumbled into the kitchen, grabbed paper towels and cleaner, and got to work. Later in the day, one of the cats brought in a lizard, which detached itself from its tail and escaped. I picked up the still wriggling tail... and suddenly got grossed out. Go figure.
And yes, mutilated animal parts beat politics right now.

7. The only person currently using the girls' bathroom is my thirteen year-old. So how is it that she can stand at the sink and get mud and make up on the walls four feet behind her?

There, that made me feel better. For other, hopefully cathartic quick takes, glide over to Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, September 30, 2016

7 Quick Takes 40: All That Glitters is Not Silver...

1. Many, many moons ago, for some inexplicable reason, my eldest daughter loved to swing brooms around. One day she swung it in the direction of an antique family vase, and the inevitable happened. The delicate, etched glass was broken beyond repair. We would have consigned the whole vase to the dustbin, except that the base was a heavy lump of silver. So, with a vague idea that we would detach and sell it, we packed the broken vase into an old shoebox, put it into the sideboard cupboard, and... promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward fifteen or so years, and behold, we have a baby with an infallible radar for broken glass. Having mastered the art of opening the kitchen cupboards, he turned his talents to cupboards with latches. Again, in one of those twenty-second lapses of supervision, he got into the sideboard. Faced with china galore, which obviously wasn't antique, he went for the box because something we were hiding from him must be worth investigating. Thankfully, my radar for toddler trouble is getting rehoned, because I rescued him and the vase in time. My husband finally decided to do something about it, and set to work detaching the lump of silver, which turned out to be:

A lump of plaster encased in silver about as thick as tin foil. So, maybe a dollar's worth in there. And we still haven't thrown that away. But I suppose it says something about greed, or thriftiness. Or laziness...

2. Although David Bowie was a fixture of my childhood, I found the hysterical reactions to his death this January rather incomprehensible. Yet this weekend, when I learned that Terry Jones of Monty Python fame has a rare form of dementia that is robbing him of speech, I was terribly upset. Monty Python's Flying Circus is almost completely responsible for my warped sense of humour; I went to Cambridge, the Pythons' stomping ground; the house I shared with friends there was affectionately dubbed "Castle Anthrax". That someone whose life has been words should be bereft of them seems a cruel irony.
And then, reading on, I also learned about his private life, which is, shall we say, much, much less than admirable, and I had the strange experience of being devastated and disappointed all at the the same time.
Another clear moral: Don't make an idol of anyone. Even Eric Idle.

3. Behold the instruction manual that came with my husband's newly purchased, refurbished strimmer:

Six hundred and fifty pages in twenty-six languages, intended for the EU market. Which can only lead to the reflection that Brexit may have its upside ;)

4. Why is it, that, after more than twenty years of being married to a mathematician, my recurring anxiety dream is still being back at school and not being prepared for my maths class?
I think my husband would say this, too, has a moral: it's my subconscious telling me to give him more attention.

5. My original thoughts for  #5 went: Attention Mother Nature: September in the northern hemisphere is meant to be the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", NOT the mid-nineties (high thirties). Yes, I complain too much. I have an extreme intolerance to heat. Ten minutes in the sun and I am red and perspiring. Half an hour and I have to lie down :( WHY am I still in Mississippi? Perhaps I am really dead and this is actually Purgatory. And so on, until I am curled up in a ball of sweaty hysteria...

6. Then, a few days after venting, I woke up to fifty degrees. Which was a physical relief, but brought about the usual shoe problem. When the girls were younger, every year, as it got to the turn of the season, I would think, "I must buy them new summer/winter formal shoes." And then, bang, the weather always turned on a Sunday morning and they had no suitable shoes for church. This past year, I've been collecting good pairs of baby shoes from thrift stores and clothes swaps so I'd be prepared. And... they're all too big or too small.

7. The main reason we needed shoes was because FINALLY, at sixteen months, the baby has decided that walking is worthwhile. My first reaction was, "He looks like a drunken Charlie Chaplin." My second was, "And his sisters won't have a clue what I mean by that."

Moral: I'm old, no moral.

For more quick takes with fewer fake morals, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, September 16, 2016

7 Quick Takes 39: Geriatric mother ventures forth

... in oh so many ways. With mixed results.

1. I read on the internet - so it must be true - that introverts, even if they try the extrovert thing for a while - tend to revert more strongly to their natural ways later in life. I choose to believe this, because it justifies my opinion that, at my age, I'm finally entitled to be myself, not the (sociable) person the world demands.


On the other hand, I've got a baby who might actually grow up and want to interact with the world, so even though I'd like to hide in a cave nurturing my inner chinchilla, I have been girding my loins, gritting my teeth, and trying to get out.

2. Step one on coming home was picking up our morning walks. Not because I am agoraphobic, but because it's so d*** hot. When I left England, I was wearing a coat - a coat! bliss! - in the evening. I get back here and the radio weather man is cheerfully saying, "A lovely day ahead, with a high of 93." And I'm thinking, There's an oxymoron in there. So, armed with water, sunglasses, and hats, I venture out every day - before 9am, or it's too hot. Even so, I usually return with sweat tricking down my face. The plus is that I usually only have to communicate with horses and dogs, and I have pretty good social skills where animals are concerned.

3. Step two is trying to hang laundry with the baby, who is fifteen months old and still doesn't want to walk. In England, this was easy: I plonked him down on the tiny lawn in my parents' fenced garden, and about the worst he did was try to feed a snail to one of their tortoises. Here, we have over an acre of unfenced yard, not to mention fire ants, velvet ants (aka wingless wasps), ticks, red wasps, black wasps, mosquitoes... well, let's just stop before I get to the spiders. So putting him on the grass is a crap shoot that might end in a trip to the emergency room and being arrested for child endangerment.

Still, maybe that's just my being paranoid. So, I took him out and sat him down next to the laundry basket to "play quietly". Except that it took him about twenty seconds to notice that he was free and shoot off towards the pond. He did pause to turn and wave good bye, though. I dragged him back, and another twenty seconds later, he made for the swing set in the other direction. Not as bad as potential drowning. Then I remembered the poison ivy in his path... Thank you, guardian angel, for stepping in there. Sorry about your rash.

4. Step three - actually leaving our property to an actual mother-baby event. I picked story time at the library because there wouldn't be pressure to talk to other people, and anyway, the people who go must presumably like books. Alcuin sort of enjoyed it, while being overwhelmed at the same time. And I even exchanged a few words.

5. Step three and a half - going back to story time. Alcuin knew what was what and plonked himself down in the middle of the rug to wait for the songs and stories. But he soon got bored and raced off around the library with the aid of a purloined kick step stool. In the meantime, I started to figure out this conversation thing: you were meant to open by saying something about how the other mother's baby was cute, then ask how old he was, then what your plans to pay for college were something about yourself.

So, I managed to chat with a young mother next to me. It was all superficial, but at least it was a conversation. Then it came:
Her: "You seem familiar to me."
Me (resigned smile): "I probably taught you."
And I did. When she was in seventh grade. Which, considering it's been over ten years since I taught grade school is... well, a long time.
The bright spot - she told me her mother got pregnant the same time that she did - and then her sister - and then, in her words, "It was a disaster." I can empathise with that.

6. Church - a relaxing end to the week with people who are like family. Doesn't happen. The only thing Alcuin is religious about is his morning nap, which is currently about 11-1. Disrupt it at your peril. It's sermons in stones for us most weeks. Except that's dangerous around here (see #3 above).

7. Going out On My Own. To Something New. I got free membership to our Homestead Education Center for buying an advance copy of the manager's book, but I hadn't yet managed to make it to any event. So I looked at their calendar and made myself pick something: girls' night in. Free, and had to be fun, right? In case you think I'm a really sad and lonely person, I did invite two people to come along, but they couldn't make it. The introvert me said: cancel! cancel! The stupid radical me said: go. Only three things could happen:
A. I'll have a good time. There's bound to be other people there I know well.
B. I'll have a good time, but the baby will have a meltdown without me, and I'll have to come home.
C. Everyone else will come in a group with their buddies and it'll be really awkward.

What happened? C :(  Not even one person I was acquainted with, and I got tongue-tied and couldn't think of good conversation openers to butt in on others' cosy chats. I politely exited after the presentation. Next time, I will listen to my wise, introvert self and stay in my shell.

No! Not that one!

For more quick takes, several of which are probably by other introverts hiding behind a computer screen, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, September 2, 2016

7 Quick Takes 38: UK: The pint-size edition

1. Five weeks in England with no obligations. Time to take lots of artsy photos and write witty blog posts, right? Apparently not. So here is a random, whirlwind tour...

2. Our elder daughter flew in from Boston to meet us at the airport. For the first time, we have a child of legal drinking age (at least in the UK), which led to my initial idea for an easy blog post: Seven photos of big sister drinking with her baby brother. However, we only made it to five because she was with us for less than two weeks. We must be slowing down in middle age.

3. The educational benefits of taking your children to the pub are myriad. Those of drinking age learn to drink responsibly within the family. You can brush up on their sharing skills if you failed at this when they were five by getting them to buy rounds. This will also teach them the value of budgeting because pints in pubs are very expensive.

Younger children learn the creative value of being bored, sitting around with a soft drink and a packet of crisps if they're lucky, while their parents and older siblings mellow out. At least they have beer gardens. Back in the day, we were left in the car, and back back in the day, children would be left outside in the street. With an arrowroot biscuit, as my father would add. Don't ask me, I've never seen one, let alone eaten one.

4. So... this photo says: "Hey, people in this country think I'm an actual adult!"

This one says: "Three days of dealing with the baby's jet lag. I deserve this drink."

The knee belongs to the bored non-drinker.

5. At the Bankes Arms - named for the Bankes family who owned Corfe Castle until Cromwell demolished it, so this was also a local history tour. Sort of. We took the bus to Studland, then went to the pub for fortification before tackling the two-hour clifftop walk back to Swanage. Not such a good idea for those with small bladders, but I'm not naming and shaming anyone here.

Why we really went:

Aside: While we were drinking, a young child at the table behind us started yelling "Trump! Trump! Trump!" For a few seconds, I thought he was very excited - and informed - about the American election. Then I realised he was playing cards.

6. Pub signs are an obvious opportunity for preschool reading and comprehension: The Red Lion, The Black Swan, and, incorporating basic maths, The Square and Compass. But while I'm here, I have to confess that every time we drive past the Cock and Bottle, I think of a sperm bank. Apologies for putting that into your head.

7. Ah, England in August. One day it's this:

The next it's:

... and I love it.

For blog posts possibly less obsessed with pubs, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.