Suburban Jungle

Ok guys, gotta warn you before you read on: there is grossness ahead! (Gross as in dead rats… nothing pervy.)

We had a rough week for the wildlife in and around the house.  Don’t panic; Wensley is fine! But we’ve had some other issues.

It started with the rats, actually. I love backyard birding, but feeders attract rodents.  That’s been an issue ever since I first moved in to the house and invested in my feeders. I don’t mind the squirrels, which I realize is basically a form of rodent racism. But they are cute and rats are not. So the squirrels can stay. The rats have to fuck off.

I have tried all the different types of traps that they have at Home Depot and the only kind I have had any luck with are the old timey Tom and Jerry wood and guillotine wire ones.  I bought a big one because these rats are huge.  Actually, I bought several because I looked out the window one morning and saw that I had a whole family crowding around under the feeder, picking through the seeds that the birds dropped on the ground.

I quickly discovered that rats don’t eat the part skim mozzarella that I buy for snacks to try to keep the calories down. They insist on the good cheese because apparently, I have snobby rats, like Patton Ozwalt’s character in Ratatouille.  Only if they do decide they want the cheese (because it is quality locally sourced sharp cheddar), they will find a way to grab it off the trap without triggering it. These are seriously smart rats!

Maybe I should have invited them in and asked them if they could cook and then hire them and live happily ever after. Only, there’s no way because I couldn’t even get past that idea when it was just a cartoon. I sat through the entire movie feeling like I needed to wash my hands. By the end I needed to take a bath in hot Purell. Then, shortly after, I heard that Peter O’Toole died, and I am still convinced it is because those chefy rats gave him the bubonic plague.

After the good cheese, I decided that I needed something messier. I took a small cut of an apple and I smeared it in peanut butter.  That was tricky to set up and the trap snapped closed on me. I didn’t lose any fingers but I did invent a new type of cluster bomb that spreads peanut butter from hell to breakfast. If your enemies have peanut allergies, it would be quite lethal. I’m still finding spattered globs on the backyard furniture.

I did finally manage to get the trap set up. Unfortunately, the ants ate all the peanut butter off bait before the rats got to it.

That was about mid-week and Matt had the idea that we should go out that night. He got tickets to a Bees game, our local Minor League Baseball team.  Ethan is seven now and loves going out to games. He especially loves the Bees because they have a nice playground and he can’t sit through a whole game.  Of course, it turns out that none of us could. Sit through the whole game, that is. It was hot as hell and the innings were taking forever. We finally left just after the seventh inning stretch because it was after 10 pm and we needed to get the kiddo to bed.

Back at home, Matt made a terrible discovery while Ethan was changing into his pajamas.  “Oh no!” he yelled, making all of us stop in our tracks. “I think Kaa is dead!”

Back when the boys moved in with me two years ago, I had only one reservation, and that was the pet snake, Kaa (named for the python in Rudyard Kilpling’s, The Jungle Book). He was a twelve-year-old corn snake and he was humongous. Here is a photo I took when we first got his terrarium set up in Ethan’s new room.

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And here is a photo of Matt holding the last skin Kaa shed.

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I never measured Kaa, but Matt is over six feet tall.  You can see what I’m talking about.  Big. Ass. Snake.

Once he moved in, I completely forgot about him.  We actually had to write his feedings on the calendar to keep track of them, or we would have forgotten. Matt fed him a frozen rat (thawed, of course) once every two months or so.  Then shortly after that there would be a slimy reptilian turd to clean up.  Matt once told me that if I was bored I could take care of those for him.  I laughed. Like it is possible to get that bored. I told him, “I will clean up every accident Wensley ever has but I’m not touching that stuff.”

Other than that, Kaa was the easiest pet on earth.  I never bonded with him.  I couldn’t even make myself touch him.  I knew he wasn’t dangerous, but I couldn’t make my hand go near him.  It’s like there was an instinctual imperative – something hard coded in my DNA – that just wouldn’t allow it.  But God Damn I didn’t want him to die!

I went into Ethan’s room to give him a hug and that’s when the smell hit me.  Matt has a terrible olfactory sense.  We’ll be driving along and I’ll say that I smell a skunk and we will have to go another five miles before he will smell it.  I started clawing at the window to get it open. As I mentioned before, it was damn hot and we had turned the A/C down before we left to be green. Not realizing, obviously, that Kaa would decided to buy they farm and start the decomposing process.

I pinched my nose closed and walked over to the terrarium. I guess I wasn’t expecting to be able to tell that he was dead by looking at him, just by the smell. After all, snakes have no faces. It didn’t occur to me that they could have tortured facial expressions. I was wrong. I’ll never get that image out of my mind. His mouth was wide open and his little onyx-black eyes – once his only “cute” feature – were sunken and dried.

“What are we going to do with him?” Matt asked.  I knew exactly what he meant. It was nearly eleven at night and still ninety-five degrees outside.  The smell was overwhelming. We just couldn’t put Kaa outside or in the garage for the night and then bury him in the morning.  The smell would attract racoons, or worse.  I decided that we had to do what my biologist sister would do.  I went to the kitchen to clean out some space in the freezer. A lot of space.

I grabbed Ethan’s sleeping bag so that he could sleep down in the basement with us, away from the stench. At first, Matt protested, asking if that was really necessary.  Then, as he picked up the lifeless snake with a garbage bag like you might do with a giant dog shit, the smell finally hit him. “Oh my God!!!”

The next day we had a little funeral.  Ethan took a nice river stone he had collected on one of our hikes and made it into a headstone. It had a grass stain on it because I had thrown it at a rat a few days before, but we decided that Kaa would appreciate that.  Then we buried him in a nice spot under the bird feeder.  We talked about what a good snake he was, and mused out loud that he might enjoy being near the birds and the rats.

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It gave me an idea, in fact. That night, I went back out with a trap loaded with a peanut butter smeared cracker.  This time, instead of just setting it below the feeder in plain sight, I buried it so that the wooden slat was hidden and only the bait was visible.  The next morning, I went outside with Wensley on his early morning constitutional and saw that I had caught something.

I pulled the trash bin into the back yard and grabbed my shovel from the shed.  It wasn’t until I got close to the trap that I realized there were two dead rats in it.  It was the two juveniles of the family. They must have got to the bait and the same time and were both caught when the bar came down.  I started to feel heartless for having done this, and so I reminded myself that I didn’t kill them to be a dick. They aren’t safe! We have a dog and a second grader! Neither of whom need rabies or the plague! I had to do it!

“Ug,” I said out loud as I lifted the rats and trap with my shovel, refusing to get any closer than that. “Sorry guys.” And then I dropped them into the trash bin and closed the lid.  Then I went in search of some Purell.

That should have been the end of the story, but there’s more.  Just a few days later, my younger sister and her family came to town for a visit. We were all hanging out at my older sister’s house. One of my nephews came running in from the yard yelling, “There’s a dead thing! It’s a chipmunk or a rat or something! And it’s gross! I can’t play back there!”

I gave the universe this look:

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Then I said to the other adults, “It’s okay, I got it. I’ve been training for this.”

I grabbed a plastic shopping bag out of the closet and followed my nephew out to the yard.  It was not a chipmunk. It was a juvenile robin.  It didn’t have a head but I was able to identify it by the scattered belly feathers.  “It’s just a bird,” I told my nephew.  “Looks like a cat got it.”

He took a few steps back as I wrapped my hand in the bag and then took a hold of it. There was a stick that had fallen on top of the bird so it was awkward to grab. I ended up having to flip it over.  As soon as I did I yelped in horror. A golf ball sized mass of writhing maggots pulsed in the open chest cavity, like a new myriad chambered heart.  My nephew moved to look but I warned him off.  I flipped the bag inside out, capturing the entire “disgusterous” (to quote the BFG) mess and disposed of it the same way I had the rats.

We went back inside and I (you guessed it) washed my hands for fifteen minutes.  I even made my nephew wash his hands and he hadn’t touched it. My mom asked what was going on and I ended up telling her the whole story of my crazy week of death and decay.

That is when Mom told me that when she first got married she used to re-use mouse traps to save money. “I’d just open up the wire and toss the dead mouse out, and then I’d use it again.”

That blew my mind.  For just one second, cleaning up that gross dead bird for my nephew, I felt like an adult. That is a rare feeling for me.  Sometimes I still feel like I’m twenty, but only until I spend a little time with someone who actually is in their twenties, and then I’m like, “Nope. I’m forty.” But even after all these years of having a real job and making mortgage payments, I never feel like a bona fide adult.  Then my nephew asked for someone to protect him from a dead thing and even though I hadn’t particularly wanted to, I stepped up and I did it. Like a grown up. Then I tried to picture myself pulling back the wire on one of those traps and taking the limp mouse out because my family needed to save that dollar… and I realized that I will never be that adult. And you know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass.

Tube Scarf: Finished!

At long last! It took all summer, but the tube scarf is finally done. (I wrote about the failed attempt back in this post.) These little stitches are no joke, my friends!

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I really like this pattern.  And not just because it is free, but I am cheap AF so that certainly is nice. I love how there is only a public side (or “right” side, as most knitters say) and that makes it soft from every angle that touches your skin. When I first started working on it a few people asked me what the heck I was making, with a raised eyebrow and a doubtful frown, as it didn’t look like any kind of scarf they had ever seen. But now that it’s done I think it’s nifty. I’m even proud of how even my stitches are… though when I go back and look at the photo on the pattern I’m amazed at the work. How do they do that? These are not knitters, people.  They are wizards!

 

Dark Wings, Dark Words

Things that have been getting me down, in order of least importance to most importance:

1.) It has been raining a lot.  Like, A LOT.

2.) Game of Thrones is over.

3.) I haven’t seen Owlbertson in weeks and I’m starting to accept that something has happened to him.

Yes, I know. We need the rain. Shows come to an end. And it is never a good idea to name a wild animal. One must accept these physical laws or face certain heartbreak. But… still.

I have one of those constitutions that is susceptible to influence of dark weather. The winter ended some time ago and tomorrow is the first day of June, which I consider “real summer,” not just the technical summer that starts after the equinox. And yet, you wouldn’t know it.  Here is a photo I took of a parking lot a few days ago:

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I’m not kidding.  Those ducks are floating in parking spaces. It’s been intense. And I live in a desert, so… not what I signed up for. But I heard a report on NPR yesterday that our reservoirs are full for the first time in years and that’s good for both urban and wild ecosystems, and so I’m dealing.

As for the Game of Thrones thing,  I won’t give spoilers or bore you with my assessment. There is nothing original left to say. And it wouldn’t matter anyway.  Let’s say that I loved the last season and the finale, and it gave me everything I was hoping for. It’s still a bummer.  Remember the last time you turned a page on the last Harry Potter novel and you knew that was it? There was no more? It’s like that. There are no new twists or reveals coming from that world; it’s done. And I’m mourning it like the loss of a long followed but never known personally celebrity. You didn’t care about me, but I cared about you, and I’m sad that you are gone.

The owl is a completely different matter.  The owl is someone that I knew personally, if not intimately. In fact, I’m pretty sure he or she didn’t like me very much. But once I spotted that owl the first time about a year ago, I became obsessed.  It was the highlight of my walks and I looked for it every time I went passed that tree. It was so exotic and amazing to be able to see an owl in the light of day! And it was something that I looked forward to during the sometimes very lonely hours of working from home.

It is fortunate, therefore, that – after many years – I was sent in to my company’s headquarters in New Jersey for a few days this month. I had a chance to interact with my real co-workers face to face and I underestimated just how much I miss that, working from home. I was delighted to see that, coincidentally, my coworkers have their own wild companions attached to their wing of the corporate office.  They call it the raven’s nest.

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This is the story that I heard while I was visiting.

Our company’s CEO, who doesn’t have a name (weird, right?), but let’s call him Maximilian Von Richypants for the story, also has an office in this building. One day, he came to work after months of jet-setting and big-deal-making, and discovered that two besotted ravens had begun to build their honeymoon home outside the window of his office.  The nest is one thing… the poop which accompany’s it is quite another. There is also a considerable amount of noise. Maximilian snapped his fingers and a butler in a tuxedo appeared (I don’t actually know what happens at my company). The butler was instructed to “deal vis zees birts!” (My CEO is actually not a German commandant.) The butler clapped his hands twice, causing a flurry of activity, and then used the pristine white cloth draped over his arm to blot the sweat of Maximilian’s brow, telling him that everything would be alright, “sir.”

Some version of this happened. Then, the following Monday, my lowly co-workers came to work to discover that the birds, reacting to the destruction of their nest, had decided to rebuild on the other side of the building.  They rebuilt quickly and soon there were eggs.  I had heard about the ravens and the “baby watch” on a few of our conference calls. There was quite a celebratory mood on the line when the two hatch-lings made their first appearance. Any yet, seeing it for myself was special.

By the time I arrived the “babies” were four weeks old and indistinguishable from the parents, each of which was larger than my Yorkshire terrier. Ravens are quite intelligent and one of my coworkers demonstrated this by tapping on the glass, spurring the “baby” (seen above) to tap back in imitation.

In fairness to my CEO, the poop streaks are no small distraction. And there is more than just poop. You can make out parts of rats and mice, for instance. There is nothing sterile about it. And in pharmaceuticals, sterile is the name of the game. Imagine having the owner of a startup company over to your office to discuss a buyout and having that mess behind you while you try to convince her that her brain child and labor of decades of love will be in good hands here.  There’s comedy value there, but it’s not very practical in this world.

Except imagine the delightful Forbes article about the CEO who actually loves science and biology, to the extent of keeping a rookery outside his office! I would read the shit out of that.

I went for a walk in the park yesterday and enjoyed a few minutes with the new Canada goslings. They are ridiculously cute.

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I hope that Owlbertson migrated or found a better tree without a mega-fan watching his every move. But it is good to be reminded that life goes on. The rain gives life and there is also death, and it is all they way that it is supposed to be.  I’ll find new wonders in my environment and remember the importance of keeping those human connections alive, also.

Now, let us all join hands and sing “The Circle of Life” together.

Brunch at Tiffany’s

I worked at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts when I was in college back in the 90s. I was on a work study program, and I actually started in the work shop, in the basement.

This may sound like a mismatch, and it was, but not for the obvious reasons. I took shop in Jr. High school and, all things considered, I did pretty well. The class was one year long but divided into three sections: wood shop, technology, and metal shop. My wood shop teacher loved me. He gave me 150% on one assignment because I carved a 3D design when everyone else had done a 2D cutout. I rarely saw the tech teacher but his student teacher told me flat out (and in front of the entire class) not to come to him with any questions because he had no intention of helping me. “I know you are only here to meet boys.”

I was thirteen and I would not have known what to do with a boy if I managed to get one’s positive attention. And anyway, I spent each day of class just trying to stay out of the path of those trolls. I don’t know if there were particularly nasty personalities in that group or if it was the result of getting too many thirteen year old boys in one room with power tools, but those boys were the worst! They were both mean and dangerous and they made every day torture. They were constantly trying to humiliate me into quitting, or at least crying. If I said anything in class – right or wrong – I was teased for it for the rest of the period. One day they would roll the spot welder into place behind me and set it off to burn my arms and singe my clothes with the flying sparks. The next, they would wait for me to walk into class and then they would strip the skinny nerdy kid of his pants and push him toward me. It was an exercise in tolerance, and I survived it, one day at a time. I hope that skinny nerdy kid did, too.

The metal shop instructor in the final section of class was helpful but stern. I never got a sense that he knew I was in any way different from the 29 other male students. Then one day I got called down to the office and learned he had nominated me for student of the month. Maybe he wanted to reward my fortitude? Or maybe he felt bad about putting the spot welder on wheeled castors to begin with. I’ll never know.

Fast forward a few years, and I was looking for a work study job at the University of Utah. I saw a post at the art museum and thought it would be fun to work there. I think I listed two things on my job application: 1.) my year of shop training in 8th grade and 2.) the fact that I got the highest possible score on my AP art history exam. I got the job. I may have been the only person who applied.

My boss in the museum’s shop was what we would now call a “hot mess,” though by the time I met him he was cold and lumpy. On my first day, he told me to “earthquake proof the Pre-Columbian exhibit.” Then he went back into his office where he sat at his desk and stared at a corner in the ceiling while medium priced scotch directly from the bottle. We never spoke again.

I had no idea what to do or where to start. Maybe if this weren’t the year 1995 it would have occurred to me to look up “how to earthquake proof old ceramics” on the internet, but it wasn’t and I was screwed. I walked around the exhibit trying to get some ideas. I looked for ways to suspend the smaller objects from the ceiling so that if there were a quake they would swing around but never hit the ground. Or each other? But still be out of reach of thieves or handsy children? I decided it wouldn’t work but I was feeling like I had made some progress by having a bad idea and eliminating it and that seemed positive. Then I noticed a large mask under filtered light. It had a strangely familiar texture. I leaned in and read the card next to the plexiglass box which read, “made of animal skin.” It was the generality that made it come together for me. Human. It was definitely human skin. I was convinced. I still am. If I had ever found a way to secure that collection I might have left that particular object to fend for itself.

I still had a work ethic back then and I couldn’t just not work. Having no clue what I was supposed to do and a distinct fear of trying and failing, I was stuck. Then I noticed a shop-vac in the corner. It was one of those trash-can sized deals on wheels with a suction tube like an elephant’s trunk coming off the side. I named it R2 and it was my only co-worker for a while. I showed up to work three afternoons a week and I vacuumed every nook and crevice whether it needed it or not. And it didn’t. Not at all. At the end of each shift I emptied R2 and then I went home. Until one day I showed up and was informed (not by my boss, but someone else) that I had been transferred to the gift shop. For a few seconds before the relief set in, I felt that I had let all of womankind down. I had a shop job, and I failed. Then I headed upstairs to the lobby and the sunlight and I left R2 behind without so much as a backward glance.

My new boss was a man named Brad who rarely came in to work, but when he did he was over dressed and wearing too much foundation. On the days that he didn’t come in, I was told he suffered from migraines. I interpreted this as code for a penchant for late nights and hangovers, but I don’t really know. I just know that I was again left alone, but this time with post cards, a cash register, and some clear expectations.

This was not the MET or MOMA. Sometimes I would go days without a customer. There was plenty of time to do homework, but in the summers I read entire Steven King novels while sitting behind the register. Once in a while I had a customer, and they would want to pay with a credit card. On those occasions I had to run through the museum and ask everyone in their offices to hang up their phones. “We made a sale! I need to use the phone line to run a charge!”

The 90s were an adorable time to be alive. I’m sorry if you missed them.

One day I was sitting at my station, writing in my journal or something, when the security guard stopped by to ask if I needed a bathroom break. Her name was Debbie and I just adored her. She was sweet and worldly and she had one deformed tiny hand, not unlike the Kristen Wiig “Dooneese” sketches on Saturday Night Live. At least, that is what it made me think of, many years later, when I saw them. Debbie told me that when she was growing up, her mother always made her use her tiny had to clean out the garbage disposal and she was always frightened it might turn on spontaneously.

“Yes!” I shouted, hopping off my too tall stool. “Thank you!” But as I landed, the stool fell back and hit this weird waist high block thing that we used to push in front of the cash register area when no one was on duty in the gift shop. (It was very secure, obviously.) The block made a thunk and tipped on its side in the direction of the glass wall that was the only thing separating the gift shop area from the ten foot tall Tiffany crystal doors. I was told that they were a gift from Louis Comfort Tiffany to the LDS church in the late 1800s, but church leaders didn’t want them because they featured winged angels. Mormon angels don’t have wings (because Joseph Smith saw some angels and he said they didn’t have wings, and man who sees angels and talks to them in the woods and then reads secret books by putting his head in a hat and using magic stones to translate them into English is not weird. Angels with wings? That’s silly. Amazing what bunk some folks believe in. We don’t want those. Give them to the university in case they ever get an art museum.).

I leapt between the falling block and the glass and stopped the impending crash with my body, the right angle edge of the block crushing into my full bladder. Luckily I was 19 and I didn’t piss myself so that was the end of the drama.

“Woah,” I said. I looked back at the Tiffany angels, which are not the classic blue and green of the classic Tiffany lamp shades that you are probably picturing. They are long elegant slices of crystal with frosted angel designs carved into them. They could be the doors leading to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. For a moment I imagined them shattered and skittering in icy pieces across the floor. At the time, the museum’s director was a diminutive octogenarian and man shaped ball of rage named Frank Sanguinetti. I had witnessed a few of his milder temper tantrums by then and I was imagining my new life as his forced butler or maid as I tried to work off the debt of the priceless art I had destroyed. I would have been buried in his garden beneath the irises within the week.
“Don’t worry,” Debbie said, helping to unpin me with her little hand. “I always get clutzy on my period, too.”

That is when my head exploded. Yes, but how did she…? And was it true that…? Now that I think about it… Oh my goodness, yes! Why had no one told me before! This should be common knowledge! There should be a PSA or a warning label on forklifts, at the very least!

There have been a few occasions since that day nearly 20 years ago where I have watched a woman struggle with a task or gravity and, if I felt I knew her well enough, I repeated Debbie’s phrase. “Don’t worry, Sweetpea. I get like that when my red sea is parting, too.” (Side note, I just googled euphemisms for menstruation to find a funny one and was reminded that there aren’t any, so I just made that up. I did learn that in Japan they call it the “Arrival of Mathew Perry” which is the best thing I ever heard but I failed at finding a way to make it work here.) And each time I have witnessed a similar series of responses. Incredulousness, recognition, connection, amazement, horror, and finally amusement and laughter. Maybe not in that order exactly, but the moment usually ends with laughter. But there is always that moment of recognition. That moment of “Damn, she’s right! Why didn’t I put that together myself? And why don’t they mention that in those fifth grade maturation videos?”

I don’t know the answer. It would have been nice. But as far as I can tell, it is still a well-kept secret.

I’ve been thinking about all of this the last few days, ever since I got the devastating alert on my phone that read the Cathedral of Notre Dame was on fire. It hurts to think about the loss of history and human accomplishment. The last I heard, they still didn’t know how the fire began. It seems they have out-ruled arson, but I read that there was some reconstruction work going on somewhere in the cathedral. Which isn’t a surprise. 800 year old buildings have a lot of maintenance required.

I just hope whatever stared the fire was some faulty piece of equipment being operated by some man. Women have suffered enough to build our cred with power tools. That is one disaster we simply do not need.

Update on the Tube Scarf

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that included an idea that I had for a “tube shaped” scarf. I was going to find a hat pattern and then use it to create a scarf instead.

Well… my experiment didn’t go exactly as planned. But not in a funny “Pinterest fail” kind of way.  Just in a boring, “um… nope” kind of way.

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First of all, it was too big. It made more sense as a cowl, and I briefly considered going that way.

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But that wasn’t what I had in mind in the first place.

Second, it was taking too long. That is actually still part of the first point – I made it too big so it was taking forever to make any progress.

Third, I just didn’t like the way it was coming together. This isn’t really a stand alone point, but I created a second point and I learned in high school that arguments have to come in threes.

I had a couple of ideas. Maybe I just needed to find a child’s hat. Or better yet, a sleeve! So I went back to the drawing board to find a pattern that would work and discovered that I hadn’t invented the tube scarf. There are tons of patterns online.

I was sad about this for a few seconds because I really thought I had an original thought, but that quickly passed and turned to relief that I don’t have to invent a pattern. It exists! That simplifies everything!

I am going to try out this pattern next. There are no cables as I had originally envisioned but this simple pattern is so elegant, and I think it will work beautifully with the light-weight yarn I’m using.

Oooooh so pretty. I’m not actually sure I can knit that evenly. My stitch size tends to vary with my mood. And sobriety.

Maybe it’s a good challenge for me: simple done well.

Wish me luck!

 

Flickers are F^ckers

Matt and Ethan were out of town last week. As I’ve mentioned, I work from home, so when I’m alone I’m truly on my own. I made do by carrying my camera with me on my walks and spending a little extra attention on my wild neighbors. I got a cute shot of one of the Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers in my area. I hear them a lot but it hasn’t been easy to spot them. Last week, I figured out why. They have built a nest inside one of the sycamore trees. I was walking past and I could hear pounding coming from inside the tree trunk. Here is the male peeking out of the sunroof to call to his mate.

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And here is his girlfriend looking down into the hole to tell him he’s doing it wrong (I assume). I kept hoping she would look back so I could get her face in the photo but no such luck for me.

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The next day, I was in my house, sitting on my couch, which is next to the fireplace. I was working on an essay for my writing class and deep in concentration. Suddenly, I was startled by a booming “BAM! BAM! BAM!” sound that came from the fireplace. I jumped to my feet with a theory and grabbed my camera before ducking out the front door to get a view of the roof without making any sudden movements.

There he was, the little dick. Sitting on the metal capped roof of my chimney.

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I felt like he was saying, “how do you like it when people stalk you at your home, huh? BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM! How you like me NOW?”

Ug. Flickers. I was loving on them for a minute there, but now I’m just grateful I live in a brick house instead of a wood paneled one. It doesn’t hurt the chimney when he drills on it, after all.  And I have other rooms I can write in while he tries to punish me while giving himself a migraine.

Sick Burn

I met some girlfriends for brunch this weekend. I saw Mandy park in the parking garage and waited for her so we could take the elevator up to the brew pup together and saw, as she walked toward me, that she was already cracking up. I was just about to ask if she got some pre-brunch bloody Marys in her when she said, “I just took this photo of this bumper sticker…”

Here is the photo she took (I’m sharing it with her permission):

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I have not been able to stop laughing, since! I need this sticker!

If you aren’t a skier or if you don’t live in a skiing culture and are wondering why this is funny, I’m afraid I can’t really help to explain. You just have to trust me: It’s funny. And a little mean.

It also reminds me of this story I heard many years ago from a boy I briefly dated. He was a very good skier (I assume he still is, but we’ve lost touch) and he worked in the industry. This is not to say that he was a “professional skier,” but he sold skiing equipment and worked at resorts and then spent every penny he made traveling to new places to ski.

Back in the 90s he was working a celebrity skiing event at Big Bear in California. It was some kind of charity drive and a bunch of actors attended for a ski day. Apparently the talk of the day was the fact that Richard Dean Anderson (the original – and to me: the ONLY – MacGyver) showed up in jeans and proceeded to ski in them all day. The snobs were aghast! But according to my friend, RDA was a great skier and he out-skied everyone. EXCEPT Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Apparently, no one out-skis Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

 

Bad Trip

Not that long ago, I often traveled for work. This was when I was single and lived alone. Traveling for work became routine after a while. I would even say I got to the point where I enjoyed traveling solo. I remember one conference in particular. It was in San Diego and I didn’t know anyone at the conference or in the city, but I explored and found fun things to do. I even blew off the “networking” session of the conference because I saw a sandwich board advertising, “One Night Only: John Cleese Live!” It was a great choice; he was hilarious! I just wish I would have bought one of the t-shirts that read, “I saw John Cleese perform RIGHT before he DIED!” (This was in 2008, by the way. He is still alive.)

This was also the trip where I accidentally ordered veal because I thought “scallopini” meant “little scallops.” I felt terrible once I realized what I had done, but it wasn’t like I could give the little guy CPR once it was on the plate. So I ate it. (And goddamn it was delicious.) Then there was the supposedly haunted restaurant in Old Town with the margaritas the size of bird baths. Well, the first one is a bird bath. The second one threatens to become a facial. But I wasn’t driving, and I was without a companion to judge me, so I enjoyed both, completely.

As I said, this was 2008, over ten years ago. Many things have changed. I’m in a relationship. I have a stepson.  I had Wensley in 2008, but now he is an older dog with some health issues. (He will be fourteen years old this month.) That’s a lot of comfort and responsibility to leave behind, especially when I haven’t traveled on my own in years. It didn’t actually occur to me that I hadn’t exercised those muscles and therefore had lost all the tone until I went to Austin by myself last weekend.

I made a New Year’s goal to do more with my blog and I searched for learning opportunities. I found an online community of blogging women with a conference coming up in Texas and I bought tickets and booked a flight. I was anxious about the trip, but I have acute anxiety. I am anxious about everything.

The morning of the flight, Ethan (who is six) told me he was worried that I might get lonely on my trip and asked if I would like to take one of his soft friends (his word for stuffed animals) with me. It was such a sweet gesture and it touched me. I even took out an extra top to make space for the soft friend he selected, which was a black bear featuring a radio collar because it was purchased at a national park where bears are tagged and studied.

As soon as I buckled in for the flight, my anxiety went to work. “Why are you doing this?” It asked. “Can you even afford it? What if something happens to your extremely old dog while you are gone and you aren’t there to comfort him?” Tears welled up behind my eyes. I fought them back, but they pretty much stayed right there for the rest of the weekend.

I want to be completely clear: the conference was great and the ladies I met were lovely. I might even go again next year. That said, it was a hard experience for me. From the moment I entered the first event (a cocktail party on Friday evening), women were reaching out to me to help me feel welcome. Obviously they picked up my introvert vibe and reacted by inviting me into their conversations, metaphorically putting an arm around my shoulders and saying, “You’re good; We got you!” But I was not prepared for what a room full of female Texas bloggers (who refer to themselves as “influencers” and “momtrepreneurs” would be like.

These women are poised and glamourous. They are fit and fashionable, and they wear lipstick and high heels on Saturdays. Where I come from, Saturdays are for skiing, or biking, or hiking (depending on the weather). There are definitely no high heels. There may be tinted chapstick, but it has to be SPF 15 or higher.

They sell their makeup and outfits and home décor ideas on their feeds and they make serious money doing it. They have class and style and they will help you have it, too. All you have to do is click and add to cart. And that is exactly what thousands of people on Instagram do, every day. You have to see the photos of their picture perfect lives to understand it. I felt like a fraud sitting with them and taking notes on what makes the perfect Pinterest board.

I know what you are thinking. “Oh, Rachel, we all feel that way! I’m sure half of them thought you were the one that had it together! It’s just a bad case of imposter syndrome, that’s all!” No. Wrong. I can prove it. Here is a photo I found on the photographer’s site (@mandiroachphotography) in a collection of pics from the event.

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In case I have to explain, I’m the one in the center dealing with, I don’t know, an entire chicken wing or similar stuck in my back teeth. If you could zoom out you would see one hundred more women just like the ones surrounding me here. Lovely, lovely, stinkin’ lovely. Not one giving themselves dental work.

Feeling out of place just made me feel even more homesick. And then, the last day of the conference, I made the mistake of checking my email and discovering that the coverage I had set up for my day off to go to the conference hadn’t been adequate. I realized that I was in some trouble with my boss and that sent me into minor crisis mode. I felt like the whole trip had been a mistake. This was just before the smaller focus group session where we discussed questions and takeaways. I had been conspicuously quiet, so the group leader asked me to share my thoughts.

“I’m totally overwhelmed,” I blubbered, the tears that I had been holding back breaking forth in a torrent and hitting the floor. “I don’t even know what an ‘instagram story’ is!”

Again, the lovely ladies enveloped me and told me I was okay. They reminded me I just needed to get one actionable thing out of the conference and hold on to that. And someone else told me something that did stick with me. It isn’t about followers, it is about authenticity. What is your “why?” That is, why do you blog? What are you bringing to this space?

So I went to the loo and washed my face. Then I went back to the table and sat down with my notebook to draft a mission statement. I didn’t figure out exactly what it was, but I realized that I do have a “why” (aside from needing a place to write and hoping someone who likes my sense of humor will read it). I want to live an examined life. Writing helps me do that examining. My hope is that sharing what I unearth will help others, too.

Whew! I got my one thing, just before the conference ended! But then it was over, and all the ladies headed off for home. I, however, headed back to my hotel. I wasn’t able to find a non-red-eye flight, and my red-eye days are behind me.

Or so I said when I bought my tickets. My hotel had a spa and a gym, surely I would be able to find something to do that last evening before catching a reasonable morning flight, right? But then I was in the hotel with sixteen hours to kill, completely stressed out about work and needing a cuddle from each of my boys, human and canine alike. As good as it would have been for me, I wasn’t going to go to the gym.

I went down to the hotel bar and started texting a friend to ask her how she got 10k Instagram followers, but we ended up talking about the conference instead. The tears came back and I couldn’t make them stop, not even when my amazing mac and cheese with brisket tips arrived. My poor waitress probably thought my best friend died. I snapped a tearful selfie and sent it to my friend, but I’m sharing it here also in the spirit of authenticity.

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And the mac and cheese… (that’s cornbread and bacon butter in the background)

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Throughout the trip, I kept an eye out for good spots to pose Black Bear so that I could send photos home to Ethan. I looked through them back in my hotel room and realized that, based on the photos, the bear was on the trip that I hoped to have. It seemed significant and apropos of the conference and the idea of sharing an authentic experience, versus and idea of perfection. I can’t do what those other ladies do. I am not here to tell you how to have the perfect vacation because I don’t know how to do that. I’m here to tell stories about why I spent last Sunday ugly crying in public places. I’m here to talk about how living with acute anxiety is hard. I have learned that it is possible to live a full life with anxiety, but you have to work at it. It won’t always go according to plan, and sometimes you have to force yourself to get out and do it. Luckily, there are also stuffed bears to cuddle while waiting for planes, and there is love and kindness waiting to reassure us on both ends of the trip.

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Insight

I’m at a conference in Austin for the weekend. Yesterday, I got back to my room to discover that the caps for my contact tray were no where to be found. I can only assume the maid thought they were trash? Bottle caps, maybe? My fault for leaving them on the counter, like I do at home?

Anyway, they were gone. Rather than sleep in my contacts for the next three nights I MacGyvered a solution, using the baggie I packed for my unchecked liquids.

I used to think that traveling for work sounded so glamorous. Then you do it… and you face the consequences of dry contacts (or blindness) and your dog is too far away to cuddle.

I’m going home in the morning. The sun can’t rise soon enough.

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Our little family joined up with friends at an Airbnb in Colorado last weekend. We decided to leave our cold mountain and go to a higher colder mountain to celebrate President’s Day because who doesn’t love a long car ride to go to someplace similar but worse?

Actually, I can’t explain why. We are mountain people and it was a different mountain. We went. We looked at it. We sledded down a part of it. And we explored some of it’s microbreweries while the children sampled the mac-n-cheese each establishment had to offer. Mountain people stuff. You just have to trust me, it was fun.

Monday morning, I got up early to get a shower before the line formed and to begin packing up before the long ride home. Check out was 10 AM which I thought was too early for a place that specifically advertised for families, but I can’t help following rules, even when they are nearly impossible.

I was packing up the kitchen while Ethan (age 6) ate breakfast and Matt went up to take his turn in the shower. That’s when the fight broke out. The very near next door neighbors began to shout at one another over who (the man, apparently) is lazy and who (the woman, eventually) should leave. I looked over at Ethan to see if he noticed anything but he looked untroubled. It got louder and louder and until each were daring one another to call the cops.

Of course, Wensley chose this moment to ask to go out for a wee, as the back yard was directly adjacent to the situation. I gave in before having to clean up a mess and risk losing the cleaning deposit that we had managed to retain all weekend. I opened the door and each word became as clear as if the conversation were happening there in the kitchen.  “I do every-%$^@ing-thing around here! Why don’t you &(%*ing *$@# yourself? You $*&^@ing @&%$@#er!” Or something like that.  Meanwhile, Wensley sniffed the snow, being particularly particular about picking a spot for a 15° morning.

Ethan walked over to stand by me and peered out the door to see who was yelling.

It was clear that I wouldn’t be able to just ignore the fight at that point, so I said, “Well, I’m glad I’m not in that family. They don’t speak very nicely to one another.”

Ethan considered this for a moment and then said, “At least there hasn’t been any contact, I don’t think.”

I was stunned by this statement. I wondered if he even meant what I heard when he said the word “contact.”

“Yes,” I hedged. “That is good.”

“Because the only people who should make contact are professional wrestlers,” he added, sagely. “That’s pretty much the only time it’s okay.”

“I agree,” I said, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. “Leave it to the professionals.” Wensley came back inside and Ethan went back to his cereal and that was the end of the conversation.

Oh my goodness, I love that kid. Where does the kid get this stuff?