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Sunday, December 16, 2012

'Tis the Season for The Nutcracker

Usually I see one Nutcracker Suite per holiday season.  Sometimes it’s a professional one; sometimes it’s a dance school performance.  Sometimes it’s a TV show.  Usually one Nutcracker is enough, but this year?  This year I saw four glorious Nutcrackers.  It was great! 

The first was the much-beloved Washington Ballet Nutcracker.  We subscribe to the Washington Ballet, and a bonus to renewing your subscription early is two tickets to their Nutcracker.  Last year we didn’t quite know where we'd be living and didn't order in time.  The year before I gave them away, so it had been awhile since I saw their charming historical interpretation.  The show is set in colonial times with George Washington as the Nutcracker and King George as the Rat King.  The mice are slapstick Redcoats.  The harlequin costumes of Mother Ginger’s children are some of my favorite in all theater history.  Mother Ginger herself rolls in atop a carousel much like the one down on the National Mall.  It’s a perfect American Nutcracker perfectly attuned to our nation’s capitol. 

My second Nutcracker was a real treat.  Ballet West traveled to the Kennedy Center.  Their staging is based on the first Nutcracker Suite performed in the US, and it was absolutely charming.  The dancers have extensions that go on forever,  their footwork quick and neat, but the added treat for me was that ten children from my new ballet school -- Skye Ballet Center -- auditioned and got parts.  One young friend performed the role of Clara.  She was good, too! 

A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a coveted present.  No longer available in stores or on the Internet, I have a DVD of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Maurice Sendak version of the Nutcracker.  Sendak’s costuming ad sets are every bit as magical as his book illustrations, and PNB’s interpretation (the glamorous mother in Act I becomes a peacock in Act II making that my all-time favorite solo of all the Nutcrackers I’ve ever seen.  When I see The Waltz of the Snowflakes, I think I’m watching it, well, snow.

The fourth Nutcracker was the Nutcracker recital by Skye Ballet Center.  The children are beautifully taught and danced charmingly.  It’s hard to choose favorites between the senior girl’s lilting Sugar Plum Fairy and the five-year-olds in white crocheted caps tip-toeing across the stage as snow flurries.

Photo: Precious....
SBC Premiere Performance!
Saturday December 15th 
Reston Community Center
1:15PM Free for all!
                Cutest Snow Flurries EVER

Is it possible to see too many Nutcrackers?  Certainly the poor ones are painful.  I wish that cable channel -- the one we don’t subscribe to -- hadn’t monopolized all the glamorous professional ones I used to enjoy on TV.  I guess you can see too many Nutcracker, but I LOVE the Nutcracker Suite.  I love the dancing, the fantasy, the costumes, the music.  I've seen four this year, and I could tuck in one or two more.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas for Alan

My first stab at buying presents is always at small local businesses.  I have this very real fear that at some point in the future, we will be left with the guesswork and sensoryless experience of buying everything on-line.  What a joyless experience that would be.  (This ends the moralizing portion of this blog post.)  That said, the toy store didn’t have the Science Girl spa kit we wanted to get for Suzannah, so I ordered that for her along with a stack of books from Amazon.  I think that if you wanted to buy a hippopotamus, you could probably order that on Amazon.  If you were a member of Prime, you could get it with two day free shipping, too.

 They local toy store, however, is exactly the place to browse for a five-year-old boy.  First is a stop watch.  Yeah, yeah, lots of adults have stop watches incorporated into their watches or, these days into their phones which they would possibly lend to a kindergartner.  We’re pretty much into simplistic tools in our family, so my watch is a watch, and my phone is a cheapie flip phone.  (Yes, if you’re willing to spend little enough, you can still get a flip phone.  You know, one that doesn’t call your husband from the depths of your purse with no intentions from you.) 

This stopwatch is a big chunky circle that sports three buttons:  Stop, Clear and Go.  Why in that order, I have no idea.  You wouldn’t think you’d want to Stop before you Go, but thus it is.  These scruples pale in the magic of the Watch.  It hangs from a cord onto your chest like a glorious medal.  It confers upon you the stature of a Person of Importance.  Since Alan is obsessed with time and the passage of time, this will let him monitor it literally by the second. 

When you were a kid, did you have one of those metal wire spheres?  You know, one of the ones that you could expand to about 6” in diameter and squash down into a little nugget.  Well, now, there’s a toy sort of like that but made of plastic scissor legs.  It’s bigger, and it’s better.  It’s called a Hoberman Sphere, and it collapses to nine inches in diameter and opens up to THIRTY!  (For science geeks out there, it consists of six circles corresponding to the edges of an icosidodecahedron -- face it, it's just fun to say that.  Te biggest one ever hangs in the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.)  You can pull it out or shrink it down, and the plastic spokes are resilient and won’t break or at least won't poke you if you pounce on the thing.  It’s magnificent.  It’s magic.  What’s more, if you' rather, it has a ring and a string, so you can hang it from the ceiling and pull the string to collapse it; release the string to blow it up.  Whoosh! 

Then there’s his stocking stuffer.  It’s a six small, rectangular, wooden blocks joined by invisible elastic wire so you can twist them into any sort of configuration while they remain attached.  You can turn them and twitch them while sitting quietly in your own little corner in your own little chair.  They are perfect for a wiggly five-year-old or, um, sixty-five-year-old. 

Now comes the dilemma of Christmas.   We got these toys to give to Alan.  We bought them with his personality and interests in mind.  Here’s the rub:  I want all Alan’s toys.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Suzie's Doll

It began with bathrobe shopping.  I have more difficulty finding a bathrobe I like for a price I like then, well, then I don't know what, but it's difficult.  Last time I needed a robe, after I'd worn myself out searching, I was stopped dead in my tracks by some fabric.  I couldn’t resist those kitty faces purring out at me from thick fleece, and I bought the requisite yardage.  Unfortunately, I used a new pattern and it ended up too big.  Still, it was warm and comfy, and I wore it for years.

This year I finally got tired of looking like a giant fleece bear with kitty cats all over her.  I wanted a change, something prettier and less gigantic.  I saw the softest, sweetest red flannel with leaves entwined all over it, and a few days later, and voila!  I’m wrapped in a cheerful, scarlet robe.  There were just enough scraps left over for a doll’s nightgown.

Have you ever sewn doll clothes?  The seams can be little tricky, picky things.  On the other hand, you don’t have to worry an armhole being a bit tight or loose.  A doll won’t complain if that stiff lace you’ve had for a million years is scratchy, and, most of all, a doll won’t care if you decide the task of elasticizing the wrists is too finicky.  In fact, if you don’t have a piece of fabric quite long enough for the sleeves, a doll won’t whine if they become 3/4 sleeves. What, a doll’s arms are going to get cold? I don’t think so.

During the course of making this little nightgown, the weirdest thing happened.  Okay, if you don’t sew, you might not think this is a big deal, but if you do sew, listen to this.  My spool of thread and my bobbin ran out at exactly the same time!  Not only that, they ran out just as I finished a seam.  I am not kidding!  I’d already bought a matching spool of thread, so I could fill a new bobbin and not miss a beat, but still, what are the odds?  They are astronomical, that’s what they are!  In fact, if anyone else has ever had this happen, let me know!

Anyway, do we have a doll that requires a nightie?  Yes, yes we do.! My Perfect Granddaughter loves her American Girl Doll.  (Hey, I’m a grandma; of course I got her one.) 
Suzie is an avid reader, as you can see below, and we don’t mind if she falls asleep with her face smushed against a book now and then, but, horrors!  Do you see Elizabeth Cole wedged between Suzie and the wall?  Elizabeth has fallen asleep in her clothes! 

She obviously needs this nightgown.  It will be folded, wrapped in tissue paper and make an appearance in Suzie’s Christmas stocking or perhaps under her Hanukkah menorah. 
 Yes, as I have mentioned before, we celebrate everything. We try to up our chances of Santa coming down the chimney or the vial of oil lasting seven extra days. I mean the chances of those things happening are barely greater than the chances of having your spool and bobbin simultaneously run out of thread.

Happy Season of Miracles to you!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

Wumpus is my new cat, my replacement cat, my a-bit-weird-even-for-a-cat cat.  He is gray tabby on the top and white  bunny on the bottom.  His full name is Wumpus Boris McCoy, but he’s known as Mr. Puss or Wummy or Wum Pudding. 

You’ve heard the saying Let Sleeping Dogs Lie which means, I suppose, that if you suddenly wake up a sleeping dog, it will be startled and will attack you.  I don’t know about that.  All the dogs that I’ve known, if you startle them away, they’ll lift their bleary heads to look at you, flap their tails a couple of times and then go back to sleep.  That’s about the extent of their ferociousness. 

On the other hand, if you startle a sleeping cat, well, then you’ll see some action!  Faster than a speeding  bullet, it will twist itself into a pretzel and sprint away (unless it was the dearly departed Elaine, in which case you’d feel the searing pain of a claw ripping down your hand before she fled).   In most cases, dog or cat, the adage doesn’t seem to be much of a warning for not letting the animal lie there like a lump on the carpet.

The big threat, really, is that the animals won’t let YOU lie.  You want to get an extra hour in the morning?  Unh uh.  A dog will, well, I don’t know what a dog will do because I’ve never owned a dog, but a cat will meow at you, just out of reach until you get up and feed it.  Or it will walk right over you and, just as you're drifting off, over you again, and as you feel the comfort of your bed, over you yet once again, or it will sit on your chest, suppressing panic as you begin to suffocate, or put it’s nose one millimeter away from your nose until you are awakened by staring.  We had one cat that would sit on the night table and push things off one by one until you got the hint.  There went the pen, smack, rollll; then the keys, jingle jangle; then your watch, thump.  Even if the cat suffered from, let’s just conjecture, being propelled off the nightstand at that point, you were good and awake and looking for your watch before you stepped on it. 

Wumpus, however, oh, Wumpus is the gold standard of cat.  (Well, okay except for that one time he threw up all over the quilt I’m working on.  I SAID gold standard not platinum standard). 

Here's Wumpus on the rinsed-and-yackless pocket quilt.  You can see
both the tabby half and the bunny half. Both halves are bunny fur soft. 

Wumpus will let you sleep and sleep.  He will lie on the bed next to you purring until you feel like getting up.  With Steve here for a week taking his spot next to me, he curled up at my feet until I rolled out of bed.  One morning it was at the crack of 8:00.  A couple of times, if he’s been particularly hungry, he has awakened me, I admit, but he’s done so in a particularly peaceful manner and only after 7:30 A.M.  No noisy yowling or throwing of jewelry for him.  He pads right up to my face and touches my eyelids with his little pink nose.  Kisses on the eyelids:  it’s a charming way to wake up. 

In return, I always waken Wumpus Boris with a gentle petting.  Usually, I let sleeping cats lie. because, well, what would you wake them for? 

P.S.  Huh, I just wondered if the adage meant to say Let Sleeping Dogs Lie as in "not tell the truth."  That would have to be a different Blog post altogether. 


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Home Cooking

There it is, a full half page in the magazine: “Enter Our Recipe Contest!  My Mom makes the best . .  . .”  I’m about rolling on the floor laughing.  Gimme a break.  My mother’s cooking explains in part why I so painfully thin as a child, thin enough that she pried open my clamped teeth and poured down disgusting tonic from the doctor designed to make me hungry.  Blech!   How could it make me hungry when it made me retch?   I know firsthand how to cure childhood obesity:  serve my mother’s cooking.  

Fundamentally, we ate a healthy diet.  Every dinner saw salad, a vegetable, a starch and meat on the plate, but here’s the thing.  The salad was -- and I mean every night -- a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a blop of bottled dressing on top.  The green vegetable was boiled until there was nothing left but stringy fiber.  I was an adult before I learned that, yes, vegetables have flavor, and what’s more, I like them.  Meat, the cheapest cut on sale in the about-to-expire bin, was cooked, to be kind, well done.  Any lurking germs were good and dead along with any flavor.

My parents were in early adulthood during the Depression.  The mark it left on my Mom, the mean, black mark was never erased.  It was too bad, really, because when the time came that she could afford to buy new, pretty clothes and tender, flavorful meat, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.  To the end of her life, she was, let us say, careful, with her money.  Clothing was worn until it had holes in it and then was darned.  My Dad told me that if you'd ever been hungry, really hungry, any food was good.  He was happy; she was happy; we kids never knew any better.

On top of the quality of the food, my Mom wasn’t that much of a cook to begin with.  Conscientious, yes -- we certainly never went without -- but intuitive, inspired, creative in the kitchen?  Not so much.  Her best meal, our “company meal”, was brisket, frozen green beans, potatoes and packaged rolls. The green beans and potatoes were fine.  The rolls often suffered from distraction with the company and got burned.  The brisket, I must say, was unparalleled.  It was indeed a show-off piece, and I often am asked the secret to its tender succulence.  However, it wasn’t brisket every day, let me tell you.  It was thin, tough pork chops or dry meat loaf. 

Yes, dry.  The brisket might be covered with a can of brown gravy, but the meat loaf was served as it stood, not even ketchup to tease the taste buds.  There was no ethnic food. Oh once in a while spaghetti made it on to our plates, soggy and limp, covered with a jar of something.  French food?  No sauces were stirred in our kitchen.  Indian?  She didn’t do spices. 
So how did I grow up to be big and strong and definitely not painfully thin?  Hey, there was ice cream. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pizza Night

When my neighbors moved into the house next door, they had three children under three and both of them worked.  Oh, yes, they were in a state of constant exhaustion.  By Friday evenings, they had no energy for painting the town red or even pale pink.  Thus came the tradition of Pizza Night. 

Every Friday night Cynthia would make pizza, the children would run around until they dropped, and the parents would share as many quiet moments as they could manage between diapers, skinned knees and worn out toddlers. 

Steve and I have been shamelessly mooching off Pizza Night for 12 years.  I usually bring a salad for Cynthia, Steve and myself (Richard doesn’t eat anything green), and Steve would nab a bottle of wine.  We’d scarf that pizza and have a glass of wine or two or, well, who’s counting after two?  At the end of the evening, we had only to stumble up the hill between our houses.

Pizza Night led to putting in concrete steeping stones on that hill.  It led to my working with a couple of the children on their reading (and, by proximity, half the neighborhood).  It led to Steve building Boy Scout pinewood derby cars with their boy (again extending to half the neighborhood).  If nothing else, it led to endless experimentation in pizza-making.

The three children grew older; money and energy and the neighbors’ social life increased.  We are frequently out of town; in fact, right now Steve is working out in Washington State.  We lived in Russia for two years; that’ll put a crimp on a weekly get-together (although Cynthia and Richard did visit us in Russia where we enjoyed hatchapouri, a sort of Georgian pizza).  While no less welcome, Pizza Night occurred sporadically.

When Cynthia invited me for pizza last Friday, of course, I said yes.  But, alas! come Friday, Richard had caught some nasty bug.  What could we do?  The children must still eat, therefore pizza must still be made, so Cynthia prepared the children’s pizza and then climbed those stairs and brought the fixin’s over here.    

Because she is a doll, Cynthia thanked me for allowing her to make pizza at my house.  I graciously accepted her appreciation.  (Okay, what I really said was, “You’re thanking me for allowing you to bring food over to my house and make me dinner?  You’re welcome.) 

Two mini pizzas (made on store-bought naan this time; isn’t she clever?) and two glasses of wine later, we had pretty much covered politics (hope the right side wins), child-rearing (the children scooped up tons of As in school) and the marriages of half the neighborhood (hey, we’re only human). 

Here’s the thing.  I don’t even like pizza all that much, but I wouldn’t miss a Pizza Night for the world!

Monday, October 15, 2012

RIP, Little Chippie

After I dragged my big purple suitcase (okay, my son-in-law calls it a steamer trunk) up the stairs a week ago, I reached into the bedroom hall to flip on the light, and there against the white wall was a shadow puppet of a chipmunk pussyfooting (I know, right?) its way from my son’s room into the laundry room. 

I did what anyone would do.  I ran down the hall and slammed the door, trapping it inside.  [Spoiler Alert: this story does not have a happy ending for the chipmunk.]

An hour or so later, I grabbed my cat Wumpus and shoved him into the laundry room for a close up and intimate visit with Chip (or maybe it was Dale).  As I tried to relax in a deep tub of hot water, I was serenaded with background music of continual and plaintive meowing.  Wrapped in my fleece robe, I released Wum, and he dashed directly to his food bowl. 

Later that night he sniffed at the slot beneath the door.  Yes, Mister, you were supposed to do something about it.  It seems he is quite good at bringing chipmunks in through the (temporary and now dismantled) cat door from the porch in order to frolic with them around the house, but, like oh so many men, once he’s had his fun, he loses interest. 

The next day I emptied my suitcase and watched the development of quite a mound of dirty clothes.  My laundry room is more of a large closet really, so putting the clothes in the machine while standing on tip top hoping a small rodent wouldn’t run over my feet was not acceptable.  I headed to Home Depot where they do not sell anything called a chipmunk trap.  I thought  an old-fashioned mousetrap (they make some that are huge) would be the most effective thing, but I was afraid I’d snap off a finger baiting it or a toe walking around it.  Instead, I bought a set of those enclosed rat traps where the animal dies tidily inside -- blech.  I added a couple of peanuts to the bait (thank you, Google), tucked them around the washer and dryer and let the laundry build up two more days.

Okay, eventually you need clean underwear, right?  And the peanuts in the traps remained steadfastly untouched.  Hey, when I’d gotten home it was dark; I was tired; I was hungry -- maybe I imagined the whole thing.  I opened the door and stuffed in the first load.  Let the chip(munks) fall where they may.  My hope was that if the thing was in there, it would venture out, Wumpus’ interest would be rekindled, and the final skirmish would begin.  My fear was that Chip (or Dale) would burrow into the wallboard and bear a litter of adorable babies that would infest my house.  Again, blech. 

Two more days went by.  Wumpus occasionally sniffed around the area of the laundry room, and now the laundry was at least fitting inside the hamper.  I draped a damp dishcloth over the washer to dry out until I got to it.  The room developed that damp, moldy dishcloth smell.  I ran the appropriate load.  The smell persisted.

I craned my neck behind the washer and dryer.  Nothing.  I took a flashlight and looked underneath, a scary process lest something run out at my face, but all I saw were wayward fabric softener sheets.  I rarely use softener sheets, but apparently when I do, they scamper underneath the washer and dryer to lead silent yet festive lives.  I dragged the dryer out a foot or so (all the room there is).  Nothing.  I dragged the washer out a foot or so, cringing to look.  Nothing. 

Denial is a great place to live, and I had all but decided, indeed, there was no little chippie, but the the smell persisted into day five.  *Big sigh*  There was no way it was the aftermath aroma from wet dishcloths.  More surveillance.

YIKES!  Was that a piece of string?  Nope, it was a tail!  BLECH.  When I’d moved the washer, Chip (or maybe that was Dale) got dragged out and pushed under the vacuum cleaner.  Now I could see a little tail curling from under the brushes.  At least he (or she) didn’t get cut in half when dragged under heavy machinery.  *Involuntary shudder at the thought of having to clean up chipmunk parts*  Fortunately a body bag was readily made from an inverted plastic baggie, scooping and turning it right-side-out so he (or she) slid in. 

Crisis over, and smell and body disposed of, I went to watch TV.  The thought sat in my head that a dead chipmunk had been desiccating away in my laundry room for a minimum of three days.  For about 20 minutes I managed to ignore the fact that it was time to wash the laundry room floor.  I don’t know how often you wash your laundry room floor, but I cannot remember the last time I did so. I mean, all I do is pad around in there in my socks while stuffing clothes into the machines; how grimy can it get?  All I can tell you is, those softener sheet dancing around under there, they kick up a lot of dirt.

Anyway, my laundry room is now certifiably clean.  My clothes are washed and put away, and Wumpus walks around, tail held high, as proud as if he actually accomplished something wonderful.
Goodbye, little Chip (or Dale):  RIP.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Go, Go, LIGO!

The last time I was here in Richland, WA, I took the trusty time machine back 70 or so years and visited the B Reactor on the Hanford site.  I sat at the (non-functional) controls of the country’s first nuclear reactor; I stared into Fermi’s office; I looked up at the rods and rods and rods and rods that were used to make plutonium.  Good times, good times.

Last Friday, I took the time machine ahead, only a couple of years,to be sure, but that was far enough.  We ventured into a different part of the dessert to tour LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory).  The site isn’t much to look at.  It’s composed of a couple of buildings (nice landscaping, though) and two long,  l  o  n  g concrete tunnels.

[Insulating concrete tunnels housing the beam tubes.]
In those tunnels? Oh, my!  Inside those insulating tunnels are two tubes. The physicists shoot a laser beam from a central point which they split in two. The split beams shoot down the tubes, bounce off fancy, sophisticated mirrors and return. The light is collected, and the light waves measured.  The instrumentation will filter out -- are you ready for it? -- all the gravitational waves from the earth.   Yup, all the trees falling, the trains roaring, the planes flying, all will be filtered out, and only the gravitational waves of space will be recorded. 
And what, you ask, will that show?  Oh, my friends, it will show a star going nova, a black hole imploding, or even, maybe, the Big Bang. 
[The control room at LIGO where discoveries will be noted on these monitors:
or is it the control room of the Enterprise?  Warp speed ahead, Mr. Sulu!]      
And speaking of finding the Big Bang, this, right here in the tufts of scrub, in the shadow of the nuclear waste vitrification plant, this would be a great setting for an episode of the Big Bang Theory.  Can you see it?  Wallowitz and Kuthrapali lost with the lizards.  Leonard wandering through the B Reactor and Sheldon lost in the rat refuse of those long, concrete tunnels. 

Ain’t science grand?!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Glorious Food

In England it’s fish and chips in the days they were wrapped in day-old newspaper that got good and greasy as you plucked the crispy pieces from the folds.

In France, it’s sauces and wines.  And macaroons in every flavor under the sun.

In Russia, it’s blini -- mushroom blini with full fat cream sauce, juggling the hot foil from the street vendor.

In the Northern Cascades?  Fruits and vegetables

Okay, fruits and vegetables don’t sound all that exciting, but when you can smell the fresh arugula, a new world sits on your tongue.  The apples are as sweet as honey, and peaches and pears juice down your chin in sugary juice that’s better than candy.

Susan was my exploration partner when we were both expat wives in Moscow.  There we walked all over the city.  From here in Richland, it was a matter of a day’s drive to visit her home in Twisp, WA, doorway to the Northern Cascades.  We visited the shops in Twisp and near-by Winthrop.  We read and crocheted and talked and laughed.  We walked every day.  It’s just possible that my memories of the Northern Cascades would be dominated by magnificent vistas if it weren’t for the windy tide of smoke from the surrounding wildfires, but I think no matter what, the Cascades equal the cascade of flavors from the yummy freshness of food that actually made me excited to prepare it. 

The enthusiasm has carried over a bit, and back in Richland today I made a little lunch of ripe tomato and avocado slices drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and whole wheat crackers with aged Irish cheddar.  There may also have been cookies involved, but I'm not sayin'. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Twisp and a Cat

Not much turbulence coming down into the Pasco desert this time, a smooth landing.  Steve went to get the car while I waited for my enormous purple suitcase to be ferried through one of the two carousels at the airport.  No, this is not Seattle; this is not Portland (but, yes, let’s keep it weird); this is not the coast, and do not ask me again.  In Seattle or Portland there would be so much to do: museums, plays, library activities.  
As the plane landed, I made a mental list and apportioned one activity per weekday.  Even at nine of ‘em, I can’t make things stretch. 

One day I went to Crafter Warehouse (woefully short of sale fabrics, but that’s good, it will require a return trip), one day, the “Big Mall” (compared to, well to nothing, there is no other mall).  There's a very nice history museum about the waste site, and one day I went to the grocery store.  Oh, and there’s cleaning.  Yes, life here is one whirl after the next. 

I’ll stop complaining though.  I know I'm bad because it's bad to whine when, on Friday, Steve drove me into the Northern Cascades to visit the house of a sweet friend I made in Moscow.  We’ve walked for an hour or two in the mornings and visited town in the afternoons.  Fresh local food hums in my taste buds (I do actually hum when I take the first bite; it's a bit embarrassing, and the Twisp River sings outside the door.  We crochet to keep our fingers busy while we talk.

I’ll spend a week here, and return to Richland on Friday.  In contrast to the dullness of the weekdays there, the weekends there are full of enjoyable things to do.  This Saturday, we’re going to Prosser for wine tasting and fabric scouting; next Saturday is the tour of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory -- be still, my geeking heart).  Next week? Back to Crafter Warehouse, I guess, and a lot of TV.

Next Sunday I wing to Muncie and all the hoopla my Perfect Grandson's fifth birthday ails.  Even thought the apartment,  Steve’s nine hour work days get pretty dull for the girl left behind.  There's only so much junk TV even I can take.
You know what I need in Richland?  A cat. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wumpus the Wonder Cat

Argh, has it been a MONTH since I’ve posted?  Oh, the shame!  Should I write about the visits from my various children ?  My Perfect Grandchildren?  The  Spiderman quilt I’ve been madly stitching?  No, I’m going to write about my new cat.

I NEEDED a cat.  Steve's current job is in Washington State, and things were too lonely around the house.  I went to the animal shelter for a visit, just a visit.  I mean, it would be crazy to bring a cat home for six weeks and then leave for a month, right?  No, the plan was to get a cat when I return from visiting him in October, but I thought I’d visit the animal shelter.  There’s no harm in a visit, is there?  (Before I continue, I would like to make a disclosure.  This post is about my new cat and also about some litter box issues.  It's not disgusting or anything; it is his story, and it must be told.)

The animal shelter is a convenient 10 minutes from my home.  I was amazed at the bustle.  The waiting room was full with a bird, lizard, gerbil and rat (well, yes, in cages) and people (not in cages).   There was standing room only.

My turn came up, and I signed for a pass to the cat room.  There were a few kittens and several female cats, but I was interested in an older male cat, of which there were three.  One tawny three-year-old took my fancy, but he’d been wild and still had to be neutered.  Ummm, too many potential pitfalls there.  (Yeah, a visit.  Sure.) 

I took one last look around.  On a small bulletin board was a picture of a six-year-old male cat being kept in an overflow room.  He's been in the shelter one week.  I asked if I could have a fourth “visit.” 

I fell in love.  His paperwork said he’d been given up because his owners were moving.  (Yeah, makes no sense to me, either.)  I filled out the forms, but there was a snafu because he’d originally been adopted from PetCo.  Fairfax Animal Shelter calls them before adopting out one of their cats as a courtesy (like they’d want him back instead of having him adopted?  Again, no sense).  The problem?  PetCo wasn’t answering their phone.  I got halfway home, when my cell phone rang.  (I’m a good girl; I pulled over before I answered.)  The pussycat was mine!

The first thing I had to do was rename him.  His old name was fine, but it just wasn’t HIM., and let's face it, cats come equally badly no matter what you name them.  My son was in that weekend, and both he and a former student came up with excellent names.  My kitty is Wumpus McCoy.  He is extremely sociable, following me from room to room and putting himself  on the bookshelf next to me when I get on the computer.   

Cat on Shelf
The adoption, however, was not without Issues.  Wumpus did not poop.  Oh, c’mon, I hear you say, of course he pooped.  Well, yes, he pooped about once every three days.  This is not normal for a cat.  I was keeping him inside because (a) you promise the animal shelter to do so, and (b) said former student was going to foster him while I came to Richland.  I didn’t want him making a bee-line for her door, running out and getting lost.  Inside means you can monitor the litter box.  The litter got damp, but no poop. 

We visited the vet who took an x-ray.  “Yes, there’s a lot in there.  A LOT.”  She hydrated him, and on the drive home, my nose informed me that a few little plops had fallen out in the carrier.  While cleaning it up, I realized I’d forgotten to get the Shelter form signed and had left his paperwork in the exam room.  In the following days, there was no improvement. 

The cleaners came the next day, and after they left, I found a few poops in a trail towards the litter box.  I guess the vacuum cleaner frightened him, but he’d been moving (sorry about the pun) in the right direction.  Otherwise Wumpus was tranquil and playful, batting his pink sisal mouse to me and catching it neatly in his paws when I tossed it back. 

The vet suggested canned food (more fiber) with a little chicken stock added to it (more hydration).  Four days later, no action.  I brought him back to the vet to be cleaned out.  I flicked on my Kindle for the half hour wait, but five minutes later the vet came out saying happily, “I went back to take care of him, and all the techs were cheering.  He had a big movement on his own.”  Back home we went.  Wumpus disdainfully exited his carrier and strolled to the screened-in porch for a nap. 

Okay, you are thinking, this is getting ridiculous.  I have just read three paragraphs about Wumpus the Poopless Wonder.  Please stay with me; the drama ends soon.

What would you do with this cat?
A couple of days after that, I smelled a horrible smell in our guest room.  Some detective work found a mound of poop under the heavy bedspread on the bed.  Really?  REALLY?  How could he even sit up under there?   On a detective mission, I found two other little
dried-up piles in odd places around the house.  It looked like Wum wasn’t so constipated after all.  That afternoon, my former student, whose own dearly beloved cat was deathly ill, let me know she just couldn’t add the care of Wumpus McCoy while I was away. 

Setting out to simultaneously line up a house sitter and wonder if Wumpus had to be returned (and, being unadoptable, be put down), I let him outside.  VOILA!  No more problems.  The world may be your oyster, but it is Wumus McCoy’s litter box. 

I finally drove back to the vet’s and got Wum’s adoption papers back.  I was shocked to see that his previous owner had gotten him from PetCo only six months previously.  The story as I see it, based on gossamer imaginings, is that his original owner was an elderly man -- Wum is quite fond of men -- who kept him as an indoor/outdoor cat but gave him to the PetCo shelter when he (the man) had to go into assisted living.  The people who got him from PetCo foll kept him indoors.  When he refused the litter box, they brought him to the county shelter, passing the problem on to me. 

Wum is a keeper, though.  I’ve installed a pet door for him, and I love him.  No, it would be more accurate to say I am besotted with him and spoil him dreadfully which is, after all, the entire purpose of having a cat.  And Wumpus McCoy is good to me, too.  He sits next to me on the couch to watch Perception and All the Right Moves.  He jumps and flips chasing his chenille snake.  He meows until I follow him through the screened-in porch, onto the deck, into the back yard (like Lassie bringing humans to Timmy in the well).  Once on the moss, he flops on his side to be softly rolled around.  In case you visit me, he likes to have his cheeks scratched.  Wum is no longer the Poopless Wonder; now he is Wumpus the Wonder Cat.

Where will Steve sleep when he comes home?

Here is what I filk to him (to the tune of Wild Thing).

            Little Cat,
            My heart goes pitter-pat,
            I am so happy that
            I have you.

            Oh, Wum,
            You make my heart hum,
            And now everyone
            Knows I love you!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tyne for a Cookie

Early this morning, I dreamt I was having breakfast with Tyne Daly.  We were in a corner of her kitchen, seated on opposite sides of one of those banquette things, and Tyne (I call her by her first name because, after all, we were enjoying a meal together) served up a plate of toast and chocolate chip cookies. Skip the toast; how often do you get to have cookies for breakfast?  I mean, usually it’s plain yogurt with a banana sliced in, maybe blueberries on a particularly thrilling morning.  Sometimes I have Life cereal which I really like but leaves me a bit (shhh) gassy.  So it’s either yogurt or maybe a hard boiled egg.  The cookie was a delightful trade up.
I took one bite, swallowed and remembered I was scheduled to have fasting blood work.  I awoke appalled, heart aflutter. 
Again, Ann?  Really?  
You see, the dream was a repetition of yesterday (the messing up the blood work part, not the cookie part).  I had an appointment with a new doctor, and in the -- is excitement really the word I want? -- of meeting him, I went through my morning routine of making a cup of coffee with one sweetener and a big blob of milk in denial about the blood work. It wasn't until I drained the last delicious sip that I remembered.  I didn’t eat anything else just in case he decided a blob of milk wouldn’t skew the results (although, yes, I really did know better), so I had the worst of both worlds.  I arrived at the office ineligible for blood work and left my appointment starving.  I planned on returning today, but in between was that horrible, horrible dream.  It was so real that I panicked for a moment.
Anyway, after my heart-palpitations relaxed, I fixed a cup of coffee, black this time.  I toasted an English muffin, topped it with a fried egg  -- no, no, for LATER.  The technician drained a test tube’s worth of blood from my elbow.  I watched in fascination.  I always do.  Five minutes later I was at the dance studio, sitting in the parking unwrapping breakfast.
And Tyne?  Gimme a call.  I’m happy to have breakfast with you any time, especially if you serve more cookies!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Radio WANN

If I can just finally finish this darn quilt, I can get back to regularly writing in this Blog.  I’m getting there, too.  All I have left is sewing on the binding, and voila!  I could listen to the radio while I sew, but as you know from my previous post, what I do is watch junk TV.  It’s been a LOT of TV.  I don’t listen to the radio much in the house.  I listen mostly in the car and sometimes in bed at night when I have trouble sleeping. 

I live in the DC suburbs, which means that most radio listening lasts from 20 to 30 minutes, the average time it takes to get from point A to point B.  I listen to a bunch of NPR, and when that gets too intellectual or esoteric, I skip to WTOP which revolves through news, sports, traffic and weather and then repeats.  I like the classical music station, too, especially when the news is disheartening or political rancor reaches an apex.  Been a lot of classical lately unless is slow and droopy.  I want to get to my destination, not pull over to the side of the road for a nap.

What I WANT is a radio station that will have this programming:  Car Talk; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (and not just one day a week which is never when I’m driving around); lively classical music, maybe a combination of Sousa marches (is that considered classical?), ballet scores and Viennese waltzes; and also a show devoted to Broadway show tunes.   I can't believe there isn't one already.  That program can play all the music from a single musical or mix up the shows; I don’t care.  What I want is something spirited and upbeat that will keep me slapping my thighs and singing along.  Then every, say, 15 minutes, there will be a break with a short report of news and weather.  Every hour, one of those breaks would be required to report some good news, perhaps a good deed done or someone who saved somebody from a disaster, something that would, you know, help you maintain faith in the human race.

Currently when I turn on the classical station at night, THAT’s when they choose to play vivacious music with maybe a little Dvorak thrown in.  No, no!  At 11:30 PM, I want to SLEEP!  At night they should be broadcasting hour upon hour of lullabies.  The other day I almost bought a baby’s CD of lullabies, but I don’t have a CD player built into my alarm clock/radio, and, heaven knows, I can’t fit anything else on my night table.  I could download the sleepy stuff onto my i-pod, but then I’d have to listen with earplugs, and I must have small ear openings because earplugs hurt by ears.  Plus I defy you to sleep on your side with an earplug stuck in your ear no matter what size your ear is canal is.  Many moons ago, you used to be able to get a mono earplug which could go in the “up” ear, but we are too technologically stuck-up for that now.  Now you can listen to your i-pod in bed only if you sleep on your back.  Not that I’m bitter.

SO there you have it:  funny talking and upbeat music by day, soft, downy tunes by night.  That’s radio WANN, my dream radio.  What’s yours?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Defining Patience

I quilt.  Yes, as my mother used to say, I cut up pieces of material and sew them back together again.  They say that a quilter has the patience of a saint.  I'm not a saint.  I race through the piecing -- the cutting and sewing of pieces of fabric into the pattern of the quilt top.  At first I cut and pieced by hand piecing which took forever and was not very accurate, but when I learned how to use a rotary cutter, it was a new world.  Now I wheel off slices of fabric at warp speed and sew them together by machine.   I can get a quilt top put together in a couple of days.

Once it’s pieced, the top becomes the top slice of bread in a sandwich.  Batting is the filling, and the bottom slice is a wide, long piece of fabric backing.  The sandwich is quilted together by stitches in a pattern.  Some people do that part by sewing machine, and I have, on occasion, done that.  I don’t have a very good machine, though, and I don’t like to sit hunched over it.   

Instead I quilt by hand.  Yes, I sew every last stitch by hand, and, believe me, there are a lot of them.  I quilt when I’m doing something else like watching TV or, well, TV is about it.  The show takes up most of my attention, and the sewing goes on slightly below the conscious level.  You get into it like you do with any repetitive activity, and I’d name one if I could think of it.  If you think about how much time it will take to make even a baby quilt or how many single stitches you have to take to complete a quilt, you’ll never begin one.  If you just work on it without focusing, well, it’s like that proverbial march of a thousand miles:  it happens one step -- one stitch -- at a time.  Quilting does not take the patience of a saint, my friend says, it takes the patience of an idiot. 

First, you slide the needle in and out, easily, smoothly.  You use a very small, slim needle, and the challenge, to the better quilting, is to see how many stitches you can collect on the needle before you pull it through the fabric.  The quilt I’m currently working on is a collection of appliqued kitties separated (or joined, depending on your viewpoint) by sashing with little black birds on it, shades of Heckle and Jeckle.  The whole thing makes me laugh.

I usually quilt in straight lines or a wandering sort of bee’s path.  For the first time, however, I have a quilt that lends itself to using a stencil I bought long ago and have stored for years in the bottom of the closet.  The stencil is the kind of old fashioned pattern I’ve long wanted to use.  A wreath of leaves encircles the backing beneath each kitty, and vines travel up and down the sashing. 

I have to admit I like the pleasant mental fog of watching Judging Amy reruns while my needle goes in and out, up and down.   I try to solve Inspector Morse's  latest murder while the leaves take form, the circles complete themselves.  It’s not a quick process.  You have to be stubborn. 

But the patience of a saint?  The patience of an idiot?  Oh, dear, are those the only choices? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hair and Other Things

When my kids returned from camp or college, they’d look around the house and comment, “You moved the furniture again.”  It’s true.  You couldn’t live in our house if you were blind:  you’d be knocking your shins all over the place.
I live with one furniture arrangement furniture for a time, but then I think, “hmmm what if the couch were over here?" and I’m off, dragging and pushing.  I used to move the pictures, too, to suit the new composition, but now I just leave everything on the walls alone.  Otherwise one tends to focus more on the pincushion effect in the wallboard rather than the art.  But the furniture?  That’s fair game.  Why not?  If I don’t like the configuration, I can move it again.

Clothes, too.  If I buy something and notice that when I go to wear it, I don’t quite like how it fits (oh, yeah, like you’ve never made an unfortunate purchase), I’ll think, what if I take in a dart, or a tuck or contour the seams?  Why not?   If my amateur tailoring doesn’t work, I can unpick what I’ve sewn.  If that fails, well, I wasn’t wearing it as it was anyway, now was I? 

I confess to a rather cavalier approach toward hair, as well.  I like having long hair, and so I grew it for years.  I enjoyed brushing it, and I got pretty good at an Edwardian roll, a French twist and even a little Topsy that I wore over one shoulder.  I enjoyed playing with it, but I never thought that it suited me when I wore it pulled back, which, since I hated it swooshing in my face, was all the time. 

Three weeks ago I opined to my stylist, the ever-fabulous Chris, that I wanted it short, but I’d spent a fortune in barrettes.  He said no problem and lopped off six inches which still left enough to fasten back.  I liked it, but it lay scratchy on my neck in the summer heat.

Back I went, this time with a picture of my daughter’s haircut, stacked in the back angled to a smoothness in the front.   So cute!  Her hair is a finer than mine, but Chris said it would work.  He layered the back up another couple of inches, and I had a veritable riot of curls swooping long and smooth in the front.  He knows I won’t blow it dry.  I won’t flat iron it.  I won’t, in fact, do more than wash and scrunch it, and this cut was perfect.   Or almost perfect.    

After looking at it in the mirror for two days, I wondered what if I had curls toward the front, too?  I mean, I have all this wave in back whereas the front was just hanging there.  Let’s face it, I’d already more than spent my hair stylist allowance, but I bet I could do it. 

I got home from dance -- glorious dance where I’d held my bangs back with a little flowered clip -- and I took out my hair scissors.  (Oh, yes, I’ve done this before.)  I studied the angle of the cut in the back.  I mean, it’s really difficult to cut your own hair in the back, because, you know, you can’t see back there even with a second mirror. But the front?  Why not give it a try?  

I worked from the ears forward in three sections and snipped just enough to get the layering that encourages the waves.  And if it didn’t work?  It’s just hair; it grows.  It’s just a blouse; you can unpick what you’ve sewn.  It’s just furniture; you can rearrange it. 
What if?  Why not ?  Those are the questions I ask, occasionally followed by, “What the hell?” or “What the hell!”  Oh, and my hair looks adorable.