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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fairy Tale Frolic

It's the new game that’s sweeping the nation!

Okay, it’s not exactly sweeping the nation since only my children know about it.  But it is a new game,  one I made up myself.  It’s the kind of thing I do when I’m lying in bed at night and can’t sleep.  It doesn’t cost a penny to play, and if you’re a geeky-type person, I swear you will enjoy this one.  I call it

Fairy Tale Frolic.
You think up a fairy tale character and then match him or her to a corresponding pathology.  Ready?

     Cinderella:  split personality

     Sleeping Beauty:  narcolepsy

     Little Bo Peep:  early on-set Alzheimer’s. (My daughter imagines little Bo played a lot of sports in her youth and suffered multiple concussions which took their toll!)

I’d love to hear back from you, Dear Reader, with your characters and their diagnoses.  Let the game begin!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Call Them Ann

My last post was pretty somber, but now I promise to get back to something lighter.  We were at a memorial service a couple of weeks ago (yeah; no, that’s not the lighter part).   People said such lovely things about our friend and the legacy he leaves behind.  It started me thinking about my legacy, or rather about the fact that as of now, I don't really have one.

What would I like to be remembered by?  You know how some people have juniors, so their names live on after them?  Presidents get libraries.  Wealthy people set up endowments in their names to the arts or sciences, to medical schools or scholarship funds.  We didn’t want a junior, and I don’t have a butt-load of money, so when I’m dead and departed, but I have decided on what I want it to be. 
When I'm dead, I want all of you to name your cats after me, Ann.  Or if they’re boy cats, you can spell it An; that will work.  I can hear it now: “Here, Annie, Annie, Annie!  Come kitty, kitty!”  Dogs, too.  When you whistle and clap, you will shout, “C’mere, An!  C’mere, boy!  Good dog!”

Not birds, though; I’m not fond of domesticated birds.  And not hamsters or guinea pigs.  I don't want any rodent namesakes.  But cats ?  Dogs?  Ponies?  Name them Ann.   

All those furry legs running to the kitchen for food, and all the cuddling and petting, all the patting and grooming.  I can hear the whispers in the evenings, “Oh, Ann, I love you so.”  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

My legacy will be my name floating on the air, across neighborhoods, cities, countries!  I can hear it now, “Ann” on the breeze called protectively with love.  In fact, why wait?  You may as well begin nowName them Ann; name them all Ann!

I wonder if it’s too late to rename Wumpus?

Friday, September 20, 2013

No Day at the Beach

Most of my posts are designed to make you smile.  I like to smile, and I figure you do, too.  Today’s post is a bit different.  It is a true story except for, you know, the parts I made up.  No, what I mean is that the story is real, but not much is known about its main character.  I made up her motivations and emotions out of my own head, but the basic story is true.  One of the babies in this tale grew up to become my friend, and when she told me her story, my jaw dropped.  I’ve never dropped my jaw before, not that I can remember.  It’s an astonishing story, and I bet your jaw will drop, too.

No Day at the Beach

She was tired, so, so tired.  Her eyelids dragged, but she’d made it.  She’d buckled the babies into their car seats, one and then the other; it took so damned long with two of them.  She’d gone to the store and bought three bags of groceries -- oh, god!  She’d forgotten dish soap.  Oh, no.  Oh, no, oh, no.  She’d have to do this all over again!  Okay, but not now.  Get a grip, for heaven’s sakes.  Now she could drive home and take a little nap, or at least, well, the babies were asleep now.  That meant they’d wake up when she stopped the car.  They’d be hungry, too.  They’d fuss while she fixed formula.  She could never remember how much to measure, so that was getting down the powder and reading the directions in that tiny print, and measuring and mixing it up, and they’d cry, hungry, the entire time.  She thought they were big enough to hold their own bottles, but they refused .  They’d rather kick and fuss.  She'd have to sit there holding them which always made her angry. 

She’d feed Timmy first.  He was the loudest, his pitch strumming her nerves.  She’d give Timmy his and then Tammy.  With luck that would hold them for a few minutes, and she could rest before strapping them into the high chairs and shoveling baby food into them.  What should she give them today?  Oh, whatever.  It was all government approved, right?  God, it would be at least an hour before she could put them on the floor. 

Their toys were still scattered from this morning, so maybe they would play and she could lay down on the couch.  She wished their faces lit up for her like they did for Claudia when she came to baby sit.  They had each other, though, so maybe they’d play.  But they’d want the solid food before she could sleep.  Oh, for an uninterrupted hour.

Nathanial was always mad at her.  “You can’t sleep all the time!” he yelled.  “You sleep all the time!  Can’t you damned even fix dinner before I get home?  I’m tired, too, you know!  I don’t want to hear about this baby depression stuff.  There’s two babies, and I’m tired, too!  You don’t want to get up with them at night, and you don’t want to get up with them in the morning.  Do you want them at all?” 

Did she want them?  Had she ever wanted them?  Well, she’d wanted one once.  Years before she’d had Nicky, and that had been fine.  She slept when he slept, just like they said to do.  He was cute and chubby and happy, so she’d wanted another.  Carl, well, that wasn’t so good.  When he slept, she’d had to take care of Nick.  She’d been tired and depressed. No more, she’d said, but just one careless night, and there was Alex.  A "surprise".  Surprise sounded better than "accident".  At the time, she’d thought he was an accident, but later she found out how bad accident could mean.  She’d been tired, and that had made her sad, although maybe being sad had made her tired.  Anyway, after Carl, she’d never gotten over being tired and sad, and it got worse with Alex.  It was too hard, just too damn hard.  One day it just became easier to move out. 

She slowed as the car in front of her turned.  Gotta pay attention.  Gotta keep my mind on the road.  At least the babies slept in the back.  Maybe they would sleep after she pulled into the driveway.  She could just sit on the step while they slept on in the car.  Slept on and on.  That would be so good, if they just slept on and on.

She should have felt sad leaving Nick and Carl and Alex, but it had been too much responsibility, and the divorce came easy, no fighting over custody.  Paul wanted the boys, and she didn’t, easy as that.  No fighting over property either; there wasn’t much.  Sign the papers, thank the judge, leave the sad behind.

One night she was out having a drink, and she met Nathanial.  They had fun together!  Then he wanted a baby, and she thought, well it would make him happy.  She could handle one.  Only it wasn’t one; it was Timmy and Tammy, one always crying, one always hungry, one always smelly.  

A horn blasted; she slammed on the brakes; the babies woke up, all at once, in one blink of an eye.  A car raced across the intersection in front of her, the driver giving her the finger.  She’d missed the stop sign.  The babies, jarred awake, screamed.  She began to shake, clammy with fear.  She hadn’t seen the sign at all, wrapped up in her thoughts.  Her stomach clenched.  “It’s over,” she told herself.  “It’s over.  You stopped in time.  That last time, you tried to stop, and this time you did stop.   It won’t happen again, but you have pay attention!  It was hard, though, with all that noise from the back seat.  “Hush!” she yelled at them, but they kept on. 

It could have been a kid in the intersection, not a car.  It had been a kid in the accident.  She hadn’t even run a stop sign then or anything.  The police investigation said the investigation showed shit wasn't her fault.  Witnesses saw the boy swerve his bike into the street.  They said he’d been goofing off, riding no hands, and that even though she’d been going slow, there was no way she could have stopped. 

But she knew that she had hit that kid.  It didn’t matter how slowly she’d been going or that Tammy and Timmy hadn’t been crying then.  She wished they shut up now.  She would always remember the thunk of the body against the car.  She’d hit him, and he’d died. 

Thinking about it exhausted her.  The wailing from the backseat was all that kept her awake.  “What did I tell you?” she screamed, and she flailed a hand behind her seat, and hit Tammy hard on her fat little leg, smearing her hand through gummed cookie on the car seat's edge.  Usually the more docile of the two, Tammy belted an outraged scream. 

She shrank into herself in shame.  She’d hit her baby girl.  Tears trickled down her face.  She couldn’t take care of two babies.  She’d left three little boys.  She’d killed another.  Shame turned to anger, and now she wanted to rip those car seats out so it would be quiet back there.  How could she drive when they distracted her?  How could she drive when she was always wiped out?  She wanted to sleep. 

“SHUT UP!” she screamed.  She jerked the car to the curb, the sudden movement causing them to shriek louder.  She flung around to hit them again but was pulled in by the seat belt.  She wanted to hit them both until they were quiet.  Oh!  That was terrible!  SHE was terrible.  She’d left her boys.  She’d killed a kid.  She wanted to smack these babies so they’d just be quiet!  She sat strapped in, shaking. 

She looked at her hand in revulsion and wiped it off on her jeans.  The car seats needed a good hosing off.  Nathanial said so.  He said they were disgusting.  She thought of herself, rested after a nap, babies asleep in the house, her with the car seats out in the sunshine, the water sluicing over the plastic, everything shiny and clean.  How spacious the back seat would be without anything strapped in there.  How nice it would smell without dirty babies and moldy snacks.  How nice that would . . . .

Timmy’s screech roused her.  She forced eyelids up.  “There, there,” she said, but it didn’t sound convincing even to her.  Tammy’s voice rose, then Timmy’s overrode it as if they’d suddenly learned to take turns just to annoy her.  She’d never wash off the car seats.  She’d never make dinner.  She’d never get a nap, not with the two of them.  “Please," she pleaded, "please shut up.”

They didn’t shut up.  By now they were stuck in it, stuck in the sobs and keeping each other going.  They needed somebody who could rock them and sing to them.  They needed somebody like Marilyn, Claudia’s mom.  How did she do it?  Marilyn had ten kids, count them, ten, all as happy as the day is long.  Even Claudia said she loved having all those brothers and sisters.  Timmy and Tammy needed a mom like Marilyn.

She thought about that, and she thought about wanting to hit her babies.  She knew in her head it was awful to want to hit them, but she really wanted to.  She’d do it, too, if they didn't shut up!  She was only four blocks from the beach where Claudia took them when she baby sat.  Claudia went there all the time, she said.  She and her millions of brothers and sisters went to play on the beach. 

She carefully made a turn, then found a parking spot right at the access walkway, first little happiness she’d had all day.  She unbuckled Timmy’s car seat and hauled him down to the sand.  She trudged back for Tammy, slow going and hot in the sun.  She sat them side by side, settled so their faces were in the shade.  She did that for them even though she thought they looked ugly with their faces lined with tears and smeared with snot.  The rocking of being carried had lulled them, but now they began screaming again, enraging her.  What did they want from her?  She’d put them in the shade!  Spoiled little brats.

“Hey!”  she snapped her fingers gaining momentary attention before they began kicking again.  “Hey, cut it out; it's Claudia's beach!"  Tammy’s siren wail split her ears.  Tommy was angry and red in the face with it.  “Shut up!” she shouted, “Shut up!” 

She turned and raced from their screaming and their sniveling and their smells.  She slid into the driver’s seat, slammed the car door, and, in a convoluted combination of guilt and relief, put her head down on the steering wheel and sobbed.   Finally she blew her nose and, without one look back, headed home for a nap.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Catch and Release

Wumpus has subscribed to the feline Catch and Release program.  Look, it’s not me;  I don’t mind dead rodents lined up at my door the way EVERY OTHER CAT I EVER HAD has done.  (Not birds, however.  Despite all the bad press, I've never had a cat that caught a bird.  I mean, birds fly and, you may have noticed, cats don't.)  Isn’t that why we domesticated cats in the first place, to keep the vermin down?  But this business of bringing things in and releasing them to run around the house:,that has to stop.

Our first house sitter saw a chipmunk scooting around just inside the sliding glass doors .  He reported to us that he was able to chase it out onto the screened-in porch where he opened the door for it in a gentlemanly fashion, and it exited.

The next chipmunk didn’t fare so well.  I opened the door for Wumpus before I realized he was oh- so- gently carrying a chipmunk in his mouth.  I yelled “no!” thinking he’d back out, but, no, he ran in and dropped it.  It scurried down the hall into the laundry room where I looked for it by moving the dryer in a search and rescue procedure gone awry.  We never even knew I'd run  him over until he started to smell.   (You will find the entire comic-tragic story in the posting of October 15, 2012, "RIP, Little Chippie"). 

Wumpus probably concluded we weren’t fond of chipmunks in the house, and he advanced (or regressed, take your pick) to moles.  Steve and I were on the porch one morning, drinking coffee and reading the paper when Steve jumped.  Oh, yes, there was a furry gray fellow trying to disappear into the corner.  I blocked one direction while Steve swept him out with a broom.  About a month later, he was replaced by another.  (Heck, maybe it was the same mole.  How would I know?)  This one cowered behind the large glass bottle filled with curly willow.  Steve wasn’t there this time, and I tried the broom without luck.  Wumpus, asleep on the coffee table, showed no awareness whatsoever, until I set him down in front of it.  He watched it for a bit.  It scurried out, saw Wumpus and froze.  Wumpus bent down and carefully touched it with his nose.  The mole ran back for cover.  It came out again.  Wum kissed it again.  It dove behind the storage cabinet.  Within ten seconds, the cat wondered outside. 

Really, Wumpus?  REALLY?  I dunno.  Maybe he catches them with the intention of eating them,but  finds he just can’t stand the crunch.  Maybe he’s hoping I’ll let him keep one for a pet.  He’s not sayin’.

We went away again.  I signed onto Facebook, and saw that the house sitter had posted a picture of a dead mouse.  I had hopes that Wumpus was getting the hang of things. 

My hopes were dashed last week.  You see, Wumpus gets us up early in the morning.  One of us shlumps out of bed, dumps down cat food and slides the door open leaving it open while we make coffee, retrieve the paper and bring it to the screened-in porch where we sip and read.  Let's face it, it’s some time before we come to our full senses.  Last week,  Steve was balancing a full cup of coffee out to the porch when the corner of his eye saw the tiny blur.  Yup, there was another mole, already indoors
Or was it?  We knelt on the floor.  We looked under the TV.  We looked under the couch.  We looked under the coffee table.  We didn't see it again although minutes later,  Wum was facing away from his food bowl and towards the refrigerator.  Ye gods, there was no way we were going to retrieve a small Visitor from behind the fridge.  Wumpus was the most intent I’ve ever seen him.  Perhaps he thought he could stare it to death. 

Meanwhile, life doesn’t stop, even for disgusting animals in the kitchen.  We left on our various errands and appointments.  I got home first.  I came in through the garage and saw Mr. Mole carefully sliding down the stairs.  I slipped out of my thronged sandals (they're not the easiest to maneuver in quickly), ran into the storage area and grabbed my the empty shoe box.  I did a quick-footed fandango to avoid minute paws and slapped the box over it.  Trapped! 
Now what?  I didn’t dare let go of the box for fear it could nudge out from under it.  I reached my arm around to the toy shelf and snagged a doll’s china tea set.  That would hold the sucker.

I went upstairs to recover.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to get the mole out from under the box and out the door.  I was afraid that if I tried to slide a piece of cardboard underneath, he’d scurry out.  If he escaped and ran behind the bookcase, it would be discovery by aroma all over again.  In the end I called Animal Control.  It was pretty embarrassing, especially when the extraordinarily nice officer put on a heavy glove, slowly raised the box and lifted the cowering rodent out.  He put it in a little cardboard cage and took it away to release it in the woods down the street.  Catch and release, Wumpus.  The idea is to catch something INSIDE and release it OUTSIDE, not the other way ‘round. 

Meanwhile, we’re trying to remember to close the door.
Wumpus:  he's a lover not an eater

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ivy Grows

I was invited the other evening to attend an Adult High School graduation.  It was the most inspiring thing I’ve done in a very long time, the more so because a former student of mine was a keynote speaker.  I intended to find a seat, find and congratulate my girl (definitely a woman now but always my girl) after the ceremonies and sneak away without disrupting her family and friends.  However, her husband popped up the moment I entered the auditorium and took me to sit with her party.  How sweet was that?!  (Okay, my part in her current success was mostly that 15 years ago I yelled at her a lot for not doing her homework, but still . . . .) 

The music began, and 100-odd adults processed down the aisle, combining Fairfax County’s National External Diploma (life experience can count, much of the studies are completed at home) , General Educational Development (attend classes and pass the GED exam) and Adult High School (pass the FCPS curricula) programs.  The auditorium stood and applauded.  My girl wasn’t marching., though.   Nope, she was already on stage as a keynote speaker. 

The ceremony proceeded with a thoughtful speech by the administrator followed by the three keynote speakers.  The auditorium was far from silent.  Babies were crying, children chatting, and there was lively social interaction from the under-five set.  There were bouquets of balloons bobbing but securely tethered and bouquets of flowers dotting the auditorium.   What there wasn’t was beach balls being tossed about.  There was no out-of-turn whooping it up, no booing, no disruptions of any kind.  No one was obnoxious.  Everyone was proud.  Every speech was listened to with respect, and applauded soundly. 

As each of the graduates was announced, the administrator added the graduate's note of thanks:  to grandparents who’d brought them to this country, to their children for encouragement, to spouses for support, to parents, to teachers, to counselors.  As each graduate crossed the stage to receive a diploma, the audience applauded, from first to last.  My hands were sore by the end, but no one crossed that stag without recognition of hard work, long hours and sacrifices. 

This is what a high school graduation should be:  a happy occasion of celebration and pride.  During so many graduations where I live, the students mock the process.  Their entitlement not only devalues their own accomplishments but often those for whom the process was difficult either scholastically, financially or emotionally.  Not everyone's teen years are their best years.  That’s what made this occasion so impressive.  These people -- mostly young adults, but some not so young -- knew the value of what they achieved.  They had lived without what our society has come to consider the minimum standard.  They had realized that they were held back in their ability to earn a living, in their stature before others, from doing what they wanted in life, held back in their self-worth.  But guess what?  They did it!  They did it, and I felt proud of every one of them.

And for those of you that would still minimize their achievement?  I learned something interesting that night; I learned that 40% of high school graduates can’t pass the GED test.  I suggest you examine your feelings of superiority. 

We have a steep slope running from our front yard to the street.  When we first moved in, it was made up of weeds and erosion.  I planted 12 flats of ivy and two of vinca.  I weeded so much that I dreamed of crab grass.  That ivy is glossy green all year.  Yes, there were setbacks, and sometimes we have a few bare spots,  However, the ivy dug in.  It spread.  It thrived.

Congratulations to you, my girl!  Nothing can stop you.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

All Good Zombies Go To Devon

Our daughter taught a course in Portugal for three weeks after which our son-in-law flew off to meet her in Rome.  We babysat.  I’m sure there’s something wrong with this picture, but I can’t quite put my finger on what.  Nah, we were happy to have the Perfect Grandchildren to ourselves for so long, and, truthfully, they behaved very well.  I will tell you, however, that we agreed to baby sit only if Stephanie signed them up for those most beautiful of words in the English language:  “day” and “camp.”

On the way to camp one morning, we were talking about books.  I had given Suzie The Light Princess by George MacDonald and told her that he also wrote one of my favorite books when I was her age, At The Back of the North Wind and how it ends up being sad but not sad.  Suzie asked for further explanation.
 “Do you remember what a metaphor is, Suzannah?  It’s when one thing stands for something else.  The boy in the story, Diamond, is happy, but they are poor, and he has a hard life, just like the North Wind blows hard and cold in the winter.  When Diamond visits the country at the back of the North Wind, it is warm and beautiful and nice.  He has enough to eat.  At the end of the book, he goes there to stay: the metaphor is that he has gone to heaven.  It's odd for the main character a children's book to die, but even though it's sad, you’re also kind of happy for Diamond.

And then Alan led us off on a philosophical trajectory.

Alan:  What's heaven? 

Me:  A lot of people believe you go to heaven after you die.  It’s a beautiful place, and everyone is happy.  I personally do not believe in heaven, but a lot of people do.” 

Suzannah: I believe in heaven. 

Alan:  I don’t believe in heaven.  I believe in . . . Devon.  Devon is a place where monsters live.  (He happily informed us) I am a monster.  When you and Suzie die, you will go to heaven, but (with no small amount of satisfaction) I will go to Devon.

Our next profound conversation took place while Suzie was off at the big camp 4th grade sleepover.  Not wanting Alan, a rising first-grader, to feel he was missing anything, we let him choose a special restaurant for dinner.  His preference?  Dairy Queen.  While we ordered, he flipped through their cake book (yes, we have to look at EVERY cake.)

His little fingers paused at a cake showing the Grim Reaper standing by an open grave.  It was embossed with large black letters R.I.P   (I don’t know about you, but I wonder what might be the occasion for such a cake.)

Alan:  What’s R.I.P.?

Yeah, you try to explain that to a five-year-old.

I will say that I am often amazed at the amount of trivia Steve and I have amassed between us.  I explained what R.I.P meant and why it’s on tombstones.  Alan was also interested in the figure in the black robe. 

Steve told him that the Grim Reaper originated in the Middle Ages (no, I’m sure Alan has no idea what the Middle Ages are.  Thank goodness he didn’t ask.) during the Bubonic Plague which was a sickness that made a lot of people die back then.  (Since his other grandfather died, it has been well established that Papa and I are NEVER going to die.)  We talked about how back then a farmer used a scythe to reap, that is cut down, grain, so the Grim Reaper uses a scythe to reap souls when people die.  Yeah, you try explaining what and where a soul is to a five-year-old.  That was the first thing he wanted to know.  Next question?

Yes, after the Grim Reaper comes, people can still turn into zombies.  (What the heck, follow the logic, and you'll come to that conclusion, too.)  Alan has an abiding interest in zombies and is well informed about them.  He told us that zombies do NOT east people’s brains.  No, they punch you in the nose.  That is what zombies do, in case you didn’t know.

Steve talked about how the Asian rats carried the fleas that carried the plague bacteria came with goods along the Silk Route. By the time he explained what the Silk Route as and I added the information that the plague died out partly because the Asian rats were overrun by the big Norwegian rats, on which the fleas didn’t thrive, well by then, we were talking to each other.  Alan was pretty much enthralled contemplating zombies, as you do while eating your ice cream at DQ.  While he was deep in thought, a lovely lady stopped by the table and said, “What a good little boy you are, sitting here eating your dinner.  You were so quiet, we hardly knew you were here.” 

Thank you, Grim Reaper and your zombies. 

I was pretty sure, however, that this topic would come back after lights out to bite me.  Sure enough, at 8:30, a little voice called from the top of the stairs, “Nana, I want to talk about something.  It’s about the Gwim Weaper.”

In the end, he decided the Grim Reaper was not a monster.  (Alas, I thought, when he dies, he will not go to Devon.)  He is really just a boy in a Halloween costume.  Alan saw a Halloween costume once that was a scary ghost with bones all over its face that really frightened him.  The Grim Reaper is the like that. 

Next came the what-else-can-I-milk-this-for portion of the evening.  “Nana, will you sing me another song?”

Of course I will.  Of course I’ll sing my Perfect Grandson another song.  How about arousing lullaby of “Nobody loves me/Everybody hates me/I’m gonna eat some worms”? 

I left him to giggle himself to sleep.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Shoggoth and The Fish

Shoggoth is a singularly repulsive monster in the H.P. Lovecraft universe.  That is not the Shoggoth I am writing about today.  I am writing about my son’s cat who is named after that monster.

  Not this ugly one,
  but this cuddly one. 
Shoggoth and the Fish are our Cats in Residence for a month.  Cats in Residence are sort of like Artists in Residence except, you know, they don’t do anything.  The cats are here while my son moves from California to Connecticut.  It’s a long move and has to take up time between semesters and so my son and his wife are doing the visiting extended family part, and we are cat-sitting. part. 

I looked forward to this catly visit because I thought Wumpus might enjoy playmates.  I know nothing of Wumpus’  back story (although I routinely make one up for him), and f liked to think he had kitty companions back in the day. 

Apparently not. 

Wumpus is smaller than both Shoggoth and the Fish -- indeed, Shoggoth outweighs him by three or four pounds -- but Wumpus beat the (pardon me) crap out of both of them.  Shoggoth was so traumatized, he hid under the bed for two days.  Fortunately, the hall in our house has a door which now remains firmly closed.  Shoggoth and the Fish have the run of the bedrooms, and Wumpus has the rest of the house plus the screened in porch plus the great outdoors.  He spends most of his summer on the porch so we are not missing the warm snuggles of winter. 

The Fish can be a naughty black puddle.  He craves people watching him eat.  If I sit at the computer when he is hungry, even though the bowl is full, he winds around my ankles demanding attention.  If attention is not smartly forthcoming, he is, I’m sorry to report, an ankle biter, so you’d better jump up and sit on the bed in the other room and pay attention, and you’d better do it sooner rather than later.  On the other hand, he will spend the night at my feet so that should I awaken in the dark, I settle back down to a satisfied purr.
Shoggoth is pretty inoffensive.  He allows himself to be subdued by Wumpus.  He allows himself to be pushed away from the supper bowl by the Fish.  He has his own interesting habits, though.  First, he won’t drink water from the water bowl, oh, no.  He sits at the bathroom door until you follow him in and waits for you to turn on the bathtub tap.  The sink tap will not do (not high enough, I think), and you must run the water at a fast dribble.  A thin stream is too fast, and he will run away.  A slow dribble in too slow, and he will retreat to the other end of the tub until you correct it.  When the dribble is just right, he will rub up against it as best he can and then stick out his pink tongue and lap at the droplets.  It takes him a while to slack his thirst, but he doesn't mind.


 Shoggoth likes to look and smell out the window.  We have a little stool under one window which I open.   He’ll climb up onto the inner sill.  It’s sort of like kitty i-max.  He’ll also jump up onto the sill of the other window.  The only problem there is that that window is closed.  It doesn’t work so well.  He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but we love our Shoggoth.
                          Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser.  Er, I mean Shoggoth and The Fish

You didn’t think there would be a post about cats without filking did you?  That would not be right. 

Song of The Fish (They Call Him the Streak)

Oh, they call him The Fish,
His tail goes swishedy swish,
He likes a full supper dish,
And he wants it delish.

Shoggoth’s Song (tune of You Are My Sunshine)

He is my Shoggoth,
He is a mammoth,
A great behemoth
                Of soft gray fur.
A downy powder puff,
A giant ball of fluff,
A deep, resounding purr.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The King of Pisco Sours

I took three years of high school Spanish.  Okay, truthfully it was four years; I had to repeat the second year in summer school.  They didn't let you go on with a D even if it is a D+.  (I’m not saying I’m proud; I’m just sayin’.)   The sad part is, I have a real facility for languages, but it turns out no matter your level of facility, you can’t learn a language if you don’t study.  Who knew?  In any case, I wasn’t interested in languages at the time -- idiot me -- and I stopped after finishing the third year.  I was required to take a year in college, but since I went to a really good high school, the first half of the year was basically a repeat of my Spanish Three, and the second half was me reading English translations of the novels I was supposed to be reading in Spanish.  Oh, Miguel Cervantes, oh, Lope de Vega, you weep. 

In any case, Spanish stuck with me.  When we went to Ecuador, I found my Spanish to be as good as my Russian currently is, a level I call pre-conversational.  The little boys in the Amazon school were delighted when I told them they were the ages of my grandchildren, and I could ask anyone where the bathroom was and get there.  In time.

On our first evening at the Yarina Lodge in the Amazon, Steve approached the bar tender, Freddy (many of the Ecuadorians in tourist locations carry English names), and told him we’d had Pisco Sours in the Peruvian Amazon where they bragged theirs were the best anywhere.   Steve then shamelessly played into the rivalry between Peru and Ecuador and asked Freddy if he could make a Pisco Sour because he (Steve) thought Freddy’s would be even better.  Freddy thought a moment, pulling the recipe out of his memory, and said, yes he could, but not until 6:20 or so, enough time after the generator came on-line that the ice was made.  Pandy, Betty, and I ordered them.

And Freddy’s Pisco Sours were really, really good.  They were so good that the following evening, six people ordered them. 

The day after that, I skipped the afternoon hike because the obligatory rubber boots irritated my sausage toe (see post of April 18), and, okay, mostly because I was tired of being around 18 other people all the time.  Instead I took my Kindle up to the lodge veranda, sat in an easy chair and elevated my foot on the coffee table. 

Freddy came out of the kitchen and asked haltingly if we had really liked those Pisco Sours.
 I reverted to Spanish (the only way to improve in a language is to use it), and I assured him that yes, yes we really did.  He asked if we would want them again that night.  I told him that yes, yes, we would.  I told him that I only drank Pisco Sours in the Amazon, and when I was in the Amazon, I only drank Pisco Sours.  He said that in that case he would go into town to buy more, well I couldn’t understand what that was although I urged him not to go to a lot of trouble.  It didn’t matter because it turned out that what he really said was that as soon as the generator came on, he would make more ice. 
Freddy's English was on the level of my Spanish, but with minimal vocabulary and maximum good will, we had a long conversation.  Freddy is from Quito.  This is unusual because generally the flow of labor is away from the scarcity of jobs along the Amazon and into the city.  However, Freddy had always worked in food service, and his employer in Quito would dock his wages an hour or even more if he was only five minutes late or for other minor infractions.  His aunt lives in the Amazon, and when she told him about the job at the Yarina Lodge, he came and took it. 

He works, to an American mind, very hard.  Seven days a week, he sets up, serves and clears breakfast, lunch and dinner.   He washes dishes (by hand; the generator for electricity runs only from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM and is for the use of the guests), and he works the bar in the evenings.  He makes much better money than he did in Quito, and the employers are fair.  He works three weeks at the lodge, and on the fourth week, he goes to visit his family in Quito.  He misses his brothers (or perhaps brothers and sisters, the word being the same in Spanish), but he is so much happier with this good job.

I told Freddy that we had always wanted to go to the Galapagos, and we were headed there next.  Freddie said the Galapagos were really beautiful.  He had not been there himself, but his grandmother told him so.  With deep sadness, he told me his grandmother was now dead.

I told Freddie I was 65 years old, and maybe when he was 65, he would get to go, too.  He grinned and agreed that was possible; being 22, he certainly hoped he didn’t have to wait that long.   

These are all the things I talked about with Freddy on the veranda of the Yarina Lodge.  At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what we said.  In the end I told him again how good his drinks were.  I said, “Freddy, usted es el Rey de Pisco Sours!”  He laughed, got up and went back to doing the dishes. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lost and Found in Ecuador

The Ecuadorean Amazon, the Galapagos, all under the safe wing of knowledgeable naturalists.  Whee, we're off!

It's not that the Amazon is hot; it's the humidity that kills you.  Dripping with sweat five minutes after showering, the guide plunked us into canoes, and we were off to the quitude of Tapoche Lake.  Quiet except for the flock of five Hoatzin (five is a flock, isn't it?), direct descendants  of dinosaurs, that followed us.  Quietude?  Hoatzin are supposed to be shy, but they squawked and scolded us all around the misty lake.  We’d lost our camera or forgotten to pack it, who could tell at this point, so I am pulling a picture off the internet.  I can't decide if they're beautiful or funny-looking.

So much more colorful than my imaginings of prehistoric fauna.

When I found our camera (in the bottom of the suitcase where I’d looked a hundred times, I swear), I lost my flashlight . (I read by it when the electricity went out at 10 the night before, so it had to be SOMEWHERE, didn't it?)  Our guide took us to a Quechen community -- a few raised platform homes and a one room school)  where we walked to a 100-year-old Kapok tree,  the prototype  for the Tree of Life in Avatar. 
No blue people flew over our heads, just the blue, blue sky. 
We had a native Quechen lunch of grilled fish wrapped in leaves with a dessert of grilled grubs.

Before we cooked them, they crawled around on this leaf.
AFTER we grilled them, they tasted just like bacon. 
(These were being prepared for sale at the town market.)

Back at the lodge, I looked above the shelf and below my bed, but it turned out that when I 'd returned from the bathroom half asleep in the middle of the night, I’d put my flashlight away in the dry bag.  Who knew I was so responsible?  The next day, we boated back to the mainland and took the tour bus back to Quito over the Andes.  We stopped at the Guango Lodge which is a hummingbird sanctuary.  Hummingbirds were all over the place!  They move pretty fast, so the picture's a bit fuzzy.
If you’re a  Dr. Seuss fan, you will appreciate that this one, with its long tail,
reminded me of the vain Lola-lee-lou. 

We arrived in Quito, dizzy from the altitude, in time to eat dinner and send clothes out for overnight laundry.  In the morning we re-packed and flew to the Galapagos.   The dock in San Cristobal was alive with sea lions. 
This baby was still nursing when we came back to town several hours later.

Our cabin was rife with clever storage [unlike the hotel in Quito where we simply tossed things around in our luggage leading to the previous post on losing my phone (see May 9)].  In unpacking, I found a black shirt that I’d forgotten I'd packed.  
Our first stop was on South Plaza, a tiny island with the giant tortoise preserve.  It was tortoise mating season, and the females hunkered down while the males roamed.  When the males come across a female, any female, they climb on, maybe from the side, maybe from the front -- they have pretty small brains --but eventually they get it right.  When they are successful, they give a loud groan:  UNGH!   (Apart than a whoosh of air that rushes out when they withdraw into their shells for protection, it’s the only sound they make.)  The groans resounded intermittently all over the preserve.  Men!


FThree female tortoises doubtless discussing their dating prospects.

Normally the Booby is a dopey-looking bird with duck’s feet that phosphoresce pale blue, 

Their feet are very, very blue.

but the following day, our group, distributed in two dinghies, found ourselves in the middle of a Blue Footed Booby feeding frenzy.  Above us, a mass of maybe 100 Boobies sighted a school of fish below.  They swooped clockwise around us and, one by one, pointed their toes, tucked in their wings and turned themselves into arrows, long beak first.  They plunged three meters for breakfast.
The one toward your left is streamlined and diving.

Now and then one had rest on the rocks.
Booby and friend (a Galapagos penguin)

We snorkeled almost every afternoon, and the ship sailed to the next islandevery night.  One night as we began to haul out, I realized I’d forgotten to retrieve our bathing suits from the line up on deck.  I went up to get them so they wouldn’t blow out and be lost at sea.  One of the sailors on a break motioned me to look over the back deck.  Sea lions were following the ship, twisting and leaping out of the water.  They were jumping after small blue flying fish, snapping them out of the air and swallowing them whole.  I was so tired, I didn’t even think to go to our cabin and get my camera.  Instead I will show you a picture of the Greater Flamingos on Isabella Island. 

 What is it with the girls in groups of threes?

On our last evening aboard, I ran to our cabin to take a picture of two crew members who were performing a folk dance for us. I pulled the battery  from the charger and popped it in place.  I ran (or rolled, really, the ship was moving, and it was pretty choppy) back to the lounge and aimed.  The screen proclaimed N"o chip."  No chip?  No chip?!!!   What, are you kidding?  No picture of the charming dance?  Wait, I’ve just lost ALL my vacation photos?  Steve opened the camera, and, sure enough, we'd lost the chip.

  I don’t have the folk dance, so here are marine iguanas.  They face the sun in unison. 
They remind me of teenagers in a high school hallway.
The land iguanas are more colorful:  yellow and orange.

 Steve eventually found the chip on the couch.  It must have jiggled loose when I put the battery in and then flipped out onto the cushions when Steve opened the battery case to check.  Good grief!

 Early the next morning sailing to the airport, we circled Daphne Major, the tropic bird mating well, not island, more like large hunk of rock.  We saw lots of tropic birds and also a short eared owl that had wrested a frigate bird from a tropic bird and was eating it's guts.
Tastes just like bacon!
Back in Quito, the night before the flight home, I lost the document case I bought in 1967 for my semester in London which wasn’t too bad as my passport was safely tucked in my pants zipper pocket, but still, lots of memories in that soft piece of leather.  Ah ha!  Found it stuck to the bottom of my Kindle case. 

My self-image as an efficient and organized traveler has taken a blow.  Still, in the end, nothing stayed lost, and I was ready to go home to my light green-eyed pussycat.