Saturday, September 30, 2006

A sagging meerkat middle

Is anyone else blogging about meerkats?

Last night being the Big Night for season 2 of Animal Planet's Meerkat Manor, I taped the first two episodes and we watched this morning during and after breakfast, a Saturday cartoon for adults: cute characters, life lessons, and, alas, a tad dull.

Nothing happened. Perhaps it's the set-up for the rest of the season or Animal Planet and Cambridge University are trying to milk every bit of advertising dollar they can from what I find is an enormously entertaining four-footed soap opera. Love, lust, danger, death... loyalty, backstabbing... it's all there in creatures a foot tall. But these two episodes were also akin to a sagging middle in a novel.

If you write or critique you know what I mean. Authors have to be ever-vigilant to keep up the pace, not dull the reader, make her want to keep turning pages and reading while she cooks dinner, rather than put the book down and find excuses not to return.

Not that I'm giving up. No, I'll be back. But unless the action picks up, I'll be reading the newspaper while I am.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Four-footed felons

After nearly a week, I have finally taken back control of my blog. Now that my four-footed bandit friends have a new country home, I can tell you that Animal Planet's Meerkats are really, really going to start Season 2 on Friday, Sept 30. Check your local listings.

I'm going to patrol the back yard.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

And then there was One...

Two, Two, is that you? Oh, boy, let me get over this fence and across the yard! Two, I thought you were a goner. There was this loud noise and then...

You're not Two. You're Half-Ear Cat. What are you doing eating my chicken? And how did you get it out of the wire box? Well, answer me!


That's my chicken. What nerve. If a cat can get in there and get chicken and get back out, I can, too. My dumb brother, now, he got caught, but not me, nosirree, anything a cat can do, I can do. Just watch!


Hey, cat, you got any wire cutters?

Friday, September 22, 2006

The chicken trap

Oh, look, One, new gizmo with the wire box.

It's a chair, Two.

What's it doing on top of the box?

Holding it down so we can't turn it over again.

No fair! But there's still chicken. I smell chicken!

And it's not tied down.

Cause she tied down the box.

Where are you going, Two?

Chicken! Get the chicken!

I'm telling you, Two, that is not the smartest move. We need to check this out...


One, One, what happened? I can't get the chicken out to you! I can't get out!

One? One? Where are you, One?

All the more for me!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Raccoons 2, Human 0

Ho, hum, is this human not a challenge, or what?

You're asking me?

No, it's a rhetorical question. Last night, the chicken. Remember?

So much fun!

So tell them what we did.

Really? Really? I can tell?

Are you really a raccoon?

Of course I am. Can't you see my mask?

We are wasting the public's reading time. Tell already.

There's the wire box. And there's chicken. And it's tied and we get it.

Is that all you have to say? That's all you remember?

We got the chicken. The human didn't get us.

We turned the wire box on its side. We pulled the string and the chicken out of the holes.


I give up.

Raccoon One and Two

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Raccoons 1, Human 0

Wish you could have seen the look on her face!

Priceless! It was priceless!

She just stood there!

Mouth open!

The trap wasn't sprung.

Door wide open, wide open!

Like your mouth! What is it, an echo?

I'm just agreeing with you!

Well, stop it! I'm trying to get our story straight!

I'm not stopping you.

I'll start again. There she stood on the steps. It was barely light.

We shoulda been in bed already.

Are you quite finished?


Good! We didn't spring the trap--and we took the chicken parts and the yellow cup and we left the cup on the other side of the patio. And we didn't spring the trap! Don't you have anything to add?


Raccoons One and Two

Monday, September 18, 2006

A change is due

Since Raccoons One and Two are off sleeping for the day, I have temporarily wrested the blog from them.

This is a bit of a rant: When I pay cash at a store, I'm tired of being handed back all my change at once, a handful of wadded bills and loose coins with the receipt stuck in the middle. I'm sure you know what I mean. Sometime in the last 20 years, the art of handing back change has been cut out in the name of expediency. Except it's not, because I'm not expedient.

There are two factors at work here: the rush to get on to the next customer and the fact that the modern counter, such as at a discount store or a grocery, has been shortened. Customer One can no longer gracefully slide down a bit in order for the next person in line to be in line with the clerk. There's no where to go. If you have a buggy, you can turn and stuff your money into your wallet, but you're standing there in someone's way. If there are enough groceries and the store offers the service of carrying your purchase to your car, you're stuffing while they're waiting on you!

Whatever happened to handing back the coins (as in counting them), plunk! into the coin purse, then handing back the currency (counted of course), slide! into the wallet. Receipt next, or, "Would you like the receipt in the bag?" (They ask the latter with purchase at a deparment store. Didn't realize what a lost, nice touch it was until now.)

So how have I responded to this gradual decline in manners and service? I have become slow. I stand there and put my coins up. I do not toss them into the bottom of my bag. I put the currency where it belongs. I place the receipt in a bag which I probably have to open in order to do. I will do this my way.

And what's the next person in line to be doing? Wait for me. Because I guarantee you I recognize the symptoms of a person ahead of me who has had it with rushed-service and I will wait for them. I'm not saying that if we all waited for the person ahead of us to accomplish what should be service-oriented, that the stores would get the hint. They won't. The counters are short and the service perfunctory for a reason. And it's not like I can go elsewhere because it's the same everywhere.

So I have become slow and deliberate and I invite you to do the same.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Raccoon Diary, Day 1

This is a great backyard in which to frolic after dark. There's cat food and water. There's a cushioned chair and a swing. Two big trees and lots of flower beds to play hide-and-seek in. So, why are we, Raccoon One and Raccoon Two, suddenly suspicious of the big wire box with sunflower seeds in it?

We like sunflower seed. Some times. We like cat food better. So we hit the box and there was a loud noise and that was that for the evening. We left. But we came back the next night. More food. More water. Same box. This time we just left our little muddy footprints all over the patio and back steps.

Like we're going into that box? Not for sunflower seed, we're not.

One and Two, who have taken over this blog

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Those rascally raccoons

It is the job--nay, the very duty--of housecats Tux and Pye to patrol the perimeter and keep us safe at all times from misdirected crickets, moths, and their ilk. Outside noises do not normally bother either of them, so when Pye started growling from the safety of the foot of the bed last night, I peeked above the covers. His ears were canted forward and his whiskers twitching. I knew the noise I had tossed off as irrelevant, was not.

The motion light was on in the backyard and I cautioned the boys to keep the bedroom safe--no, no need to follow and protect me--and I would creep down the stairs and check out the disturbance. I got more than I bargained for.

Separating the blinds at the back door, I was amazed to see not one, but two, young raccoons playfully eating the outdoor cat's vituals and cavorting in her spilled water bowl. I knocked on the window. No response. I might as well not have existed. I opened the window and talked to them. Perhaps they were deaf. I beat on the window sill and finally got the response I was seeking: they scattered to a nearby tree and raced up to the fork of it.

Keep in mind, I LIVE DOWNTOWN. This is not the country. This isn't even the edge of town. This is a neighborhood lined with houses dating, as does mine, to almost 100 years ago. We are entrenched. And so, it would seem, is the wild life.

This is not my first rodeo where the raccoon population is concerned. Eleven years ago, I began a year-long mission of trapping one very nimble and smart raccoon. His little raccoon paws could open our magnetic cat door and he could toss such door halfway across the backyard while he waltzed into my kitchen and helped himself to the catfood. When I figured out what was causing all the ruckus with the food and water, I trapped him immediately. And he just as promptly escaped from it. Ten months later (but who's counting?) he became so bold as to come into the kitchen while I was eating breakfast.

It took three nights, and some contortions on my part, to tie a pork rib to both the top and bottom of a live trap before I outsmarted him. (The first night he got the rib without tripping the trap. The second night, when I was so clever I tied it in, he pulled the rib through the mesh and ate it, leaving the bone neatly on top.) We released him in the country, no doubt bolstering that population's clever raccoon quotient.

Within months of this, I also trapped three others, a mother and two babies. The latter really were too easy, but then, they had no business marauding around the charcoal grill when I was cooking!

It has since been raccoon-silent in my backyard until this summer. About a month ago, at dusk, I watched a very large fellow walk the perimeter of my fence and pass me by. Sometimes in the mornings, the cat's water bowl is dirt-filled or spilled. I knew they were back.

'Tis time they had a country home. I'll keep you up-to-date on how long it takes me to outsmart them.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A siren's song

Sirens--fire, ambulance, and police--are part of the background of my life. We live near a downtown area, where all of these are headquartered. Unless it's late at night or they're passing in front of the house (a hazard of living where we do), I hardly hear them any more.

But as a child, sirens were big news. Did they occur less frequently or were they more exciting to me, along the lines of something-has-happened-someone-will-fix-it-I-wonder-what-and-who? As young adults, we lived on the ambulance path to a major hospital, so sirens were merely what disturbed our sleep.

Yet to this day, the haunting strains of sirens remind me of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. I have seen it so many times that the original viewing is a lost memory--and I would have been too young to have remembered much anyway. But my mother would have had no problem taking us to this piece of suspense. We were to be asleep in the back of the stationwagon while she and Daddy listened through the speaker at the drive-in. (This was also to be the case for Psycho, but I watched enough of it to be concerned with showers.) Jimmy Stewart has his camera's eye trained on the apartment's courtyard and in the background, there are sirens and music and the sounds of the city and the voices of neighbors. Behind him, in the apartment, all is fairly quiet, unless Thelma Ritter is lecturing him.

But should we become inurred to the siren's song? I think not. Somewhere, someone has wanted or needed help and someone else is responding. I think I had it right as a child.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Reestablishing my purpose

It's fine to have as a purpose to this blog a place to put the words I have but that don't fit in the current work-in-progress, otherwise known as the wip. It's fun for me to sit down and "warm up" my writing by posting whatever random thoughts have coursed through my mind that day. But I think I need a grander purpose also, so I am, two weeks into this, reworking my own rules.

My father has dementia. It has robbed my sister, myself, and his grandchildren of any meaningful relationship with him in his elder years. I chronicled my feelings quite clearly in this column I wrote in June 2006 for the North Texas e-News. I've had more feedback from it than from any other I've done. I am not alone in my frustration with this.

But sometimes, the everyday happenings with Daddy are funny. A friend from church works where he lives. He approached her the other day and asked if she knew his daughter, Kay Sisk. She told me in church this morning that she replied 'yes' with a smile. "Then," he said, "tell her to get her ass out here and bring me my clothes!"

This is humorous on so many levels. He has plenty of clothes out there. Half the time he and his roommate have switched them amongst themselves in their wardrobes. He has yet to be wearing his own jacket. The Maui baseball cap belongs to his roommate. It's disappeared as of late, so perhaps the man in the next bed has reclaimed his property.

Sometimes Daddy is insightful. I had blisters on my little toes the other day, the result of wearing a favorite pair of dress sandals that have never bothered me before. The man sitting on the bed rightfully informed me that I was wearing too many open-toed sandals and my feet were getting too fat. There is no answer to that.

Oftentimes, though, it is sad. Yesterday, after belaboring the fact that his business was doing okay and that he could afford to stay where he was, he asked what Velta was doing. Velta is my mother, who died 9 years ago. This is not the first time he has forgotten this rather salient fact, although usually it is Mother he has forgotten. He was stunned to learn that not only was she dead, but his second wife also. He couldn't recall either funeral, but I assured him he had attended.

So once a week, I want to write about Daddy and the world he lives in. Alas, we all have the potential to be there too.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Taking responsibility

We've been in a drought for the last two summers, with the wet (every weekend it rained!) February not helping a bit in the long term. The area lakes are dry, watering restrictions are the norm and not the exception, and I can't think of a county without a burn ban.

And it's our fault. How do I know this? We landscaped.

June 2005 we decided the time had come to update the old look. The house was built in 1918 and I wouldn't have been to surprised to learn that some of the landscaping harkened to that date. It was at least 35 years old and we'd met the gardener who remembered planting the roses in the 50s. So in comes the landscaper and out goes the old look.

The front beds were widened and outlined with white rock. Gone were the huge nandinas and bushes of unknown name. Although fearing they wouldn't survive, we transplanted the roses to the backyard. (They are still with us, although struggling.) Gone too was the dichotomy that was our east-facing front curb appeal: the north side of the walk did not match in any way, shape, or form the south. (I now know why. Read on.) We became balanced, except for two items of interest, a small Japanese lacy maple (something like that) and a bush. A little rain and we'd be set.

Except there was no water, at least not unless we supplied it. And we did. Copiously. Made no difference. Come the fall, the landscaper comes back, tsk-tsks over our not watering (I rushed to defend us), and replants the dead and dying on the south side. The north side items have survived and if not thrived, are at least saved from being plucked up and replaced. Why have they survived? The pecan tree shades them and the angle of the house keeps them out of the afternoon sun. I should have figured that out myself but with different plants originally there, I hadn't. I have new respect for the misshapen tree.

I felt bad for all the little half-alive flora being carted away. I was willing to give them a chance, let them come back from the roots. But no, they had to go. The place had to look better. And it did in the winter rains.

Then it warmed up and, not taking a page from our lesson book, we landscaped some more, the back and side yards this time.

Hate to say it, but this year's lack of rain was even worse. And the temperatures--over 40 days above 100. Then there was the watering restriction in August, just recently lifted. What's a flower bed to do but die?

And some of it has. But with the exception of 2, well maybe 3 or 4, very dead bushes, I'm going to hold out and not let the rest be plucked up. I'm going to root for the roots, so to speak. Maybe by not planting anything new again, I can stave off the third year of drought, or at least blame it on somebody else's ill-timed landscaping.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Chickening Out

It's not that I don't care for chicken. I do. It's a most versatile meat and valued highly around my table. But too much of a good thing has caused a temporary rift in my like of it.

My husband was recently out of town for a week. While there's an up-side to this (100% control of the remote), there's also a down: I don't cook like I should. 'Balanced' and 'meal' aren't drawn together. I get by with omelets and cereal and eating out.

But I was determined to do better and so I bought a rotisserie chicken from the Wal-Mart deli. At just under $4, it's a bargain with little comparison. It's good and it's worth more than one meal.

Way more.

Sunday: I buy the chicken, take it home, and while it's still hot, treat myself to a leg quarter, a hard-boiled egg, and cheddar cheese.

(Okay, one would think I would lose weight on such paltry fare. One would be WRONG.)

Monday: Lunch, I have half a chicken breast, egg, cheddar. (I've found a really good Wisconsin cheddar.) Monday night I'm invited to friends' where not only do they serve marinated, grilled chicken, but I get a goodie-bag to take home.

Tuesday: Lunch is out. Dinner is from the goodie-bag. You know the rest of the menu.

Wednesday: Sensing a weak link in my friend-base, I take the rest of the deli chicken to a friend's house where we're working on library bazaar projects. She's delighted with the prospect of chicken, warms up her veggie leftovers and we dig in. I take home half a chicken. Still. What nerve of her not to eat her half.

Dinner: I take the rest of the goodie-bag chicken and make a salad. Yum!

Thursday: Lunch out. Dinner out. No chicken.

Friday: I've had it with the deli bird. I peel the breast meat off (there's still a leg quarter) and fight the house cats off of it because they're on a diet. Then I take the carcass, pick the meat off for the outside cat, and dump the rest, bones and all, in the area I've reserved for the marauding neighborhood animals: cats, possums, raccoons.

The chicken is gone. YES!

Friday night: omelet anyone?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reader vs. Writer

Until I started writing, I don't think I was a reader any different than any other. I liked what I liked and that changed with my age. After I left the Nancy Drew/Five Little Peppers stage in grade school, I ventured toward scifi. In high school, I stayed with that and added Thomas Costain's historicals, Mary Stewart's romantic suspense, and theatrical plays. I like reading plays, although the last one I recall turning the pages on was over twenty years go. In college, I read what was assigned and since it didn't figure into any of the above categories, I got through it. The exception would be the Pamela vs. Moll Flanders assignment I got to pick for myself. I voted for Moll, and I really, really wish I still had that piece of writing.

The early married years found me in thrall of Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss. I inhaled their historical romances and learned to read and cook at the same time, a skill I still have. I followed all this up with Amanda Quick and LaVyrle Spencer. Then I tried my own hand at writing, and my reading was never the same.

All of a sudden I was a critic. Never a fast reader (I blame the college science because I read for comprehension), I became bogged down in typos (granted, probably not the author's fault), inconsistencies (weren't her eyes blue at the beginning of the book?), and plot vagaries (oh, come on--nobody will believe that!) One book was so bad, I started marking the pages!

But writing made me a critical reader, a good news, bad news proposition for sure. It helped when I judged contests for
unpublished authors. It made me wince when I went back and read my own work, whether from last year or last month. Couldn't I have said that better? Or used fewer words? Being electronically published, I get the final chance to reread my book for the above typos. Hopefully, the inconsistencies and plot vagaries have been caught at the editorial level.

Has writing taken some of the joy out of reading? A bit perhaps, but oh, when a book is so well done that I'm not drawn out of the story for anything--even supper!--then my hat's off to the author. I send her an email to tell her so, and I'm looking for the next book before I've finished this one.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Clothing Conundrum

Here in North Texas, we have suffered through our second year of drought and the dubious honor of having over 40 days this year where the temp topped 100. This may get us into the record books ("Remember the summer of aught-six?") but it is hardly brag-worthy.

The lawns, landscaping, and lakes have not been the only things to suffer. Consider if you will, the summer wardrobe.

Air conditioning aside, when it's hot outside, it's warm-ish in. I don't dress for the temperture of my house, but for the outside, where I periodically have to go. And to be quite frank, there are just so many selections in a summer wardrobe that are worthy of 100+. I'm tired of lightweight crop pants which I roll even higher. I've worn my (admittedly) two favorite pair of sandals to the point they should be retired. And I would if I thought I could buy another pair on clearance now for next year. I've managed to take my tank top collection down to the bare bones as I've spilled, gardened-in-vain, and barbecued my way through it. The survivors are looking worn.

I looked forward to weather in the 90s (how to make 95 seem cool--have two straight weeks over 100) and the chance to wear my late summer wardrobe, the one with a few autumn colors thrown in for good measure and collars on the blouses.

So what's the problem? The 100s are gone. It would appear so are the 90s. Not that I think for an instant they won't sneak in the back door for another attack. But we have plummeted into the 80s for the last several days. What is this--sweater weather?

Men put on a pair of khakis and a golf shirt and call it done from 60 degrees on up. Women fiddle with sleeves--none, cap, three-quarter, full--, length of crop, length of shorts, lightweight knit, heavier knit, scoop neck, collar. Choice is good. This isn't a complaint, just an observation. So if you see me in something that's seen better days, you'll know the temp is up again. Just don't ask what the stain is.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rise and Shine!

I was up early this morning. Well, I'm always up early. I like early. Whether by training (there was no late sleeping under my mother's roof) or natural inclination, to sleep past 7 is to waste half the day. But today not only was I up early, I was out.

A friend and I exchange cat-sitting/house-watching duties. This saves our kitties the indignity of being caged at the vet's or left to their own devices (a horrible thought) over the weekend. So when I'm taking care of hers, I go to her house before the rest of the world is up.

I like to be out before everyone else is. Not out when it's still dark, but out as the sun is peeking over the horizon. Out when the world still shows all its possibilities for the day, before the harsh reality of schools and going to work take over.

When I was a child, my dad couldn't start a vacation at a normal hour, like eight in the morning. No, going on vacation meant loading the car the night before, then dragging my sister and I out at four! My parents had it figured that if we were asleep in the back of the Studebaker stationwagon (before there were seatbelts), then they could make time while the rest of the world slept. We could also make it to the normal first stop of somewhere in Indiana by midnight. We'd spend several days with Daddy's army buddy and his family, but we wouldn't sleep late.

In college, I pulled my share of sleeping until noon, but it didn't fit so I abandoned it. Now, whether I have anything planned or not, I'm up before six. My day just works better that way. Light or dark, hot or cold, I'm on the move.

Of course, there's the other side of the coin. If one rises and shines early, one also slows down early. "If you soar with the larks, you can't hoot with the owls." That's me, Sisker the Lark.

Married, of course, to an owl. But that's another blog.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Window on the World

Back when smoking in restaurants was the norm and not the exception, and restaurants kept matchbooks as a matter of course, we would pick one up as we left for one of two reasons. Either we would have really liked the place and knew we'd not remember it otherwise, particularly if we were traveling, or we'd take the matches because we might need them in the RV.

Once our RV days were over, I gathered all the matchbooks, and loathe to throw them away, I put them in a box. Said box disappeared into a drawer and wasn't retrieved until we remodeled the kitchen 5 years ago. Then it found its way to another drawer. Last year, in need of matches for the patio candles, I reached in and grabbed a few books and never thought one way or the other where they were from.

So when we were entertaining our English in-laws, Chris and Ian, one fine September night last year, and we needed to light the citronella candles to discourage the mosquitoes (a vain attempt to be sure), I tossed a book to Ian. He's more curious than I and questioned my choice. Did I really want to use these? and he tossed them back.

1985. August. We were traveling to DC for the obligatory family tour of the Smithsonian, et al, and one of our stops was to visit friends in Ft. Monmouth, NJ. They had arranged for a babysitter for our collective four sons and had tickets to "Cats" at the Winter Garden. From there, we'd taxi down to the World Trade Center and have dinner at Windows on the World.

"Cats" was a delight and a much more personal show than when we would eventually see it in Dallas at the State Fair Musical Hall. The Winter Garden was small and intimate--and the cats were very close! I still smile thinking of it.

Riding the elevator up to the restaurant was a bit intimidating, but nothing like the maitre' d who wished to seat us against a back wall in the near-empty restaurant! Our friend gave him a tip "up front" and we got a window table. The Statue of Liberty was undergoing reconstruction so all we could see was scaffolding--but from the top down! I can't remember what we ate, probably steak, but I do know we've always chalked that day up to one of our most perfect ones, the lesson in commerce notwithstanding!

The playbill from "Cats" is gone, as is the ticket stub. The friends are divorced. The RV was sold. But in my hand last year I held the last remaining physical evidence we'd ever been there--and I put it away somewhere safe. I tossed Ian a book of matches I'd bought at Wal-Mart and was glad that every once in a while, it's okay to be a sentimental pack rat.