Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So This is Christmas...

...and what have I done? (Besides not update my blog in six months?)

I am enjoying reading all of the Christmas missives that come to me from around the globe, and apparently I haven’t done a Christmas update for a while. It seems I’ve set the bar pretty high a few years ago, and now that I’m back in the United States, back in my home state, hometown, and very nearly the home I grew up in, there’s almost a sense of “nothing to report.” All systems are normal.

Two years ago this coming February I began my new career as what I like to think of as a “paid Peace Corps volunteer” in my hometown. I am a faculty member with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension system, a university “agent” or “Extension educator” in the Department of Family Living. Perhaps best known for the nation-wide 4-H or agricultural agent program, the university extension system has long (100 years in 2012 in Wisconsin) served as the university’s outreach arm from the campuses to the everyman around the State. Cooperative Extension has gone through a lot of changes over the last century, not in the least thanks to the emergence of the Internet and Google. My role a few years ago would have been as a “home economist” helping housewives select the best stove for their kitchen or explain the best way to get ring-around-the-collar out of shirts. We don’t do that anymore (and thank goodness, because I wouldn’t have lasted long!). Now my job is almost as difficult to explain as a Peace Corps volunteer’s. So, I won’t even try.

But, it has given me the opportunity for several firsts in this last year. It began in January with my first time teaching parenting classes. I guess this could be considered a promotion over teaching sex ed and HIV prevention to teenagers in Africa and Asia, but no less ironic. The Raising a Thinking Child curriculum is very interesting and almost – almost – makes me think it would be fun to have a kid to try some of this stuff out on.

Another first is live radio. Twice during this last year I had the opportunity to sit on a panel for an hour-long live radio forum…which then got me roped into joining the host of our local independent public radio station in pitching for their pledge drives. Now there’s something I never thought I’d ever do. I have yet to pitch for the polka show, however!

The next first was becoming a Master Food Preserver and exploring the big world of canning and dehydrating. One part of the “home economist” part of my job that does remain – and is gaining interest rapidly – is the art of home canning and food preserving. So, in order to be able to field the questions that come into our office about canned foods, I took the Master Food Preserver training taught by our state food safety specialist. It was a fabulous training, and enough to get a staunch anti-home economist like me to go out and buy a waterbath canner, pressure canner and food dehydrator all of my own (and inspire me to clean out a part of the basement to create a pantry). So, thanks to farmer friends, a good year for blackberries, and the UWEX food preservation publications, I put up tomato sauce, tomatoes, jams, zucchini everything, pickled watermelon rind, random vegetables, and chocolate raspberry ice cream sauce that I’m now enjoying all winter long.

Some of this year’s firsts have nothing at all to do with work. When I’m not working (and I’m still careful to not do too much of that), I’m usually busy making musical noises with various groups. I still play French horn, and now play in two community bands, two brass quintets (one in the winter only), an occasional community big band, and, this last year, a old silver cornet brass band. So my first for this year was learning to play (and transpose for, when necessary) the Eb alto upright horn, also known as a peck horn.

But French horn is still my first instrument, and this year I was blessed with the miraculous arrival of two more amazing horn players in our area. Our community band is now up to five (count them, five!) horns. Then, as another first, three of us got together to “ring the bells” for the Salvation Army Kettle, performing Christmas duets in the entry way to Shopko – much to the amusement of a large number of shoppers.

Also in musical firsts this year was my first Luther College reunion, which was also the first Luther College Concert Band reunion. Over 250 Concert Band alumni filled the stage to perform once again under the direction of the retired Weston Nobel and retiring Frederick Nyline. It was a sheer thrill to be smack in the middle of a 25 member horn section and to see so many faces from my college days – and to get to almost room with my college roommate of four years – again. (And yes, Callista Gingrich, wife of Newt Gingrich, was there in our horn section, and then, by extremely random chance, I encountered them afterwards coming out of a McDonalds in a town a hundred miles north where I stopped to steal free wi-fi - you can read about her take on the event here.)

Another first came when I took time off of work and flew out to San Francisco. Fellow Madagascar RPCV Kelsey Lynd picked me up from the airport and wisked me off deep into the glorious redwoods and took me on the longest HASH I’ve ever experienced – my first official half-marathon, and my first time doing a half marathon covering more than 3500 feet in elevation gain. Yeah, I hurt for the rest of my time in San Fran, but that didn’t stop me from doing a second half-marathon around the city from Golden Gate Park, to the bridge, down the warf, through the financial district and on. Perfect weather, amazing trip.

Wow, rereading all that amazes me. It seems I haven’t done much simply because I have been “home” all this time, but I am still managing to find firsts around most corners. And 2012 holds promise for even more firsts that I look forward to reflecting on next year.

In the meantime, I hope 2011 has brought you much to learn from and explore, and you have my best wishes for a 2012 full of happy firsts. May your life in the next year be full and satisfying, and may you find riches in all that comes your way and in all that you do.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

That's disturbing...

Anybody who has been to the house I currently live in knows about the patch of rather unsightly, well-tracked, mangy gold-colored carpet in the middle of the house. That patch of carpet that, for reasons of asbestos and other things apparently more hazardous than noxious 30-year-old shag, can't be removed at this time. You also know that really, I couldn't care less what happens to it, other than doing what is necessary to prevent it from becoming a complete biohazard.

So when these tracks appeared on the carpet, I was hardly motivated to race off for the bleach bucket and rags to deal with them.

A week ago, my parents showed up at my place with an ice cream cake to celebrate the 4th of July. The cake was your standard Dairy Queen variety with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, some chocolate crunchies inside, and decorated with some appropriate red-white-and-blue-yay-for-freedom design. We sat and ate our cake under the watchful eye of our 8-year-old Labradoodle, who was determined he wasn't going to let a plate go without a proper cleaning to ensure complete consumption of all served ice cream.

He completed his own patriotic duty well enough, but we didn't notice that in the process of getting every last lick, he had placed his paw on one or more plates now covered in melted blue frosting. Then he trekked off across the gold carpet shag.

As I said, I wasn't disturbed. Frosting, whatever.

But today I made an attempt to decontaminate the carpet, and the blue paw-print stayed. Even after some extra rubbing, they didn't so much as smear. Now, I couldn't care less what happens to this carpet, and no, I did not run off for the toxic cleaning chemicals. The point is: what on earth are they putting in this blue frosting and where is it in my body now? Do I need to drink some bleach in order to get it unstuck from my own insides? If it permanently stains a carpet, do I want to be putting this stuff in my body?

I'm filing this under Things I Don't Want To Think About, except that now every time I walk through the house, I think about it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Silver Screen Peeve

Last night I went to see the movie, "Water for Elephants." I had enjoyed the book, and heard that the movie followed it fairly well. I will not be making any sort of movie review other than to say I'm glad I saw it, but it's not going on my "buy to keep" DVD list.

However, it did again highlight two peeves about movies, especially movies of late.

1. What's up with the mumbling? Either my hearing is going already, the sound system in the theaters I attend sucks/I'm getting spoiled by watching DVDs on my laptop with headphones in, or, more likely, I think, actors and directors seem to think that speaking quickly in an monotone while there's a noisy soundtrack underneath is somehow more dramatic. Instead, I spend my whole time straining to understand half of the more informative conversations, especially those critical to the storyline.

2. Details, folks. Water for Elephants is set in a Depression-era fictional circus that aimed to outdo the infamous Ringling Brothers Greatest Show on Earth. At least two major scenes in the second half of the movie featured the grand entry and spectacular of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, with all the big acts parading into the big top to the accompaniment of the circus band playing the entrance march. The march used in the movie is the immediately recognizable, Barnum and Bailey's Favorite. Well, except Barnum and Bailey's circus was by that time merged into the Ringling Bros.

The venomous attitude of the owner of the fictional Benzini Bros. would have never have allowed that march to be played in his circus, even if it was out of fashion with Ringling Brothers at that time. How simple would it have been to create a new fictional circus march instead of stealing one that is so recognizable and so completely and totally wrong? Yes, it's a small thing, but the devil is in the details.

Perhaps that small inattention to such details is an indication of why this movie is not going on my all-time favorites list.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday with Tom and Jerrys

cartoons. Not the drinks. (Wrong holiday.)

We began our Easter Sunday with seven adults watching a classic Tom and Jerry cartoons. Seven adults (and no children) snorting, giggling, chuckling, guffawing, and choking in response to the non-verbal, slap-stick humor that is essential to the mid-20th century cartoons.

When the cartoon ended, we turned our attention to the real-life action of Wrangler and Olivia, the never-ending amusement of our own cat-and-dog chase. Walnut, the flying squirrel (and Bullwinkle) are still safely up in Three Lakes.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Things I Don't Want to Know

It seems everybody's after you to make your life better by getting you to quantify your sins: count calories, track spending, measure the distance you walked/ran/biked, etc., etc., etc.

Well, as of right now there are a few things I just don't want to know.

1. How many hours of "screen time" I rack up in a day.

A "screen" might be anything electronic and glowing that we stare at for work or entertainment, but I know full well that 80% of my "screen time" comes from communing with my trusty MacBook and 15% more comes from the time spent staring at my ancient work desktop PC (though most of that is spent staring at the screen waiting for the machine to DO something already, but still, I'm looking at the screen). And between time spent in productivity, personal and work-related, and time spent in sloth, personal and work-related, adds up to too many hours per day. I just don't want to know how many.

2. How many miles driven vs. miles walked in a week (corollary: number of hours spent in a car vs. doing just about anything else, especially walking).

I commute. And I drive around in general for personal and work reasons. Unlike my past lives overseas where most of my daily locomotion was under the power of my own legs, now I rely on 160 horses to get me where I am going the vast majority of the time. I do not want to know how much of my soul I have traded for this convenience.

3. Friendship and relationship hours lost due to my inability to correspond on a regular basis.

How many times have I put off writing that letter/e-mail/thank you note/invitation/etc., to the point of irrelevance?

4. Number of Recommended Daily Servings of fruits and vegetables and Recommended Daily Allowances vitamins and minerals I have not consumed.

I'm still here, aren't I? But at what price down the road? I don't want to know.

5. Hours of brain cell potential lost to unproductive meetings, needless waiting and wading through bureaucracy, technology failures and troubleshooting computer-related incidents, bad movies or books, and my own laziness and procrastination habits.

Enough said.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Signs of Our Times

Today, as I drove out of my parents' driveway, I rather unexpectedly encountered a schoolmate's elderly grandmother, out for a stroll in the winter sunshine. As I waved and slowly drove around her, it occurred to me that it had been a long time since I had seen these signs that formerly greeted every person to drive up our block:

There simply aren't that many young children, slow or otherwise, running wild in the streets anymore. Instead, as our neighborhood increasingly reflects the demographic of our whole county and the northern half of the state, soon it will be time to replace those signs with something more like this:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Out of Sync

I often feel out of sync with the man-made universe. When I am doing a job that requires some amount of creativity, planning or thinking, I am stifled by the 9-to-5, Monday through Friday routine. My creative energies ebb and flow according to some plan that doesn’t align itself well with what we’ve defined as a “normal” workweek.

Two things this week have disrupted my work energy: the transition from daylight savings time last weekend and now a mandated furlough day this coming Monday, forcing me to take a three day weekend now.

I am extremely sensitive to daylight, so when the hour shift in time came this week, I wound up oversleeping. Usually I wake up easily without the help of an alarm (though I keep one set just in case), but this week I never even heard the alarm at 6 AM. I slept soundly and comfortably until 6:45 or, one day 7:10. Oops.

But once I got up and got going, I discovered I was energized to do my job. This week was a lot of deskwork, but I came back motivated from a three-day conference last week. I had several productive meetings and encounters during the week, and I felt things clicking into place. After several long days at the office, I was accomplishing things.

And then Friday night arrived and it all came to a screeching halt. Being interrupted by a normal weekend is bad enough, but being interrupted by a three day weekend ending in a day where you’re not allowed to do any work at all is, right now, torture.

And to think of all those weeks when I so desperately needed a three day break. There are times for all of us when time away from the office would do us more good than time at the office. This isn’t one of them. Sure, I could go in on Saturday or even Sunday, no rules against that, and I did bring work home just in case, but it’s almost too late. The curtain has fallen, and the flow interrupted. Knowing I can’t work on Monday and that I should try to be otherwise productive with my allowed time off has killed my momentum.

I pray for the wisdom that some day I will have the confidence to follow my energies. That when I need time away doing other things, when I am being energized by life outside of work, that I will allow myself to follow, knowing full well that the energy for work will come again, and I will more than make up for the time off by being fully focused and many times more productive. And, to be able to find a way to do it in a place that doesn’t believe in alarm clocks, but allows me to track my day by the rising and the setting of the sun.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Tiny Bubbles, in the Ice...

On Friday I broke out my flip flops, pinned a flower in my hair, donned a lei, and traded in my cabin fever for island fever. Or, at least that was the plan.

Not a bad plan really. Winter’s gotten to that long stretch with a few days that hover around freezing and sunlight that tantalizes icicles into dripping, only to return to a fresh dose of snow and icy winds the next. So, a nice break from the cold with a contrived Wisconsin Luau seemed just what the doctor ordered. Getting to go to a luau for free as a member of the band (yes, the phrase, “I’m with the band” is a great door opener), even better.

The luau was a local performing art center’s first attempt at a late-winter fundraiser, and again, good in theory, though apparently not so great in practice. They contracted with the award-winning barbeque and rib house across the street to smoke up a couple whole pigs (complete with apples in the mouth), so the menu was fine, and they roped in our newly-formed dance band (made up of members of the community band that practices and performs in the center) to play big band music for dancing after. So far, so good.

But then there was a complete failure to market beyond their audiences, other than a few posters hung around the area. Then, there was the price: $35 per person in advance, $40 at the door. So, for a couple (pretty much a prerequisite for swing dancing), it would be $80 for dinner and a dance. Even that might not be so bad, except for $80, I would expect to be seated at a table filled with fine china and served four full courses by a sexy young thing in a cummerbund and tuxedo, fundraiser or no. Especially since the band was getting paid in food only - heck, I would hope a bottle of wine would be thrown in.

In the week before the big night, word came down that ticket pre-sales had been dismal and there would, in all likelihood, be leftovers. My ticket in and meal would be free, but as they were desperate to fill seats, I cut a deal to buy one ticket if I could bring along two more people who would do some eating and some dancing.

And it’s a good thing I did. In all, there were maybe 30 people there, not including the nine of us in the band, the volunteers and the restaurant serving staff. All of them, it seemed, were in some way intimately connected with the center. All probably would’ve just forked over the $40 apiece as a goodwill gesture and saved them the trouble of printing and distributing posters, making too much food and dragging tables into the hall.

Yet, they gamely put up with an evening of vaguely luau-ish activities and overpriced raffles. They also hung around long enough for us to actually play through our entire program, save for the last set of three songs which accompanied the folding of table cloths and tables. My conscripted dancers did their duty as one third of the couples on the dance floor for most of the evening. At then end they distributed the copious amounts of leftovers - for $30 per doggy bag.

The food was really good, the band received rave reviews, and the atmosphere was rather festive. I really enjoyed playing and the view from the bandstand, though the downside to that is I didn’t get to do any dancing.

I really hope that they reconsider their model for the next time (if there is a next time), halve or even quarter their ticket prices, charge for the food, and then advertise the heck out of the thing (ever heard of the free PSAs on the radio? How about the community events calendars? Facebook? Seriously, Facebook, people), get a haul of raffle items and sell cheap tickets, and continue to convince our not-for-profit band to sing for their supper. I know a lot of people who would come then. This really could be good, folks.

That will help heat up this frozen tundra. And defrost my poor toes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


February 15, 2011. I’ve written that date so many times it should have felt more real. It was the date my passport, my first “adult” one after renewing my original youth passport to go to Japan with the Luther College Concert Band after college graduation, would expire. (Interestingly, this meant the date on my passport was synchronized to the year of my ten-year college reunion.)

The date ticked on, ever closer, like a small time bomb. Yet every time I wrote it on an official document, it loomed off in some great distance of time and space and the general unreality of times that would never come.

But in January it finally hit me. This passport is about to expire. My ten years were up.

Last week I received my renewed passport in the mail. It arrived in a thin USPS priority mail envelope, completely unassuming except for the tiny “US Passport Center” return address stamped in the corner. It was shiny and stiff. The picture looks remarkably like the me in the old one. Apparently I am still that person.

But in the excitement of receiving a new license to wander the world, there was a moment of panic and grief. My old passport was not in the envelop. Gone, it seemed, were 10 years of my life as marked by visa stamps to Japan, China, Brazil, Paraguay, Madagascar, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Stamp dates that told the tale of multiple entries and years spent negotiating customs lines and proving that I was a citizen of the U.S. of A. Suddenly, it seemed as if those years and miles had not happened at all. It was hard to celebrate the arrival of a new passport when the old one suddenly seemed to mean so very little.

Much to my relief, a second envelop, even less assuming than the first, arrived several days later. There, tucked safely inside, was my old passport, officially hole punched, but in every way the well-worn, slightly blurred from being soaked in the Iguazu Waterfall, bloated with extra pages companion it had been for the last ten years.

My new passport bears an even more distant date of February 12, 2021, and has even fewer immediate plans for use than my old passport did when I received it. This passport also comes with a warning that it contains sensitive electronics and I am not to bend, perforate or expose to extreme temperatures. Which makes me wonder if, ten years on, my own sense of adventure is going to become as stiff and sensitive as my new passport. Or if we will both sill wind up bloated with additional pages of visa stamps before our next date of reckoning.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Splitting Hairs

If there is one thing I dislike more than shoe shopping, it is haircuts. Probably the only reason I like them less is because they need to occur on a more regular basis and you don’t really have a chance to try it on before deciding whether you’re going to like it or not.

This also explains why my head of hair has varied in length between six inches and three feet long over the last 15 or so years. While I like it shorter for the efficiency and general agreeability, short requires regular maintenance. And, as my hair grows faster than the average person’s, it requires a lot of maintenance. That means gritting my teeth, walking into a place where a woman is going to force me to sit in a chair, stare a myself in a mirror, ask me questions about how I want to be made to look beautiful (which she will ignore). And then she going to expect me to make small-talk while she proceeds to do things with scissors that I am convinced is going to either leave me bald or looking like I invited a three-year-old to have a go - or both. Then I must pay an exorbitant fee for a result that would have made Picasso proud.

So, long seems like a good way to go. Except that I have an incredibly tiny head (I nearly suffered the humiliation of having to purchase a child’s bike helmet complete with SpongeBob stickers), and my fine, thin hair does not hang gracefully or do anything to balance my proportions. Needless to say, I don’t believe in permanents or other volumizing treatments demanding more money and maintenance.

My usual routine is to rotate through the various stages. I allow my hair to grow out until I get sick of it. I cut it off in frustration and, if I’m in the right place at the right time, I donate it. Then I suffer through the various stages of short until I can just tie it back and ignore it again.

Last week was another final straw. In the panic of minding the Smithsonian exhibit over the last few weeks, my hair had crept to the annoying lengths. Too long to look decent, too short to tie back. No time to do anything about it added to the underlying dislike of haircuts. Finally, on the day the Smithsonian got packed away, I went to do something to control it on its way to longer lengths.

Unfortunately, the stars were aligned exactly against me. My dry hair was full of static and flat, making it appear far worse than even normal. The one girl in the walk-in cuts-for-cheap that had almost become my “regular” stylist wasn’t working. My request for “just a bob, not too short” was promptly ignored leading to a battle of me gently suggesting a modification of the course, and her gaily chatting along and continuing on her path. She was desperate to tease a shape into my hair. My request for a “bob” turned into a sad attempt at a layered, vogue, inverted bob, complete with intensive blowdry and half a can of hairspray.

I’m not an overly demonstrative person, and probably less confrontational than I should be. I gave the results a hesitant benefit of the doubt in hopes that when I went home and washed it, it would be usable.

Not so much. The front hung in my face the annoying way it had before, and the back was short to the point of boy cut. The transition between felt more like the start of an Elizabethan curl-around-the-face do. Or maybe 1920s flapper?

Well, I suffered through a day with it, including a TV interview that broadcast the results to the top quarter of the state and some of the neighboring one. Fortunately I did manage to go and get it “fixed” the following day. Only real damage done was setting back my efforts to grow my hair long enough to tie back by several inches and more months. And it has done little to relieve my apprehensions about going under the scissors in the future.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Christmas Puzzle

Many years ago when we were small, my mother’s side of the family brought together the “boys” (my aunt and uncle’s two sons) and the “girls” (my sister and me) for Christmases and Easters. We have since grown, Christmas has moved to January, the location in Arizona, and the kid’s table comes complete with filled wine glasses. It’s been a long time since any of us believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Yet somehow a certain tradition of making us work for our holiday inheritance has lived on.

Easter morning always arrived with a certain sense of foreboding for such a joyous celebration. A basket of colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, Peeps and jelly beans decorated the dining room table, but that was strictly off-limits to those that could be called a grandchild. Grandchildren had their own baskets, but one never knew where those baskets might be. Or what might be in them.

Easter was usually at the “boys” house, yet for all that you would think they would know every crook and cranny of their own home, the hunt for a fair-sized basket often lasted the better part of a hour or sometimes even a day. One year the baskets were famously booby-trapped with cans of silly-string, adding an element of danger to being the last to find the basket. The tradition continued for more than 20 years, and the finding never got any easier.

Now as we gather for Christmas, significant others of the grandchildren find themselves being initiated in the rights of present passage. A traditional monetary gift is hidden around the house, each “child” with their own, where an how must be worked out from a Christmas puzzle. One year I was extremely grateful to still be overseas when I found out that obtaining the clue had involved solving a Rubix cube.

This year our first clue lead us to a wrapped gift. The wrapped gift turned out to be a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle - ages 5 and up, maybe, but that was more about the choking hazard of the pieces. I was immediately grateful for the other family tradition of setting increasingly difficult puzzles at Thanksgiving and other family holidays.

I was quick with my puzzle (perhaps the easiest one of the bunch - it took seven of us to later complete my cousin's 100 piece hologram puzzle). Once completed, a cryptic message inscribed on the back of the puzzle directed us to the location of our gift. My message?

“Head north to find your modus operandi among the others.”

Hint: north was the kitchen.

One cousin’s girlfriend was quick with her clue - she’s been subjected to this before (including the infamous Rubix cube). Her tactic was to put together the scrawled-message side of her puzzle and discovered one key word as a giveaway. My other cousin’s girlfriend was initiated into the tradition this year and was overwhelmed by the whole process.

I was quick with the puzzle, but slow with the clue - and even slower as I had to sort through a whole cabin to find it.

Still this is a tradition I am glad lives on, and one I will never feel too old for.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Food Chain

Just days before my sister returned from California, I discovered the culprit of shoes stuffed with dog kibble and items being mysterious knocked off of impossibly high shelves overnight (allowing me to rule out earthquakes and microbursts of wind inside my house): a flying squirrel.

Since dubbed “Walnut” (yes, there’s a story behind that, and it involves a friend’s attempt to live trap another mysterious creature causing damage in her garage, but only successfully ensnaring a shrew, a chipmunk and a walnut), the flying squirrel has taken its loss of anonymity in great stride. And unlike most creatures that sneak through holes in the walls to make homes in our houses, this one seems to be a relatively receivable guest. First, its cute. Second, unlike red squirrels or mice, they seem to do relatively little damage. And, their athletic prowess is to be admired. Mine regularly scales walls and curtains only to leap down again from ceiling height without pause. Finally, there’s almost a superstitious feeling about this guy, as this house was once home to another flying squirrel called “Chipper” who lived as a beloved pet among my father’s family. Oh, yeah, and did I mention Walnut is cute?

This would be more-or-less fine by me, except no sooner had I started to make friends, than my sister shows up bearing a cat.

Okay, a kitten, really. But one everybody had had high hopes of forming her into a mouser. And, despite my acceptance of one house guest, I am still suffering with the occasional unwanted mouse, so the idea of a cat had once appealed. But how do you teach a cat to differentiate between a common field mouse and a flying squirrel?

The squirrel has worked out a road system through the house, a part of which involves him trekking through some large storage cabinets above my closet, pushing open the doors, dropping to the hardwood floor with the sound of a tennis ball that doesn’t bounce, and then scurrying off into the kitchen to roust up a snack. Unfortunately, the other morning the cat was there to intercept him. The thud woke me from my dream in time to snap on the light, grab the cat (gently) by the tail and toss her out the door as I shut it behind her. This left the squirrel safe, but trapped in my room.

I sat quietly in bed, contemplating my next move, as he thoroughly explored his possibilities. He scurried up one wall, dropped on top of my dresser, traipsed across to the window, scaled the curtains, tight-roped the curtain rod, dropped onto my desk, ran across my computer, jumped onto my pillow, treaded across the pillow behind my back to the wall lamp on the far side, scaled the lamp, squinted desperately into the light, did a high bar routine on the arm of the lamp, dropped down to the quilt rack, explored my closet, climbed up the moulding but couldn’t make it back to where he came, dropped down to the door, considered trying to squeeze under it (despite the frustrated cat still outside), and restarted the circuit. He repeated the route several times before disappearing deep into my closet for a nap. The cat rousted him again later that day when I carelessly left my door open, only to be saved by me once again.

Add to the mix our Labradoodle. A Labradoodle that believes that anything smaller than himself has been placed on this earth to be chased. Cat meet dog - dog mee------ oh, never mind.

Except now the cat has learned that the dog is not that bright and even less persistent. Within hours she had him convinced that there were at least two, if not more, of her haunting the house. She could sit calmly on a chair and watch him as he gazed at a floor-length curtain, waiting for her to emerge from behind it.

This all would simply be amusing, except we’re forgetting the bird. Earlier this year when the storm knocked out my power for three days, all of us, dog, bird and me, moved to my parents’ home. The dog and bird stayed when I moved back to keep the flying squirrel company. Normally the bird and dog get along just fine (or, rather, they mutually ignore each other), and life is pretty balanced. However, she has been confined to the safety of her cage since the arrival of the cat, who has taken a very cat-like interest in this creature. The cage has been tipped a couple of times, despite my sister’s desperate insistence to the cat that the bird is a “friend.”

The bird and flying squirrel have not met. Bets are still open on that one.

So, thus far, we have cat chases flying squirrel and stalks bird, dog chases cat, and we all chase the dog. Beginning to sound like the House that Jack Built?

My uncle has two dogs, one of which happens to think himself something of a bird dog. My uncle leaves town and dumps the dogs on us. At one point that meant that there were three dogs, one cat, one bird, and not nearly enough humans in the house that did not have a flying squirrel at the same time. Three dogs is a love triangle that should never be attempted - the three of them chase each other constantly, vying for top dog. Two of the three dogs chase the cat and then fight over who actually gets her in the end. The cat and the other dog chase the bird and fight with each other for rights to knocking down the cage. All humans on hand break up whatever fights are occurring over various non-living toys at any time.

And now, we are going to leave the whole slew of them with my sister’s boyfriend as all of us abandon the frozen north country for some mid-winter sun. At that point, he will assume the top of a food chain that involves caring for three houses which, at any given time, could be occupied by at least one flying squirrel, unaccounted mice, one crabby bird in a cage, three neurotic and needy dogs, one precocious cat and Uncle Trevor in the attic. Oh, yeah, and a pellet stove that needs to be fed on a regular basis.

Less of a chain, and more like a knot of whatever my mother’s last knitting project was - I wish him the best of luck in keeping his place at the top of it.