Diet Coke Does NOT a Happy Cactus Make

Diet Coke Does NOT a Happy Cactus Make

I don't worry too much about my ineptness because I know there are people out there who can do what I can't. Computer geeks, automotive engineers, and heart surgeons all have my respect and gratitude.

Squirreled Away

I have been outsmarted by a squirrel. Twice. Now, for those of you who know me, this is not fresh news. 

We have a squirrel in our crawlspace overhead. It does not make itself known except in the middle of the night, when it wakes me up, gnawing on something for about thirty minutes. Actually, we don't know for sure if it's a squirrel. Could be a mouse or a rat, but based on information provided by friends and neighbors with similar experience with annoying mammals, it is very likely a squirrel, flying type or earthbound. Doesn't matter. 

Our overhead crawlspace is not accessible to someone my size. Let's let it go at that. Suffice it to say that there isn't much room up there, it is not floored, and I have never actually been any further into it than waist height. We did have small people go up there and blow in tons of cottony insulation when we renovated the cottage a few years ago.

We told a friend of ours about the problem and he promptly said his live squirrel trap would work. It had worked for him. He loaned it to us. The trap has an opening at each end and a small metal plate in the middle, upon which one slathers peanut butter and sets the hair trigger device guaranteed to trap the intruder. The slightest nudge will release escape-proof doors at each end. After the trapping, the squirrel should be driven ten miles from the cottage and set free to bug other people.

Once, I heard the trap go off. I put a little two-step stool on the bathroom counter beneath the access point to the crawlspace. I shone my flashlight on the trap. Nothing inside. Two other times I checked the trap and it had NOT gone off. But the peanut butter was completely gone. My long-suffering wife thinks the squirrel has a straw.

I returned the live squirrel trap to my friend, who was as baffled as I.

This afternoon I'm going to drop by the Army Surplus Store and see how much they want for an AK47, night vision goggles, and maybe a Claymore mine or two.

Stay posted. 

Lily the Brave, Sorta

Our rescue dog, nearly three years old now and weighing sixty pounds, is mostly pit bull with some terrier thrown in. She is sweet-natured, intelligent, playful. She is also willful, having learned all basic commands that she follows. When it suits her.

Sometime people acquire pit bulls for the wrong reasons. You know what they are. We acquired Lily to give her a good home and to provide us with company. Every day, she makes us laugh at least once. Yet, despite the fact that is the most passive dog who has ever owned us, her breed carries that reputation.

Last night during a storm my long-suffering wife heard a banging just outside our bedroom window. "It's something alive," she said.

So I got dressed, picked up a flashlight, and went forth to confront the source of the banging. Since we live at the edge of the woods and at the base of a small mountain, a wide range of "alive" things could have been the source of the banging. Raccoon, fox, bear, and yeti all came to mind. So I asked Lily to join me as backup as we went out the back door and around the house in the wind and the rain and the dark.

I turned around once to see if Lily had my back in case I needed protection. She was not there. I called and she appeared, or least, her head appeared at the corner of the house, so I proceeded and found the source of the thumping. A small access door under the crawlspace was loose. I secured it and turned around. Lily was not to be seen.

But she was nearby. On the back porch, wagging her tail. Lily now has a middle name. It is "Liver."

Blogging, Snake-style

I hate snakes.  I don't even like the useful ones, like blacksnakes, who supposedly eat rodents, copperheads (folklore, I believe), and ATF employees because the main purpose for all snakes is this - scare the bejeezus out of me the instant I see one.  I don't want to see one, but I am ever vigilant that there is a snake somewhere just waiting to jump out at me and say, "Aha!" at which point, as soon as my heart starts beating again, I go get a shovel, hoe, or gatling gun to KILL IT.  But by then it is usually gone, blogging to other snakes about what fun it was to make me wet my pants.  I hate snakes. So, when my long-suffering wife, Lisa, came in the house to tell me there was a snake in her little vegetable garden (one of only two manmade creations visible from outer space the other being The Great Wall of China), I asked, "Do you want me to kill it?" she replied, "No, I want you help me to free it."

"Free it?"

A simple, non-assuming, modest rat snake, about 3-4 feet long, had gotten itself entangled in a roll of mesh Lisa uses to cover our blueberry bushes to keep the local birds from ripping us off when the berries are ripe.  The poor snakey-wakey was twapped and couldn't get fwee!  I told Lisa I'd go get a shovel and put it out of its misery.  I mean, it was a freaking snake, not a bunny wabbit.

My wife, The Snake Whisperer, prevailed.  While I used a long stick to pin the snakes little noggin, Lisa took a pair of clippers and snipped away at the mesh, holding the snake by its tail as she did so.  Finished, she let go and I let go and the snake slithered away, no doubt giggling about more opportunities to sneak back and surprise me.

I hate snakes.sp_blackratsnake006

If you buy a gardner a hose...

My long-suffering wife has a wonderful garden that keeps us supplied with fresh veggies for months and months, not to mention blueberries and figs.  She does the raised beds thing, and thoroughly enjoys getting dirt under her fingernails and bringing baby plants along and into production.  Recently we made a trip to Home Depot with the plan to buy a hose to be used when watering the garden.  But one does not go with my LSW to a garden store to buy one thing.  It can't be done.  It's like me in a used book store - can't buy just one book. So I tagged along and watched as my bride picked out one of these and a couple of those and, oh!, need that as well.  It was fun.  I like to look at pretty flowers and she likes to acquire purchases that make gardening more productive.  So, that "one thing" grew almost as fast as the federal government.  When we checked out, we had picked up a heavy duty hose, a cone sprayer for the hose, a heavy duty nozzle, a bag of natural plant mix, two bags of pine nuggets mulch, a 175' capacity hose reel cart, a lavender plant, a calypso plant, and another plant I can't identify.  It was bright yellow.  She was thrilled with her purchases.  I was thrilled with mine - a large Diet Coke.

This morning, I dropped in, alone, at a used book store, landing to purchase just one book.  I have no further comment.Right-Plants-Garden-Ideas

Up On Blocks

I am now a Son of the South. I do not hunt. I do not fish. I do not even play golf. I am an English professor for Pete's sake which means that I fit a certain stereotype.  I like to read a lot.  I write novels.  I have weird neckties that I sometimes wear.  None of these things qualifies me to consider myself now a bona fide, yet transplanted, Son of the South. So what does qualify me?  This:  I have an old pickup truck on blocks!  My Lord, I feel so accepted now, after decades of living in Dixie, I have come of age.  It didn't take a dog fight, moonshine (no comment), or even my own special road kill barbecue recipe.

It was having that truck up on blocks.

I came out one morning and the truck was leaning a tad to port, so took a look and there it was - a flat tire.  I needed to fix it, but the jack I had to use was for our Altima, and it didn't lift the truck high enough for me to take off the tire.  So, I got a big block of wood and put the jack on top of that and jacked that old pickup higher and higher until I could remove the tire.  then I took the tire in and picked it up two days later and put it back on the truck.

My old pickup was up on the block only a couple of days, but I'm counting it, even though it wasn't on cinderblocks, or even in the front yard.  Son of the South? That's me!dsc01884_zps7d37e549_84f986520de2de4f12b0a876c07ed96dcf80ea91

What's in a Name?

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Yesterday, dawn began with Dawn.  Dawn is my hygienist and I had an early appointment with her at my dentist's practice.  She gave me a good report and said she'd see me in September.  This did not surprise me, but still, it was a relief that nothing needed to be scraped, filled, bridged, removed, or reconfigured.  Then I headed to the mall with my computer, which, for some reason, had basically quit on me.  I did not have an appointment at the Apple store, so I was resigned to waiting there all day to be helped.  The Apple store in the Mall (I hate going to the Mall) didn't open until 10, so I waited, dreading spending the rest of the daylight hours waiting for a helper to minister to my techno-frustration.

But a helper-person came out of the Apple store with a little device in her hand and began scheduling appointments for those of us waiting for the store to open.  I couldn't believe it.  She took down my information and said, "We'll send you a text when your appointment is ready."  I said, "I don't text."  She said, "Oh, well, just come on in about fifteen minutes from now."  I did.  Another young woman, named "Sunny," ran a bunch of tests and we figured out the problem was me.  I'm not going into that.  Suffice it to say that my morning appointments' timing corresponded with the names of the people with whom I would be dealing.  I'm just glad I didn't have a lunch reservation somewhere only to find out the waitstaff's name was "Nooner."

The rest of the day was fine and dandy.  I met my long-suffering wife at a local soccer match because some of her 9th graders were playing another group of 9th graders nearby.  After watching a flotilla of teenage boys kicking each other in the shins, wandering around aimlessly, and bonking the ball with their heads, I remain unpersuaded about the efficacy of soccer as a sport.  Waiting for something exciting to happen in a soccer match is like waiting for a politician to tell the truth.  So, after the game, I went from the ridiculous to the sublime; that is, a dinner date with my long-suffering wife.

A fine and glorious day, all in all.  A blessing every which way.

Baby It's Cold Inside

Today I emailed back and with a friend from high school days who currently lives in Dubuque, Iowa.  He mentioned that he was supposed to be in Des Moines today for a presentation (he works for the ACT people) and a second presentation tomorrow.  He said it looked like both would be cancelled due to the winter storm warning that was declared.  The weather nerds are saying 18-24 inches for a good part of the state, including Des Moines and Dubuque. This information brought to  mind our local (Upstate South Carolina) winter storm a few days ago and how my long-suffering wife and I survived being 30 hours without electricity.  At first, it was an adventure.  Fortunately, we had plenty of propane for our gas logs, so the front of our cozy cottage stayed comfortable.  We shut off the gas logs that first night and retreated to our bedroom.  We woke up the next morning raid to extend ourselves from the warmth of the bed.  No wonder.  When I checked the thermostat, it read 49 degrees.  Indoors.  I nearly sprained my ankle running for the remote control thingy that fires up the gas logs.

During the day, we entertained ourselves reading by the light of the sun.  When it grew dark, I broke out the Coleman lanterns I had wanted for Christmas.  Also, I unpackaged the Coleman stop and fuel that were part of my Christmas gifts.  So we had hot food.  If we were to have a son, I would name him Coleman.  I am not kidding.

I was thinking how fun this was, you know, camping and enjoying "roughing it," yet staying indoors protected from any snakes and bugs that weren't frozen.  We had plenty of wine, cheese, bread, and several other goodies, and so the romance maintained.  When it got dark, we scooted for bed and flipped on the Coleman lanterns to read by for a while as we snuggled.

All this time, our young pit bull/terrier rescue canine was loving it, running out in the snow and leaping and biting the white stuff, then turning on the afterburners to race back to the front porch and inside to hang out in front of the fireplace.  She thought it was romantic, too.

The electricity returned just before dark on Saturday night, but we still weren't able to get out due to the snow on the ice on our upward-inclined driveway.  Not to mention all the trees down in our neighborhood, blocking roads.  So we just settled in some more, but with the delights of electricity.

And hot water.  Without it, romance can fade quickly.  Trust me on that one.f-lamps

Ol' Reliable

Earlier this week, my 14-years-old mid-sized sedan failed me. I drove the 71 miles home from the college where I work, parked in the Publix parking lot while I went inside for a few items (beluga caviar, champagne, brie, and so forth - the usual), and came back out. I tried the ignition and every light on the dash lit up. No go. I left my things in the car, walked home (30 minutes on a beautiful day), got my aging pickup truck, and drove back. Still no go. I went home. I had it towed to the dealer.

I needed transportation to work. That old pickup truck I mentioned came to mind. It's 21 years old and has frequently failed to start, leaving me stranded at various points in the neighborhood. I had never taken it farther than walking distance home; never out on the Interstate. I decided to risk it. So, at 5:45 the next morning I prayed, cranked the engine, and drove south. The truck is not well known for its power, acceleration, or comfort. This is because the engine is small - two cylinders, maybe. But it worked. I passed one car on the Interstate and was proud of it. Everyone else passed me. Humbling. On inclines my mph dropped to 50, on downhills I was able to get up to 70. I made it to work and thanked God. I also made it back without incident. And thanked God.

The people at the dealership told me it was probably a battery, which would cost a bit over $200. I said, "Go ahead." Not bad. They called later and said the transmogrifier was kaput, pushing the cost up to a tad over $700, which is $200 more than I paid for the truck.. I said, "Go ahead." A third call, one they admitted wasn't good, was that the bilateral bushing dweidler would have to be replaced. They could get the part in the next day and complete the job. "How much?" I asked.

Just a hair over $1,700 he said.

At this point I was feeling faint. I summed up my courage and said, "So, what if I don't have you fix those things, other than the battery?"

"Well," he said, kindly, gently, "your steering will be unreliable and your tires on the right side will disintegrate, hurling you into trees or other motor vehicles."

I already felt like his call had hurled me into a tree. Still, safety is paramount, so I said, "Go ahead."

We're picking up the new, improved 14-years-old sedan shortly.

The old pickup truck is looking better and better. I'm calling it "Ol' Reliable" these days.

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Sarcasm Unnecessary

Sometimes I feel my spiritual gift, although it does not appear in the Bible, is sarcasm. I fight it with my students, my politics, and myself. But this morning was one of those mornings when everywhere I went, people were pleasant, efficient, and friendly. Here's the most amazing part - two of my stops included the Department of Motor Vehicles. F262-large

First thing this morning, I headed out to transfer ownership to us of an often-used Mazda pickup truck with 176,000 miles on it that we intend to use for gardening and minor hauling. I had to go pay taxes at one location, then go on to another location to get my new license plate. At the County Tax Office, I was the third person there and was gone in five minutes. Five minutes! And the lady I communicated with was smiling and wished me a nice day. I am serious. Then I trekked over to the DVM office to get my new license plate. It was crowded as usual, but efficiently run, and the lady I worked with there was smiling and courteous and patient, even though I'd made a minor mistake on the paperwork (I had designated myself as "Thor" and my long-suffering wife {LSW} as "Venus" - just kidding). So from the time I entered the congested offices until I left, a total of only 40 minutes had gone by, and that passed swiftly as I people-watched. I had expected to be tied up there most of the morning. I left feeling chipper about my fellow man.

Next I went to the recycling bins to get rid of cardboard boxes, and that area was clean and maintained with plenty of room for my cardboard. Next door was a supermarket where I FAXed a Letter of Recommendation for a friend of mine headed for grad school. The people at the supermarket were downright cheerful, efficient, and accommodating. Next I dropped off books and DVDs at the library - again, more of the same kind of people. I felt sick to my stomach. Something was definitely wrong. My final stop was at the vet's offices to pick up routine meds for our yellow tabby cat, Beeker, and to make an appointment for his annual checkup. Again, happy people who seemed to enjoy their jobs.

It was a fine and glorious morning, I tell you, one in which I felt renewed faith in my fellow human beings in a beautiful part of the Upstate of South Carolina. And, I was home by noon and greeted with a kiss from my LSW. Talk about a blessed guy.

It is all behind me...

It was the kind of pain that makes a 200-pound guy gasp even though he doesn't want anyone to hear it. Out of pride. But as I turned to get up from my chair in front of my computer, it hit me. It was like a glowing curl of barbed wire in the small of my back, forcing me to grasp at my desktop to keep me from falling. I didn't want my long-suffering wife to hear, and she didn't. I'm not prone to yelps of pain, but this one was a beaut. Uninvited, unprovoked, yet still there, burning into my body. That was Saturday, and now it's Sunday, a day that rendered me close to helpless as I skipped church and was too nauseated from the "discomfort" to eat with our community group having lunch here at our cottage. I ate Advil and it only bumped the pain back a little. Then, on the suggestion of one of my sisters in the Lord, I added red wine to the mix and the pain began to ebb. I fell into a recliner and read James Lee Burke for a while, dozed, had three more pain pills, finished the book, Black Cherry Blues.

Now I'm better and thinking about getting back to the gym tomorrow afternoon where I'll sling some significant weights around without a problem.

Pains lends perspective to our lives, and the absence of such lends even more. And gratitude. I've had days when I could pick up 440 pounds and times when I couldn't lift a pencil, like yesterday and Sunday morning. Cracks me up.

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Confounded by Constrictor

I was busy writing when my long-suffering wife, Lisa, called to me from the front porch. "Lily's found a really big snake!" Lily is our rescue dog, one year old, part terrier and part pit, and she is smart. Anyway, I had to go see, although I am strongly averse to snakes. But Lisa was not exaggerating. The snake was mostly hidden in some ivy ground cover, but Lily had sniffed it out and then barked at it, ever cautious in her approach, one foot on the brake and the other on the gear for "Reverse." The snake was mostly black with some white specks on it. Not a timber rattler. Not a copperhead. It did not move. I thought it was dead, especially since there were some flies on it, so I poked at it with a long pole with a hook on it that we use for trimming lower branches of trees. A LONG pole. It did not move. Must be dead. Just to be sure, I nudged its head a little and then I detected slight movement and the tongue flicking about. Not dead. I nudged it again and it finally started slithering up the embankment, toward a tree. It slithered and it slithered and we were gradually astonished at how big it was. It took its own sweet time, did not acknowledge us at all, but just gradually emerged. Slowly. Did I mention slithering? IMG_0017 The long pole I had used was a foot taller than I. And I am a little over 6'. And the snake was longer than the pole was tall. Are you getting the picture?

I went inside fast and Googled "South Carolina Snakes" and there it was, a black rat snake. Non-venomous, which I could already tell by the shape of the head, and known to grow to 8' in length. Passive. Shy. Constrictor. Constrictor! I had no idea, but Google said black rat snakes can constrict and consume rodents, birds, bats, full grown squirrels, and small mail carriers. Which explained why it looked like, at first, there were two snakes. It had actually wrapped itself around some vermin and suffocated it. Explained the flies, too.

Our snake continued to unravel from the ivy ground cover until it came to the base of the tree. And then it went up the tree. Some people might question that statement, but it's true. It went up and up and up and finally stretched out on a high branch and stayed there. We went inside. After lunch, we went back out and there was no sign of our visitor. Now we're wondering where could he be now? IMG_0024

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Silly Lily

I am working on the final revision of Thomas O'Shea novel #3 in the series. It's called, The Face on the Other Side. I try to write mornings and attend to other things in the afternoons. Things like yard work, naps, working out, naps, and maybe walking the dog. The dog. She is one year old, her name is Lily, and she is mostly pit bull with some terrier. She weighs 54 pounds. She is sweet, likes to snuggle, and is strong. She is also the most playful dog we have ever had. She likes to play games, and one of her favorites is "Slammer." This we play when she has lots of energy. She communicates this by taking me by the throat and shaking me. I just made that up. Actually, she does communicate her desire to play "Slammer" by getting bouncy and giving me fervent eye contact. And this is how we play the game. I encourage her with cheers and she runs across two rooms and slams herself into the back of a futon couch, then rebounds off the futon and tears back to where she started and then does it all over again without stopping. Her style has been perfected through a short trial-and-error. Simply put, she goes airborne as she reaches the futon, turns her body so her feet are planted against the back of the futon, then springs without stopping into her tearing back where she started, pivots, and does it again. It is hilarious. Her record is 14 slammers before she stopped, finally tired. Eight is fairly common. We cheer her on and she purely enjoys it. Come see. Call first.

In a rare moment of rest...

Black Beauty

Yesterday I was watering the garden. This is something my long-suffering wife usually does since she's the one with the green thumb that leads to a bumper crop of fresh vegetables. But she wasn't available and had asked me to do it because, as of two days ago, I'm off for the summer. So out I went, soft-soaking the raised beds she has put in place. Then something happened that surprised me - not the actual thing, but my reaction. First, let me say that I hate snakes. I loathe snakes. I want to kill snakes whenever I see one. And I saw one. But this snake was different. First, it disappeared so fast I didn't have time to be shocked or ready to kill. Second, it was a black snake and it was, well, I mean, um, beautiful. I did not recoil in fear or disgust. I just watched for the couple of seconds it took to leave the garden and head for the underbrush. This snake was so black and swift it was like a stream of ink poured out before me. And then gone. It was a pleasure to see. And I did not go "Zero at the bone" as Emily Dickinson wrote upon seeing a snake. Fact is, I enjoyed the experience. Sometimes I surprise myself.

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Fifty Shades

We have a Fifty Shades of Yellow Tabby in our cottage. The Yellow Tabby is beaker, our male cat, who seems to have a few loose wires. His girlfriend is Lily, our pit bull/terrior mix puppy who is almost a year old. Fine so far? Just wait. When these two play, Lily grabs Beaker by the loose skin on the top of his head, or one of his ears, and drags him around. The first time this happened, I intervened only to find, to my amazement, that Beaker was purring. When I broke them up and held Lily by the collar, Beaker looked at me with a puzzled look on his face, as if to say, "Buzz off, we're playing." And made no attempt to escape.

So I released Lily and the whole bondage scenario played out again, with Lily the dominatrix and Beaker the client.

I am troubled about Beaker, who thoroughly enjoys this strange version of "play." I think he's nuts.

Currently, I am looking for a cat psychiatrist to delve into Beaker's psyche to see why he purrs when he's being dragged around by his ear, and why he makes no attempt to get away when I restrain Lily. Fifty Shades of Yellow Tabby, indeed.

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Arrowroot = Recliners, Maybe

olddefault In two previous blogs, I wrote about Carenen family shopping experiences; specifically, mine. There was the 7-minute suit and the nails and oven entries. Today, I'd like to expand the source of these blogs and include my long-suffering wife, Lisa, in this series, which will temporarily retire with this offering.

Recently, very recently, we went shopping together on a fine Saturday morning. Our plan was to go to Trader Joe's to pick up some specialty items on the list, one of which was arrowroot. I had no idea what that was. At first I thought it was a reference to an old rock band from the 60's, but I was quickly disabused of that notion. Anyway, we picked up a few items at TJ's and headed home without any arrowroot.

The next thing I knew, we had stopped by the La-Z-Boy store and purchased two leather recliners which were not on the grocery list. Fortunately, they were on sale. It's not as if I didn't know she was thinking about reclilners - I did know. It's just that, well, I didn't realize that arrowroot translated to recliners. Sometimes I miss things.

In any case, I am not the only member of the family with quirky shopping skills. I'm just glad we didn't have to drive by a car dealer on the way home.

Smell Ya Later....

When one loses something they have been attached to, when something is taken away forever, it can be painful. When the Colts left Baltimore, loyal Baltimoreans wept and wailed and cursed. They threatened and pounded fists in the ground out of frustration and loss. To no avail.
When my dad took my basketball away from me when I was twelve because I had been slack in my chores (mowing the yard, cleaning the furnace, shoveling snow), I thought I would expire considering how much I loved shooting hoops. I eventually got the ball back, but I was by 32 then and pretty much out of the sport.
Recently, at the Carenen Cottage, something was taken away that had found its way into our hearts. We came to think of it as a permanent yard ornament because it had been there for weeks, even months. We grew to like it. The bright orange port-a-potty had become a source of relief for our visiting Clemson friends, a backup for me in times of urgent need when our indoor biffy was occupied by a female, and a beacon visible to aircraft 30,000 feet up to lead us home at the end of the day. It also served as a benefit to the various men working to build the addition to our cottage, much better than hunkering down in the woods and watching out for copperheads and fire ants.
The positive that comes out of this loss is a bit difficult to identify. Oh, sure, it means we now have a functioning second bathroom. And certainly, it means the construction is coming to a close. Good things. But now I'm wondering, how are we going to find our way home?

Carenen Cottage Construction

The modest addition to the Carenen Cottage continues, but it won't be done by the time school starts next week for my long-suffering wife (LSW), Lisa. We DO think we'll have the laundry room ready so we won't have to drive to the laundromat to get our laundry washed and dried. To my surprise, I enjoyed my visits to the Travelers Rest laundromat. I always take a book and enjoy observing and interacting with the clientele. There's the possibility they find me amusing, too. Or just weird, especially when they see me sorting through women's unmentionables.
 
But I would be remiss if I didn't mention the workers who have been making our addition a reality. We have had graders, framers, electricians, plumbers, roofers, drywallers, and siding people so far. We will, soon, have flooring people, tile guys, and painters (who might be us). With one exception, they have all been hard workers, pleasant, and skilled. We're very happy with the work they've done.
 
What's appealing is that these men have been white, brown, and black. They all worked hard and well with good attitudes, seeming to enjoy their labors, earning well-deserved wages. How cool is that?