Carenen Cottage

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

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

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.

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.


Lest not ye be judged...

Yesterday I was at the local laundromat. This because the Carenen Cottage is undergoing construction for an addition, which rendered our old laundry room nonexistent and the new laundry room not ready yet. It's a nice, clean, efficient laundromat with good machines that work. It costs around $15 to do our laundry. That's 60 quarters, enough to make me happy someone invented belts a few years ago. But I digress.
There was a frail, skinny, old man trying to do his laundry. He wore a baseball cap on his knobby head perched on a scrawny neck. His long-sleeved, faded shirt had a tear in the back exposing saggy skin. His pants were baggy and he wore scuffed, ratty shoes barely held together. He shuffled. I think he got there just before I did. He was fumbling with how the washing machines worked. I looked up and saw a lady come his way and I immediately went into my judgmental role. She was in her 30's, overweight, and spoke like a redneck and I judged her. There, it's out.
Then she pleasantly and kindly went about helping the man get his laundry done. Once the machines were going, she sat with him and struck up a conversation. I overheard him say that he was 90 years old, his wife had passed on, he was a World War II veteran, and he lived alone here in Travelers Rest. The two of them had a conversation while I read my James Lee Burke novel.
Time passed and the old man's laundry was washed and ready for the dryer. The lady kept helping, not doing, but helping. The old man was not incompetent. He was just very old, and the lady helped. I did nothing but watch and feel ashamed for not helping first, for letting someone else lead while I watched. Finally, the lady had to go, and an opportunity opened. When his clothes dried, I held two pillowcases open and we stuffed his clothes in. Finished, I put the two fat pillowcases in the back seat of his car and watched as the old man climbed behind the wheel of his rusty old gas guzzler and slowly drove away.
Then I went back to my book about the bayous, less ashamed than I had been, grateful for the guilt-driven opportunity to knock my self-centeredness back a notch or two. Appreciative for learning there's more to people than the way they look or talk. Uneasy about the next time something like that happens when I hope I can become more of a man.

Contented Carenens

Friday evening at the Travelers Rest outdoor amphitheater with the Blue Ridge in the distance, we settled in after joining friends who saved us a place to hear the talented and exuberant Jacob Johnson offer up a free concert. Soft summer breezes stirred the hair of Southern girls of all ages playing and flirting and leaning on boyfriends and husbands, citrusy perfumes wafting lightly in the air. Children rolled down the hill like living logs, and bigger boys tossed a football back and forth.
And I wondered how life could get much better on a June twilight with my bride at my side and Jacob on the stage; poet, singer, songwriter, and guitar virtuoso beyond anything I've ever heard or seen before. He loves to perform, and we love to be his audience. His enthusiasm and talent defined the evening as a very good one.
Later, when the show was over, we packed up our folding chairs and walked back to the car and drove home where a big glass of wine and a joyful puppy awaited us. Strolling up to the Carenen Cottage in the dark, we heard tree frogs and crickets providing background music, and a big bullfrog down by the pond sang solo, his bellows cracking through the darkness, making us smile.
Such a blessing to be content.

Carnage at the Carenen Cottage

And so it begins. The systematic renovation to the Carenen Cottage has launched with serious purpose. I took off the back deck, then the grader did his thing, footers were poured, cinderblock secured, temporary electrical hookup installed. This morning three men showed up to rip off the back of the cottage and prepare to do framing for the new. That meant we had to get everything out of the old laundry room and pantry this morning, something we thought would not be necessary for a couple of weeks.
But we are nothing if not flexible. I'm glad they're going at it. The additional space will be luxurious, at least to us, and the flexibility in hospitality will be wonderful. So the hammering, the ripping, the tearing, and the demolishing is going on, perfect background for my writing.
Oh, and the workers have deposited an orange port-a-potty out front, by the blueberry bushes. We're going to tell our friends that it's the second bathroom we always wanted. Beats the woods. Stay tuned for a brief report on how our two cats and puppy (Lily the Wonder Dog) are adapting. This might get ugly.

The Best Dog

This is a sad and lonely morning in the Carenen Cottage. We had to put our dog to sleep. Degenerative bone disease had rendered her a cripple in pain, and she was getting worse fast. I can tell you this about her. She was intelligent, playful, obedient, sweet-natured (never bit anything but her food), and a good snorer. She had a large vocabulary that included the usual "squirrel,' and many others. She knew "eat," "dog," "out," "come," "sit," "stay" and "pterodactyl." She also knew "night-night" and "bath," but she pretended she didn't know "bath," but I know she did because when I said it, she tried to disappear. Not easy for a 79-pound Zimbabwean Cattle Retriever - Crested (actually, she was a blend of Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, and several other breeds, including "Mushpot").

She was always good and generally happy, her tail wagging all the time, even when the vet was giving her the injections.

She was our friend and companion, greeter, and confidant. We miss her already.

Her name was "Roxie."