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

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.


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.

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.

World's Most Wonderful Wife

I heard about a Big Remodeling & Additions Expo being held in the convention center downtown. Lisa didn't know about, but I did, and then I told her and asked if she wanted to go, even though I hate shopping. H-A-T-E. I was confident that my sacrifice would put me in the running for Husband of the Year. The Expo wasn't a hard sell, kind of like offering bratwurst to a weakened vegan. I made several observations. The first was that approximately 37% of all the displays were for hot tubs. I am not a fan of hot tubs. They look great but, from my experience, they are nothing more than expensive disappointments. You get in. You get wet. You get warm. You drink wine. I can get warm and drink wine in front of the fireplace at the cottage, and save money, too, although we both kind of liked the one that appeared to be carved out of stone. Classy. Even had two glasses of wine nearby.

Another observation was this: half the men and a third of the women were morbidly obese, especially the ones selling dietary supplements and hair care products. I am not making this up. What do those things have to do with Remodeling? Or Additions? That's what I thought.

We lingered at a display specializing in showers. Our expansion plan includes a second bathroom. I told Lisa we already had the woods for a backup. She always gives me a tolerant, long-suffering look when I mention that. "Maybe for you," she says. But it was good information. We did not commit to buying a shower. Lisa asked questions and picked up a business card and two brochures. And measurements.

Even though a hot dog stand was highly appealing, we left without buying anything. I think that vaults Lisa into the lead for Wife of the Year. In my book, she's already there.

In Support of Defenestration

After a Christmas Eve service at our church, we invited people over to our cottage for food and conversation and general conviviality. My long-suffering wife, Lisa, and I were talking about something and she used the term "non sequitur," which is Latin for "it does not follow." An example would be this: "Life is life and fun is fun, but it's all so quiet when the goldfish die." A friend, not only well-educated but smart in addition, asked simply, "What does that mean?" So we told him and he was fine going forward.

Later, we got to talking about how Bryan was confident enough to ask the question. And I felt a tad bit convicted because sometimes when someone is using a term or reference I don't know, I'll just nod my head and go along without having the guts to admit my ignorance.

I decided right then to suck it up and ask the question from now on. Like, what do you mean when you use that term, or reference a written work, or talk about some occurrence about which I know nothing? Instead of acting like I know what's being said, I will just go ahead and ask the question. What a startling concept! Self-education at it's finest!

And that's how I learned what "defenestration" means. And it's a word I WILL use.

Cozy Consolidation

We are now living full time in our country cottage up against the mountain, woods all around, a lovely meadow out the front door, and nice neighbors halfway up Paris Mountain who fire weapons on Saturday afternoons. In other words, bliss. The condo we're about to put on the market has about 1,800 square feet. The cottage has 1,030. In other words, for you math majors out there, we have 770 less square feet, which makes us truly appreciate the 30 in our 1,030. We have learned a great deal about efficiency, and these truths have set us free, in a sense.

We have learned to be efficient with space. My long suffering wife, Lisa, is an expert when it comes to making good use of space. She amazes me how she can create useful storage out of nothing. Take closets, for example. We have three, the largest just big enough to hold two cats at once. However, I have learned that one clothes hanger can support three pair of slacks, four shirts, five neckties, and a belt. Who knew?

And a tiny utility room that housed one shelf and the electric control panel has been transformed into an efficient little pantry that contains enough food to last through the end of the year, two bins of pet food (one feline, one canine, interchangeable), a trampoline, a life-sized stuffed American Bison, and a wine cellar.

I suspect we will learn more about consolidation of available space. For example, Lisa looked at me the other day and asked, "Dear, do you think you could learn to sleep standing up?"

Just think how much room that would save.

Sleep Standing up

A Dry Sense of Humor

Line Dry Now that we're fully moved into our "mountain cottage," we have a few adjustments to make, most of which will cost money. For instance, we have a clothes washer. We do not have a dryer. Well, in a sense we have a dryer because there's one at our condo, which we are about to put on the market, and the appliances all stay. In an emergency, we can dry our clothes there. But that's a one hour round trip, and when the condo sells, it might be considered tacky for us to drop in on the new owners and ask if we can dry our clothes. Maybe we could put that in the contract. Or, maybe not.

So, when we have freshly-washed clothes to dry, we wait until it's sunny outside and hang our laundry on a clothes line. With clothes pins. The old-fashioned way. With a long, forked stick to hold up the line when the load gets heavy. There's nothing like the fresh smell of clothes dried in the sun on a line. Brings back memories of my childhood. The clothes are a little stiff because they haven't been fluffed in a dryer. I tried to make that work outdoors by clipping a few of those softener sheets between undies, but it didn't seem to help. The clothes were still pretty stiff. I used one of my socks to tap a nail in the wall where my long-suffering wife, Lisa, wanted to hang a picture.

I guess one of the bigger adjustments came when we realized that, on occasion, while our clothes were drying on the line, insects would take up residence in our jeans and t-shirts. For instance, Lisa had a big, black spider emerge from her unmentionables one morning. I was in Newberry, but I heard her rather salty commentary.

And for me, I must say I discovered something that works better than caffeine in the morning. A katydid in my Fruit of the Looms worked way better than coffee.

We're researching dryers.

Heading Home

Launch Party A friend of mine recently blogged that he and his family had been living in the same place for something like nine or ten years now, and it seems like home. I know what he means. Lisa and I are in the process of moving into our little cottage from our condo half an hour south. We realized we'd lived in the condo for nearly nine years. That kind of stability is a rare thing for us.

My long-suffering wife was an Air Force brat and survived multiple moves, including giving up her senior year in Florida in order to be an outsider in Massachusetts when her father was transferred. Not fun at all. Marrying me seemed like it would be a time of living in a couple-three places until we were out of school, then settling down.

But no, I am not a stable person, and our itinerary of living places is now up to eighteen (18). Every time the Criminal Records Check showed up at my job, it would be time to shove off again. Although this move is just across town, it is still a move. And we like our new place a lot. And we're not inclined to move any more. And we aren't going to, either, unless God tells us to, and presents three forms of photo I.D. as well. One can't be too whimsical.

We both feel confident that we can call the Carenen Cottage home. It just feels like it. Of course, there is that nice, wooded lot up on the mountain with the fantastic view stretching out below. And sometimes we think about driving by just to see if it's been sold yet (It hasn't). And, well, never mind. We're staying. After all, the dog and two cats like it just fine where we are, and that's final.

I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay... (Part 1)

lumberjack Before I get too far into my joys as a lumberjack, let me give credit where credit is due. The chain saw was invented by two Scottish doctors back in the late 18th century, Dr. Chain and his partner, Dr. Saw. Actually, I am kidding about that. They invented the chain saw as a means of generating more clients through grisly accidents caused by their invention. Of course I’m kidding about that, too. Actually, it was invented for the purpose of excision of diseased bone. So, there you have your brief trip down memory lane.

I have a chainsaw, and it’s fun. The property we recently purchased had several big trees that shaded a section of meadow where my long-suffering wife, Lisa, planned to create several garden beds. The trees had to go because they were going to keep sunlight away from the garden. So I bought a chainsaw and prepared to begin the fun of cutting down trees, yelling “TIMBER!” at the top of my lungs, hearing the snap of wood as the trees began to topple, then running for safety, usually directly under where the tree wasn’t supposed to go. Three weeks later, I still have a knot on the side of my right calf where one of those stupid trees failed to follow my instructions.

Moving on to the preparation phase of lumberjacking, it is essential to have a lumberjack breakfast before one begins working as a lumberjack. Food is fuel, just as chainsaws need gasoline to operate, and I need plenty of fuel to work efficiently and well. For me, that means (several) scrambled eggs with cheese and a little onion mixed in, lots of sausage patties, homemade bread with butter, milk, coffee, bacon, and if possible, hash browns.

Once breakfast is consumed, it is time to allow the food to settle. This requires a brief nap of about forty-five minutes, followed by stretching, starting up the chainsaw, and walking to the lumberjacking site while the saw warms up.

My next blog will go into more details about the joy of lumberjacking. Stay tuned.

At least the shirt was clean...

People rarely ask me for advice, and I'm okay with that. As a result, however, sometimes I kindly offer advice, even though it has not been sought. Here's my advice to you: Don't put an open tube of Super Glue in your mouth. You're welcome. No charge.

Understand that this advice comes from someone who hit himself in the head with a baseball bat when just a mere boy, who walked into a stop sign and split his head open resulting in profuse bleeding for which I was unaware until the lady at the dry cleaners screamed, and who was struck on the head by lightning shortly after being married.

Head issues. I'll admit it.

The reason I advise against placing an open tube of Super Glue in one's mouth is born out of experience. A few days ago I was gluing a chair spindle into the place it was supposed to be. So I placed the Super Glue in the hole in the chair and some more on the spindle Then I replaced the spindle in the proper place, but that took two hands; one to hold the chair and one to push the spindle.

What to do with the Super Glue? I figured I could gently hold the tube in my mouth, and I could. Still, some oozed out onto the roof of my mouth, which I worked with for the nest few days, making funny faces for which people held me accountable.

My younger daughter asked me why I didn't hold it with the opening outside my mouth, and I told her, "I didn't want to get any on my shirt."

At that, she began laughing much harder and longer than I thought necessary, without explanation.

Anyway, as the Animals warned in their hit single, "The House of the Rising Sun," just be sure you " . . . don't do what I have done."

You're welcome.

First Friday Fun

No television, no radio, no music, no video games. Just conversation. What!? Every First Friday of each month at the Carenen Cottage in northern Greenville, my long-suffering wife and I host an informal gathering of people beginning at 6:30 PM and lasting until the National Guard moves in and make us disperse. We provide beer and wine and pizza and maybe brownies, and people show up and sometimes bring snacks and hang out and have conversations in the cottage, around the firepit, on the front porch and, when it gets warmer, we'll probably find folks on the deck in back. It is a beautiful setting, especially now with blossoms all over the place. Crabapple, azaleas, dogwood, tulip trees, hyacinths, and many others adorn our little spot up against Paris Mountain. And what do people do there? Converse. That's it. Oh, we occasionally burn a heretic after dark, but there is no other entertainment. Just people talking.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines conversation as "a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged." We are informal for sure. And we talk and laugh and tell stories and lies and converse about politics, religion, sports, cat-choking, and a general love of dogs.

No television. No radio. No video games. Conversation. Imagine that.

Neighbors being Neighborly

A few days ago there was a fierce midnight wind storm where our "country cottage" is located. It was a Tuesday night, and we weren't there, but the next day two neighbors called to say that big trees were down on our property, and there had been a fire.

I immediately took off cross-town to take a look, praying the Lord had spared our cottage. Two giant trees on our property and a neighbor's big cypress had been snapped off and were leaning down our driveway, suspended about eight feet from the ground by thick power cables. A small grass fire had erupted but was quickly put out by the fire department - called by our neighbors. The cottage was untouched; a direct answer to prayer.

The next day I found the trees sawn into chunks and the power restored. AND, a woman I had never met cleaning up the debris from OUR driveway. And she did it again the next day, working hard, wearing heavy gloves, and stacking the debris to the side of the driveway in bundles according to size. When I thanked her and told her we would take care of it, that it wasn't her problem, this woman, a grandmother, who weighs about 90 pounds, said she enjoyed the exercise.

It gets still better. The lady doesn't even live in South Carolina. She is an Asian-American, native Hawaiian who only comes to the mainland once a year to check on the house she owns! It was her cypress tree that had fallen onto our driveway and she felt responsible.

Good neighbor? You bet! Beyond numerous, heartfelt "Thank you's" there wasn't much else we could do. She would have been offended by payment and, besides, she said she liked the exercise.

The next night Lisa baked bread and we took it over to her as a small token of appreciation. She flies back to Honolulu tomorrow morning. I'll be she's a good neighbor there, too.

Just another tequila mockingbird...

Things and more things filter through my mind, snips and snatches I can't explain. And sometimes things happen to me that are just plain weird. So I'll share a few. Why do people look at the hymnal in their hands when they're singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" with 1,328 "Hallelujahs" in a row? Same for that song with all the "glorias" in it, "Angels We Have Heard On High." Same words, over and over again, singers looking at the book. LOOK UP, PEOPLE! YOU LOOK STUPID!

I never knew it before today, but "Tequila Mockingbird" was that novel written by Harper Lee. Students really need to read more. Maybe they were thinking of Jimmy Buffett.

How do I explain having a cat in my underwear the other day at our "escape cottage"? I could explain it, but I won't. But if I don't explain it . . .

I did not watch one minute of any college football game last week. No wonder I don't feel well. It's been decades since I could say that, and trust me, it's not going to happen again.

I have had two concussions in my lifetime, both provided by baseball bats. One, by my older sister. One by me. Both stories should generate concerns, by you, about my cerebral functioning. On the other hand, it might explain a few things.

I was struck by lightning one time on I-95 south of Jacksonville, Florida. That might explain some of my snarled synapses, too.

Do you detect a pattern?

Cottage Comforts

It's not "little." We prefer "cozy." It's not a "cabin." We prefer "cottage." And due to a delightful configuration of circumstances, it is our "home." We still have the condo as our primary residence, but the cottage is home every chance we get.

Our long-term plan is to live simply and well, and a smaller residence in a beautiful setting was key. Two years of driving around appealing neighborhoods had been frustrating and fruitless. Too big. Too expensive. Too fancy. Too far. Too crowded. Too new.

We like older homes, enjoying their charm and craftsmanship and solid feel so, even though we considered building, we did not fully embrace that approach.

And then our friend Melinda found our home for us. She later admitted hesitancy, thinking the cottage wasn't big enough, that Lisa and I couldn't be interested in a two-bedroom, one bath house. But her hesitancy dissipated and she gave us the word. And when we drove down the narrow lane and saw the cozy white cottage nestled up against the mountain with deep woods on one side and a lovely meadow on the other, we were sure.

Now, every chance we get, we retreat to the beauty, peace, and tranquility of our cottage, where I can nap and write and nap some more and Lisa can attend to an array of established plantings while planning more.

Recently, a friend came by, looked around, and said, "You know, John, this is a special place." I cannot argue with him.

So we've been blessed for sure. We thank God, and thank Melinda, too. Now it's time for me to say, "Y'all come see us now, y'heah?"

The beer is plentiful and cold.