See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Kill No Weevil

Last week, one of my cats did something weird.

That statement, in and of itself, is a little unusual, as this particular cat is always doing something weird—talks to lamp shades, tests the running water temperature from a faucet before agreeing to drink from it, and as she’s left-handed, she insists on ergonomic southpawed Fiskars, so for me to notice … well, I think you get my point.

This new particularly weird thing was her staring at a small crack in the wall. A puncture wound of sorts, straight through the plaster. And then the next day, she put both her paws on either side of that wound, standing meercat style, and began a new phase of the “what’s behind the wall” festival.

I sat there with her for a while one day. Heard nothing, smelled nothing, and I certainly didn’t get any of the creepy, hair-raising, goosebump inducing feelings she’s produced in me before when discovering that she’s likely communicating with someone who died in that general vicinity (I spent a fair amount of time this last year in an old cottage that once served as a hospital for a Civil War arsenal compound, and this cat—along with all the house cats—spent countless hours with wide-eyed expressions, howling at a stairwell.).  

This time was still just a mystery waiting to be solved.

But as of last night, my dog joined her in the wall staring competition. Now two furfaces were trying to convince me that I should take a sledgehammer to that plaster work just to see what has taken up residence there.

Again, I sat with them both as they studied the inner cladding of my laundry room, its blinding whitewash lacquer revealing nothing and instead simply generating the occasional cock of one of their heads. Alas, we must remember, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would have agreed without argument that both could hear something my ears were not privy to—the pattering of mouse feet, the fluttering of insect wings, the terrifying audio NASA has just released from a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster—if it weren’t for the fact that one of them was stone deaf.

But maybe there is scent as well as sound, as the deaf hound can certainly still identify from three rooms away the fact that I ate a piece of bacon twelve hours ago.

I’ve called the pest company I have a quarterly contract with, and they gave me the choice of a visit from someone on their varmint team or a technician within their paranormal investigations department, but either way, they’ll be dressed in a hazmat suit and would be spraying some sort of exorcistical holy water. I’m still deciding.

At one point, during one of the bewhiskered gatherings, I joined in. I sat on the floor, stared at the plaster puncture, and focused. Things grew a little blurry and I began to feel like I was searching and waiting for a Magic Eye image to appear—some 3D illusion requiring patience and perhaps a lost instruction booklet to successfully view.

Image credit: Sally Flicker

Then I closed my eyes and simply focused on sound. The hound is barrel-chested; therefore, his breath is so audible, one can nearly hear all the pleural friction taking place in his ancient lungs. The cat has a habit of licking her lips and swallowing frequently, which to me indicates that whatever’s behind the barrier is either worthy of salivating over or she is fostering a nervous tick revealing how she’s trying not to freak out. It might also point toward dental disease, but that’s a next month’s problem.

While the three of us concentrated on something only two of us were truly aware of, a second cat slinked in. She looked about the room, quietly assessed the vibe, and then crawled into my lap, wedging one bony shoulder into the crook of my knee and keeping one eye open whilst the other took a break. The next few minutes of silence was equal parts unsettling and soothing.

The next afternoon I came upon the weird cat, again, simply paying homage to the drywall. I sat down, assumed the position, and waited for the wooden floor patter of the remaining eight softly padded paws to make their way to our small, shared space—which they shortly did.

And whether everyone was intrigued by the invisible entity, waiting with curious anticipation as to its reveal, or some were simply there to catch half a face full of shuteye, what was clear was that this chunk of fading linoleum was becoming a slightly sacred space.

And apparently, we were settling in for a spell.

And perhaps a spell is what we were under, as the next thirty minutes escaped unnoticed. Maybe this was the point—maybe that peaceful half hour was meant to be experienced in a state of heightened oblivion. Not asleep, not awake, just present, like the thing we could not see.

A ringing telephone brought us out of our stupor with the answering machine announcing, “Hey, this is Marvin from the Ratty Shack. I hear you’ve got a problem. Give me a call and we’ll get rid of it.”

I then stared down at the blinking, watery, and in some cases, cataract clouded eyes of my fur family and said, “I vote we wait on Marvin. Same time same place tomorrow?” We left in tacit agreement.

Life goes on. Pestful but peaceful.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Life’s Luck: From Lemons to Sour Grapes, Mine is Weirdly, all Fruit Related.

Last month sucked. I mean really, really came out looking like an ugly puckery lemon.

I smashed a finger in between two 75lb boulders (yeah, while trying to do that rock wall myself—from last month’s blog).

I got a wicked thrashing from a wrathful, hell-bent-on-sparing-no-one poison ivy plant.

I got diagnosed with a second basal carcinoma (treatable skin cancer that plagues many pasty white Midwesterners who are unfamiliar with this thing local people call summer).

I broke my lawnmower.

I was stung by a wasp whose last dying wish was to leave a flesh wound and memorial to himself the size of an award-winning walnut.

And I got a UTI.

Okay, none of this stuff actually happened last month. That was a lie.

It happened this month.

Month and candor aside, the reality of so many calamities all at once did not bode well under the “Thank God, I got my Covid vaccine—it’ll sure be great to get back to normal” mindset I was cultivating.

Those thoughts ultimately tanked, and in their place crawled splints, bandages, skin grafts, physicians, lab techs, prescriptions, pills, ointments, potions, and spark plugs.

It was often hard to keep track of what went where, and on one miserable afternoon I found myself visiting the library to pick up a book I was hoping would take my mind off my miseries.

I was in line, waiting in the lobby for my turn to come in and approach the desk, when I heard someone triple tsk from behind me. I turned to see a woman as wrinkled as an old crabapple, her white hair braided and wrapped into a bun, held together with what looked to me like a couple of birch twigs and a meat thermometer.

I smiled, nodded politely, and turned to face forward again, only to hear her sigh and utter, “Dear me,” under her breath. She tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, pointed to one of the many bandages wrapped around my arms and said, “You really should let that breathe.”

“Let what breath?” I asked.

“Your poison ivy.”

I looked down at the book she was holding in her arm. Kitchen Witchery: Spells, recipes, and rituals for something something magical something enchanted something something. I narrowed my eyes at her and tried to ascertain how this witch had discovered one of my ailments. “How do you—”

“You haven’t quite covered all your blisters,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I really got walloped this time.”

She shook her head. “What did you do, roll in it like a dog in a cowpie patty?”

“No, I was weeding, but I bet my dog had a hand in spreading it.”

“Do you hug your dog?” she asked, pointing for me to move forward in line.

“All the time. He’s the best dog I’ve ever—”

“Stop doing that.”

“Exactly. I know. The oils on his fur transfers to my skin …”

“Not where I’m going. Stop doing it because dogs hate to be hugged. It makes them feel like they’re being devoured, and they’re helpless in that arm lock of stupid humans.”

“Oh.” I stared at the floor for a second before catching sight of her book again. “Well, I’d have to say that I truly feel like I’ve been cursed with something these last few weeks. Just one thing after another.” I looked up at her with a crooked smile. “Any hex breaking spells in that library book of yours?”

“You’re hoping some magic wand will wave away your poison ivy?”

I shrugged. “And my rock-smashed finger, wasp sting, skin cancer—anything that can alleviate those scourges?” I pointed out the ailments around my person.

The old woman studied me for a second or two, opened her book, thumbed through a few pages, and then slammed it shut with a crisp snap. “The book suggests not so much any incantation or elixir, but it is very precise on one specific action.”

“Oh?” I felt my eyebrows raise with hope.

She rolled her eyes. “Stay inside.”

I felt like an idiot.

She looked at me like I was an idiot, so I suppose my feelings were justified. “Ah, well. I suppose most of those wonky spells are simply drivel and gibberish. Are you just reading the book for fun?”

She glanced down at the book again and then spread it wide open to a page with a black iron caldron holding a bounty of vegetables from the garden it sat within. “Nope. I wrote this little beauty—there’s only one copy, and I convinced the librarian to put it here on the shelves. The problem is, I lost the original recipe for my mother’s tomato soup, and every time I want to make it, I have to come back and check out the book. Now that,” she pointed at the page, “is a cure-all for just about everything.”

I gave her a wary look. “How about a urinary tract infection?”

She cracked a smile and spat out, “Ha! That, my friend, is just a curse on all womankind. And no amount of kitchen witchery can make much of a dent in its presence.”

I shrugged. “I guess sometimes we’re just unlucky.”

“As I see it, your dog is going to get a bit luckier with no more hugs. Although sadly for you, I’d say it’ll be some time before anyone is going to want to wrap their arms around your bandaged body.” She searched the ceiling and then said, “Maybe try a bottle of wine.”

“Hug a bottle of wine?”

“No. Drink it. It won’t cure anything, but it’ll sure keep you from being cranky while Mother Nature deals with all your ailments.”

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

On the Cutting Edge of Shear Madness

There is a venerable phrase many of us have heard countless times in our lives:

Doveryai, no proveryai.

Or if your Russian is a little bit rusty, Trust, but verify.

It’s an old proverb American writer Suzanne Massie passed on to Ronald Reagan before he began traveling to Russia to discuss U.S. and Soviet relations during his presidency.

It became for him somewhat of a trademark phrase.

It became a lodestar for many of us, a crutch for a few, but sage advice for all.

A week ago, my hound, Haggis, had none of the typical skepticism that normally washes across his face unless spotting a jar of peanut butter, his leash, or the hind leg of a freshly shot deer in my hands. But this was because he could no longer spot anything.

Literally. His hair had grown to a length where it could serve as an emergency ladder should he be close to a second story window and we had a fire.

So, when he finally heard the hair-raising snippets of my hair-cutting scissors, that skepticism shifted straight into suspicion and finally parked itself at defiance.

I had never cut his locks before, and he believed it was best if we left it that way.

Today, we find a great swath of our population experiencing a crisis of trust.

And why is that? The reasons are many. Understanding them is paramount and will likely shift the way we think, plan, behave, and move forward.

Together, this globe is redefining what life upon this planet is like. We are forced to assess our work, our relationships, our lifestyles, and the unforeseen shape they will morph into down the road.

Over the next several days I employ great determination during my time of internationally urged self-isolation to convince myself and my great hairy hound that I can accomplish the Herculean task of carving through his shrubby mane in the same way most of my fellow humans try to muddle their way through the maze of subterfuge, pretext, and great gobs of misinformation clouding our sight of the truth.

Daily, I place him in an unnatural position and beg him to be still as I scissor away for the space of an hour. I listen to the news: the practitioners, pundits, the press, and the president—each one with a decreasing sense of belief.

I feel Haggis tremble beneath the sound of sharp shears, and I put the scissors down and soothe him with all the ridiculous cooing tones meant to bring forth some ease. But I echo his same tiny twitch of skin when I’ve nipped him with the tip, or when they broadcast some new tally.

Every day certain numbers shoot up, and others slide down. We are warned by some and encouraged by others. Who do we trust? Who should we trust?

With boastful reassurance, I tell Haggis that he’s going to look fine—don’t gaze in the mirror, don’t question my actions, don’t think about it too hard. Trust me.

Each afternoon I hear about people who have heeded and those who’ve just balked. About those who have saved lives and those who have risked them. I wonder if, when this is all over, and I’m face to face with strangers, will I look at them with a fresh question: can I trust you?

And each afternoon I stand from my work, look at the dog, take a deep breath, and exhale with despair.

Good lord, what a mess. I’ve never done this before. And clearly it shows.

I fill him with flattery and maudlin praise, hoping he can’t see through my bluster and swash. But he feels my inexperience. And he knows that whatever my actions, I’ll not feel them as keenly as he does. He discovers at some point—day four or day five—that I’m frustrated with this routine, I’m wishing it over, and I’m unhappy with the results.

But he also knows that there’s no turning back, and this is where his lack of trust in my skills begins to crystallize into disregard.

I am somewhat offended as each day he pulls away from me, refusing to hand me a hoof or his chin.

You’re going to slow.

You’ve made a right mess.

Look here, now I bleed.

I hear him.

I should have left this up to the professionals. Although this is not a choice. We work with what we have, and a large team of experts does not appear at my door.

Each day I scooch the hound outside, toward the mile-long stretch of road between us and the mailbox. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping no one sees as we walk along. Haggis is only mid-way through this pruning, sporting a thick Mohawk down the length of his back, a mop-head, and four legs that are shaved only three-quarters down, making it appear that he is a belligerent teen prancing about in dog-friendly Uggs.

A neighbor stops his truck and rolls his window down slowly. He eyes the two of us with suspicion.

Has he got the virus?

No, I answer. He’s in the middle of a haircut.

Looks like he’s got the virus.

It does my ego and my confidence no favors to receive yet more criticism, and I mope the rest of the way home.

But tomorrow comes, and after convincing Haggis to climb atop the coffee table/barber’s chair once more, I ask myself a critical self-esteem building question:

What would Vidal Sassoon do?

It’s true—it’s not particularly hashtag worthy, but it seemed relatively uplifting for the moment.

And when one is on one’s own, navigating uncharted waters and expecting choppy results, one will search for signs of inspiration, direction, and security wherever one may find it.

(I’m lookin’ at you Dr. Fauci …)

We muddle through and trudge along. We rise to the occasion and make a small difference.

We find places to put our faith: in facts, in evidence, in one another.

And until we emerge on the other side, knackered, shaggy, and injured, we offer kindness if not confidence.

A spoonful of peanut butter can go a long, long way.

Surely the Russians knew that.

~Shelley

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

You Say Tomato, I Say, “Hey There, Bloody Mary”

Someone last week announced that I was particular.

But what I thought I’d heard was that I was peculiar.

Both are true.

At the time I assumed it was a simple observance—one like Oh, you have blue eyes or Your shirt is misbuttoned, or even Huh, I guess some people really do like lutefisk.

But in retrospect I think the statement was more like Huh, I guess some people really do like lutefisk—slathered with Limburger cheese sauce and perched atop a mound of kimchi.

Of course even I know where to draw the line because, Good Lord, no one in their right mind would serve dried cod in lye next to deeply salted and fermented red vegetables. The colors are just way off.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But I should probably embrace one adjective more so than the other, except after giving it some deep-thought consideration while cleaning out the cat litter (an event that comes just behind sock-folding as far as pensive places for contemplation), I realized that both descriptions justify not simply tolerance, but support.

Maybe even celebration.

Merriam Webster (my three favorite people in the world—yes, three cuz there were two Merriam brothers) states that the word “particular” means: notably unusual, nice in taste, hard to please.

Obviously, that last one was added by mistake and surely the next edition will correct their error, but for the sake of full transparency, I’ve included it above.

The three then go one to define “peculiar” as: special, curious, odd.

Again, I feel as if I could be accused of cherry-picking here, but clearly this is not the case. Undoubtedly, as there are 58,876 words that begin with the letter P, and this day surely brought immeasurable stress and opportunity for the occasional blunder, I shall forgive the lexicographers for that last erroneous entry and dismiss it out of hand altogether.

I am neither hard to please, nor odd.

Except if doing a headcount of humans in my home. Then yes, odd in number I would be.

And I feel extraordinarily pleased to be the odd human at home as there is precious little time wasted instructing anyone but the cats as to the proper way to replace a toilet paper roll. Although they still quibble, with countless power point slideshows, as to the ease of reach for the “under” argument, I, as purchaser of said paper, have final say.

The dog has no opinion and believes it all tastes the same no matter the direction – over or under.

Regardless of one’s paper product preference, I still feel there is much to lionize when one comes across anything or anyone deemed “notably unusual” or “curious,” as these are two terms we have, in the past, sadly assigned negative connotation to.

Reviewing my grade school report cards, I note a handful of examples that reinforce this impression.

Shelley has a lot to say and may benefit from raising her hand less often is not what your Average Joe parent wishes to read on a quarterly bulletin summarizing academic progress.

Nor is If you continue to ask questions during CCD classes, you are risking an interpretation from The Almighty as one of little faith. Our catechism classes are spaces meant for quiet absorption.

My recollection was that neither myself nor any of my classmates were precocious enough at ten to question the four pillars of Christianity but simply wished to understand the definition of “catechism,” and therefore repeatedly drew straws to see which of us would get whacked with a ruler that afternoon.

I mean really, why were we here? This time slot was interfering with our ongoing science project of seeing what 3000 tons of freight train with a rail speed of 60 mph can do to a penny.

I’d say that kind of curiosity deserved to be commended.

To be fair, I feel I should attempt to put in a sympathetic word or two for the case of being determined “hard to please” or “odd.”

In some lights, one might benefit from a touch of hard to please-ness, such as when one has been convinced one’s mechanic has sufficiently fixed the brakes.

An attitude of As long as they’re going to halt the car eventually is likely one that will not serve you well for long. Best to adopt a posture of fastidiousness regardless of the inflated garage shop bill.

And when exploring the depth and breadth of the term “odd,” one must acknowledge that although, yes, it can denote something bizarre or mismatched, it can also highlight that last brownie in the pan which could not be divvied up equally among friends going home after tea, or that one Weimaraner puppy with crossed blue eyes, a paw in a cast, and one undescended testicle.

Q: Why the hell would you want this runty K-Mart blue light special, lady?

A: Why the hell would I not?

Clearly, this is not a case of being hard to please, rather seeing years’ worth of creative writing material.

It’s true—in essence, all of this is simply determined “in the eye of the beholder,” right? You can be picky or specific. You can be creepy or eccentric. It often comes down to how the term is delivered and how it is received.

For the sake of one’s self-esteem, I vote a regular bath among the tissue-thin pages of one’s dictionary where you can steep yourself within myriad meanings of every descriptor ever tacked upon your personhood.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You will come out learned, enlightened, and smelling like a rose.

Which, for most people, is slightly better than smelling like lutefisk.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Reshaping Life Goals with a Reciprocating Saw

We’re occasionally faced with asking ourselves the question: What is the definition of home?

The answer I usually provide is: Wherever my collection of scotch resides.

But in truth, as we all know, it is more than that.

It’s: Wherever my collection of scotch and Glencairn glasses resides.

Because really, drinking straight from the bottle is just barbaric.

If I were forced to expand upon that description though, I would add that my furfaces—the hodgepodge of bewhiskered, keen of eyesight, and sharp of teeth domesticated companions—would, with great certainty, be found sprawled on some floor. Usually right beneath a bottle of whisky I’m trying to reach.

Also, my books. They would need to be included within that sphere. As books are the most practical of possessions. They educate, entertain, act as trivet and coaster, and in a desperate pinch, garden trowel.

And as most people could attest, one’s home often comes with an eclectic set of quirks—uniquely perplexing at first, but ultimately leaving one resigned to its presence.

When you first move into a freshly built home—one that comes with the architect’s telephone number temporarily affixed to a wall in each room for easy access to explain what this button does or to report this doohickey still doesn’t work, one also hopes that it comes equipped with a full staff to fix those pesky particulars.

When one moves into an older home, say a dwelling that has seen the birth and death cycle of a few families, one should expect the house will have accumulated a few peculiarities that no architect can explain away, and no butler can restore. It’s also likely the old house will have accumulated a dead relative or two who one of the previous families neglected to take with them.

I’m fairly sure I’ve got one of those.

And it’s no surprise to me, as I am used to the presence of old dead relatives and long ago acquiesced to the idea that my family was stocked with deceased witches, soothsayers, crystal gazers, and astrologists. Women who had a habit of making strange announcements suggesting you were just as weird as they, and that one day you’d all gather at some great Wiccan bonfire in the afterlife.

Until then, they would have to suffice with pestering you during your current one.

Seriously, yesterday I had a thirty minute conversation with a flickering light bulb.

Photo by Nayara Dinato on Pexels.com

I’ve called in an electrician, but I’ve done that before and not been surprised when the resulting diagnosis included the phrase, Hey, lady, this thing ain’t even plugged in.

This month I had a birthday, a fairly noteworthy one according to our culture, but birthdays have never held much weight for me other than to grasp the opportunity to sit down and recalibrate.

I like the feeling of biennial rhythm—a life cycle of two seasons from New Years to midsummer and midsummer to New Years—in order to see how six months of effortful work in some direction is fairing.

I usually scratch out on pen and paper new projects, new habits, soon-to-be discarded habits, and the odd lofty goal or two. I ask myself the age old question, Are your mindset and behaviors still serving you? And then proceed to block out any mental responses I find prickly or distinctively unattractive.

This year, I ratcheted up my level of earnestness and wrote a list revealing sharper resolutions coming from a more candid examination. Fruitless labor is out, accumulation of new skills is in.

When one lives on one’s own, there comes a time when you look around and discover that the architect is no longer returning your calls, and the butler left to become an Instagram celebrity. Therefore, purchasing a drill is at the top of the list.

As are things like nails, hammers, vises, and pliers. Bonus to the guy at the hardware store who convinced me that every girl should have a reciprocating saw that can cut through a person like butter. Best not to ask for a bag of fast acting lime to go on your tab straight after that though.

Feeling quite plucky and proud of myself, I set to work with a newfound sense of purpose fueled by my annually refreshed mission statement: Don’t waste my time, Life, I’ve got some serious shit to do.

And this would have all been fine save for the fact that I’m certain one of those ‘stayed behind specters’ was reading my list across my shoulder and then, cackling with great glee, called over her other residuum compatriots, and they all agreed I should reexamine my new motto.

Nothing was as uncomplicated as I believed it should be. Nothing as straightforward as I’d hoped.

Spending an hour spraying weeds on a hot sunny day is met with an ancestral titter of On your knees and pulling by the root is not fruitless labor, as one gains an appreciation for toiling effortfully.

And then the sky darkens with clouds and immediately washes away my insecticide.

Or … I finally break down and decide to purchase a washer and dryer. I travel fifty minutes to purchase said washer and dryer. Washer and dryer now on its way to my house. Bank calls and cancels payment of units, labeling the cost as “fraud alert behavior.” Washer and dryer not on its way to my house. I wrestle with bank. Washer and dryer again on its way to my house. Units arrive and delivery men discover no exhaust vent for dryer. I now own a fine washer and a large metal box that pointlessly sits on top of it. I saw through walls (thank you hardware store guy) and fashion an ‘inside the house’ vent. Metal box now operates as both clothes dryer and sauna generator. Mold grows on walls. Handyman and I soon discover after spelunking in the crawl space beneath the house that an actual dryer vent does exist, it’s just been linoleumed over.

*insert a great shrill of sniggering laughter here and an ethereal chorus of Perseverance is not superfluous exertion.

I get it. You’ve all made your point.

Perhaps I was a bit glib with my whole I can do anything charge into battle bit and must remember an old adage of my grandmother’s: the higher the price you pay for something, the dearer it becomes to you.

And yes, I think I’m willing to devote time and effort to a footpath with no poison ivy, and clean clothes with which to travel upon it.

Now I simply have to discover just how much an exorcism costs because no longer conversing with a chandelier is likely worth a pretty penny or two.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.