Thursday, July 23, 2009

Random Thoughts on Squirrels

A cat (not mine) killed a squirrel in our backyard last Saturday. Except for the scale of things, it looked just like a lion killing a wildebeest - you know, dragging the squirrel down by the neck, then kicking it with its hind feet while keeping a death grip on the throat. You've seen the drama on Animal Planet, I'm sure. When the squirrel was limp, killer-cat carried it off and we've seen nary hide nor hair of either of them since. I feel as if I should be sorry for the squirrel, but I'm not.

There's a squirrel on the deck right now, winding its way up and down my Engelmann oak. Its tail looks a little scrawny to me - maybe it had a close call with something hungry. It can have all the acorns it wants, but when it starts in on the macadamias I get annoyed. It's not the competition for the nuts, which are hard to open and require roasting and all what-not; it's the mess. See? I just swept that deck earlier this morning. Damn you, you little vandal! (It dropped a nut shell on me while I was taking pictures.)

The birds hate the squirrels, and not without reason. The squirrels eat the bird seed I put out, which is just grossly unfair. Squirrels are capable of drilling a hole in a macadamia shell, and they waste time stealing sunflower seeds? Puh-leese. Leave something for the less fortunate, you little bandits, you.

They'll dispose of my macadamias and then they'll start in on the avocados when they ripen in November. Squirrels love avocados as much as they love macadamias, and when they go after those, they seriously piss me off. In that case it's not the mess; it's the food. We're in direct competition for the avocados.

Eating all those macadamias and avocados (we're squirrel-gourmet-central here) makes our squirrels fat. When one jumps from the tree onto the roof, it sounds like a bear landed up there.

Squirrels are vindictive. If I fight back by throwing things into the tree or poking at them with brooms, they break things I leave on the patio, like lanterns and flower pots. This year the fight has been escalating - they've started knocking things off the balcony, too. I'm beginning to regret my rule that the balcony belongs to my cat - a little Roxy-presence might make a difference. Sadly, my cat (Amelie, who, you must remember, is not the killer) needs the balcony to be safe from coyotes, and she's worked out a truce with the squirrels, a feat she hasn't accomplished with Roxy. She'd rather be eaten by a coyote than share a space with the dog.

In spite of everything, I have to admit that squirrels are cute. If it weren't for the mess and the loss of avocado-goodness, I wouldn't have the heart to cheer killer-cat on. As it is, all I can say is: the killer-cat is cute, too, and it doesn't eat avocados.

Updated to clarify the non-killer nature of my cat.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why are we born to suffer and die?

There's been a dearth of posts lately because I've been having a bit of an existential crisis brought on by the prospect of turning sixty next year.

Oooh, every time I think of that number I get a little light-headed. Wait a minute, let me just close my eyes for a second. Deep, calming breaths. Inhale, exhale. Ahhhh.

Okay, we'll go on but we'll leave the precise numbers out of it.

So, here's the deal. I'm getting old, and I hate it. I hate the stuff that goes on with your body - the sagging and the bagging and the sun spots on your cheekbones where your glasses reflect, and the shocking discovery that your grandmother's hands have somehow attached themselves to your body. I hate the thick waist and pouchy tummy and unruly gray hair, the sore back and hips from osteoarthritis, the inability to sleep through the night. I hate the new heights to which my cholesterol has soared. (Exercise more and eat less red meat, my doctor advised. Um, I exercise five to six days every week as it is, and I eat red meat about once a month. But, okay. I'll do better.)

More than the physical, though, I hate the mental stuff. I hate losing my glasses and my keys every day. I hate having words slither right out of my mind just when I need them. I hate the way time seems to have speeded up so I can't achieve a fraction of what I need to achieve in a day. I hate the feeling that doors are slamming, that my opportunities are fewer and farther between. (I dealt with the fact that I'd never learn ballet when I turned forty, that I wasn't going to get comfortable with horseback riding when I was fifty. Now, as another zero approaches, I wonder if I'll ever be a published author. Actually, with the economic woes our country and my poor dysfunctional state are experiencing, I wonder if I'll end my days living under a bridge on the 605 Freeway.)

I hate the social stuff, too: the relatives and friends who've died at an alarming pace in the last ten years; the way our conversations have drifted from things we hope to do, to things we've done, to complaints about our receding gums, our weight gain, and our leaky bladders; the inability to appreciate music that doesn't hail from the previous century.

So. I keep wondering, as the characters do in Kilgore Trout's book, Venus on the Half-Shell (I know, I know - Trout is fictional, but the book exists...): Why are we born to suffer and die? The answer in the book is Why not? But I'm still pondering.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We're remodeling our kitchen

I'm pretty sure this will consume me for the next few months. Our kitchen isn't awful. It's just worn out, doesn't allow traffic to flow, and gets too crowded when more than one person tries to cook at a time. It's that last bit that's the biggest motivator. I like help. I especially like chopping help, because we eat a lot of veggies around here and they all need to be sliced, diced, or julienned.

Right now we're evaluating bids. We've received two, and one is substantially higher than the other. At the moment, I'm inclined to go with the higher bid because it came with item-by-item documentation. I can believe in it. My husband would like to believe in the lower bid, too, so we need to ask questions of the contractors and that's what I'm doing today - assembling a list of questions for each.

This is all a bit scary for us because we had a bad experience with the last general contractor we hired. Seventeen years ago, around the time our youngest was born, we decided to add a bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room. Our contractor did a reasonably good job on that addition, but when we decided to also turn an unfinished area under the garage into a rec room, we ran into trouble. Our contractor disappeared, leaving us a room which was framed but unfinished. My husband and my son worked patiently on weekends for two years to finish the room and the deck onto which it opens. (When they laid the decking, my husband marked the location of every screw. Then he drilled each hole and set the screws in place; my son, who was fifteen by then, came behind and tightened every screw. This took days. After working for several hours, they'd come in rubbing their arms and complaining about being exhausted by all that screwing, causing my eyes to roll back into my head. 'Right,' I'd say.)

Kitchen memories:

When we first moved here, in 1984, the kitchen had avocado green and harvest gold foil wallpaper. No, really, it did.

The guy we bought it from liked to party. The plastic panels which covered the fluorescent fixture had numerous champagne corks embedded in them. He didn't feel the need to remove them, which was part of why we were able to afford the house.

My husband replaced the garbage disposer sometime in the first week. We didn't get that wallpaper down for four (long) years.

Once I turned on the oven to preheat and went back to mixing the cornbread I was making. All of a sudden, a very strange crackly noise began emanating from the upper oven. My husband and I exchanged a glance, and I opened the oven door. Thick black smoke poured out, and below it I could see electrical sparks and something dripping onto the floor of the oven. I stood there, paralyzed, thinking, Oh, shit, the house is going to burn down. I knew this for a certainty because a) my sister's house had burned down a year or so earlier, and b) we'd had a close call a couple of months before when an electric blanket shorted out and started a mattress on fire. So, I just stood there, waiting for somebody to dial 911. My husband reached around me and turned off the oven. The sparks stopped sparking, the ceramic lining of the heating coil stopped dripping, and the smoke stopped smoking. Thank goodness somebody kept their head.

That big black refrigerator you see is the newest appliance we own. It's enormous - absolutely dominates the space. (Well, okay, if I were to reduce the clutter on the front, it might not seem so huge...) My son named it Darth on the day it was delivered. It will be replaced by a white side-by-side, which is taller than Darth but won't stick out so far. (I'm quite sure the clutter will simply transfer to the new location.) We haven't been terribly happy with Darth. It's really very difficult to organize those bottom freezer drawers in any meaningful way.

We bought the range top a few years before we bought Darth. It's black glass. Here's my very best advice: don't ever, ever, ever buy a range top made of black glass. It will always look dirty because there's no cleaning black glass without leaving streaks. By the end of the first week after it came to live in our kitchen, we knew we'd made a mistake. We've been marking time for ten years, waiting an appropriate interval to get rid of that sucker. It (and the double oven) will be replaced by a white, five-burner, double-fuel, double-oven range.

I expect this venture will have its moments. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bears and things

We spent the long weekend at my daughter's place in Lake Arrowhead. It was lovely. We swam off the dock every day, and we took the boat out twice on the Fourth - though it got so crazy crowded with everybody wanting to be on the water for the fireworks show that we tied up the boat around two-ish Saturday afternoon and didn't take it out again. Around eight-fifteen that night, we took flashlights and walked the mile or so to Tavern Bay to watch the annual (pretty darn fantastic) fireworks show over the lake.

To spare my daughter, we agreed on a new cooking scheme - each family took a day and provided all the meals, including clean-up. I promise - this is the way of the future. Everybody got to put their feet up a lot, but everybody went out of their way to prepare meals that were out of the ordinary when it was their turn to cook. Extra special - my daughter's grilled salmon and potato salad, my son's whole wheat buttermilk pancakes, and the open-faced grilled gouda and tomato sandwiches my daughter-in-law made. We had guests for dinner Friday night and they brought a wonderful New Mexico casserole of corn, squash, green chiles, and cheese as a perfect companion to the beef and chicken skewers my husband and I served up.

No trip to Arrowhead is complete without mornings on the deck with coffee and breakfast and some critter-watching. As usual lots of jays and woodpeckers and flickers and hummingbirds and gray squirrels stopped by. Ground squirrels popped up the new staircase to help themselves to the goodies in my daughter's garden-in-pots on the upper deck. And this year we had a larger guest - a black bear meandered up and cleaned out the bird feeders around five on Sunday morning. We're not sure if the lights going on scared it away, or if it had eaten as many nuts and seeds and raisins as it wanted, but by the time we decided to investigate the racket, it was back on the ground and ambling away.

Any lessons? Not a one. We had a good weekend. We ate, played, laughed. Nothing going on here, move along.