Saturday, November 30, 2013


As Fall advanced, a row of oak trees in the park began dropping huge acorns with fuzzy caps that remind me of images of I have seen Cossack dancers. Before they became crushed under the feet of people walking and running on the path around the park and the crews sucked them up (or ground them up?) in their leaf gathering gadgets, I gathered some up and brought them home.

We did manage to catch the pack rat that had run amok in our house while we were gone on vacation. We have not yet found its nest and so have not recovered the items it pilfered. I did not get around to buying any more dried red chili peppers to replenish the ones it stole out of the Mexican pottery dish that sits by my spice rack...
  instead, I filled it with some of the acorns from the park.
Our auto mechanic had an interesting pack rat story – well, just about everyone who lives here has an interesting pack rat story: every evening they would fill a dish on the counter in the office with small candy bars, and every morning when they came back, the dish would be empty. At first they thought a customer was taking all of them, but then they realized the candy was missing between the time they closed and opened. So they assumed a pack rat was taking the candy and set a trap baited with candy bars. And for several days in a row the candy would be missing from the trap. Finally, he took a zip tie and anchored the candy to the back of the trap so the rat would not be able to steal it and would have to spring the trap.

And it did.

In our case, we put sunflower seeds in a jar lid on the plate that causes the door to drop when it is pressed. And for several mornings in a row, the lid would be gone from the trap. Finally, Richard got some “3 and 1 oil” and lubricated the mechanism, and even before the sun had gone down, the rat was in the trap.

He is jubilant: I caught the rat!!! Do you want to take it for a ride or should I shoot it? It’s so pretty.

Despite how dangerous these animals are, I could hear the pleading in his voice.

The question is not an unreasonable one on several levels: I am very strongly in favor of “catch and release” whenever practical: I have taken big black snakes that were after my chickens for a ride and let them go far away from the house… I have taken white-footed deer mice on rides and let them go far away from anybody’s house…

And I understand his reluctance: killing something that is “pretty” is much harder than killing something that is “ugly.”

However, after all the grief and financial losses we have suffered at the teeth of pack rats over the years, there is no circumstance in which I would take a pack rat on a ride and let it go given the possibility, however remote, that it would find its way to someone else’s house…

Get the gun dear…

And he did.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pucker balls

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang...
It is indeed the time of year when most of the trees (except the evergreens) are “bare ruined choirs,” as Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 73, with few leaves remaining, except perhaps on some oak trees...
where the brown leaves are likely to cling most of the winter.

The branches of the wild persimmon tree are bare, except for the beautiful fruit...
which is supposed be edible now that we have had a hard frost and cold nights, but which I found lived up to their name of "pucker balls" when I took a tentative bite of one a week or so ago.

The astringency of the fruit seems not to bother the smaller wild animals that feast on them. And how do I know this?

Well, on the long paved driveway that circles the pond at the church where I take Molly for a walk several times a week, are piles of poop left by one of these animals. Over the last few weeks, one particular pile of poop on the road has slowly dissolved, and all that remains now is a large pile of persimmon seeds. This animal, probably a raccoon, has certainly enjoyed them. Had the pile of poop been left in a more conducive spot, one might have seen persimmon trees sprouting in the spring.

In the meantime, a woman I went to high school with, who is from Japan, says “Mmmm… Fuyu…” and explains I should Peel the skin off, hang them by the stems under the eaves for a month, dried persimmons that can be eaten… or, Easier yet, my uncle used to wash them in vodka and stack them in Tupperware, seal and keep in a dark space for at least 2 weeks. Result is ripe gooey but sweet fruit…

Now, that last idea has possibilities!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A perfect day for tea...

This is one of those gray and gloomy Fall days. We woke up to rain, and it has rained most of the day.

The weather forecast said there would be a brief break in the rain in the early afternoon, and indeed there was. I gambled on how long it would last, got the dog dressed in her raincoat, grabbed my umbrella, and off we went for a walk.

Had we just walked a mile, we would have arrived back home dry, but I decided we better walk 2 miles because that might be the last walk for the day, not counting brief forays outside for bathroom breaks.

It started pouring again when we had about three-quarters of a mile to go. I didn’t have to persuade her very hard not to stop and sniff. She began to trot quite briskly toward home, and I had to just about trot myself to keep pace with her.

A quick session with the blow dryer got her warmed up, and a change of shoes and socks for me, and... nothing quite like a nice cup of tea to warm up one when one is just a bit damp…

Things “Made in China” often are not of very good quality. But this is one thing they do quite well…

It’s jasmine tea, by the way.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On becoming a good listener and adventures with soap cannons and the mighty hunter

Beginning in January 2011 and going through May of this year, we had monthly sessions with the Hospice Compassus grief counselor. We desperately needed the counseling we got from her. We decided to tell her in May that we probably did not need to see her any more, and then she told us she was retiring so she could take trip to China with a friend, but that we could always call her at home if we needed to. Because these were, after all, counseling sessions, there was plenty of back and forth dialogue between us; even so, I think I learned some valuable things from her about being a good listener: There is a time to speak and a time to shut up. Often when people tell us stuff, they really don’t want counseling or our advice, they just want to tell how they are feeling.

We share a fence line with a couple who drive a small car with a “in memory of” decal on the back window. I was able to get a good look at it recently because she happened to be at the YMCA at the same time I was. So I asked her about it, and she told me the sad tale of her niece’s death. As the story spilled out, I realized I should just let her talk about it and not try to share my own sad tale… not to say “I know how you feel…” or “something just as bad happened to us….”  And then later on in the week a friend wanted to have lunch and said she needed to vent. And vent she did...about her husband, her finances, her health, the direction her ministry is taking, various things. Once again, I was able to mostly keep my mouth shut and not to leap in with my own tales of frustration at my husband, or my health, or the other things that get on my nerves. I did not try to offer her advice.

I hope that I did both of these women some good by just listening and empathizing without trying to top their stories Sometimes knowing what to say is very hard, and sometimes not saying anything is even harder.

My husband is the official dishwasher, but on some days when he is stressed about things he hasn’t been able to get done and I am not so busy, I help him. The other night was one such night. He got a little carried away with the dish soap and the pan was full of suds. And it just happened as we stood side-by-side at the kitchen sink that he plunged the funnel he was cleaning rather quickly down into the soap, wide part first, resulting in soap suds flying out the small end. He paused for a second, and grinned at me.

I’ve got myself a soap cannon

That was all it took. Soap went flying everywhere, and we were laughing hysterically, and then I got the mop stick and dried the floor before one of us could fall and break something (ahem).

I guess I am having a “second childhood” moment, he laughed.

I guess he was. And I hope he never grows up.

Once upon a time we used a series of PVC pipes to channel water from the washing machine out onto the lawn to water the trees in the front yard. We did not have to do that this past summer because we had plenty of rain. The pipes are laying at the side of the house and have become an escape route for chipmunks fleeing from the cat and the dog.

Molly knows they go in there, and she has to investigate the pipe each time she is in the front yard. I am trying not to turn into the crazy dog lady...

but could not resist getting the camera.

It would be helpful if she would catch and kill the packrats that hang around here. She would love to get one, and has dismantled a few of their nests, but they have so far managed to elude her. Unfortunately, a little shrew wasn’t so lucky earlier in the week and became her latest victim.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

For our freedom...

Tomorrow we remember the men and women who served our country in the military. Some of them actually did fight in wars to preserve our freedom. Some of them came home, and some of them did not.

It seems every generation has sent its sons and daughters off to at least one war.

My grandparents’ generation sent their children to World War II and Korea.

My parents’ generation sent their children to Vietnam.

My generation has sent its young men and women to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

My father was among the men and women who served in World War II. He wrote his mother many letters, which she kept, and which went to him after she died, and which have come to me.

I still have some of them. It is as hard to read his writing as a young man in his early 20s as it is to read now as an old man, who will be 89 years old on Nov. 13.

My father and mother married in 1945. He left the Navy in 1948, and I was born in 1949.

My dad was fortunate because the ships he was on were not battle ships.
 So although they did fire their guns at the enemy, they were generally not in the thick of battles at sea...

 instead, their main job was to transport troops and supply ships.

He did not return from the South Pacific physically wounded or mentally damaged with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not all of his generation was so lucky. When I saw him last year, he told me a chilling story about his ship picking up Marines from one of the Pacific Islands where they had been fighting the Japanese, and some of them decided to go “swimming” while the vessel was steaming along in the middle of the ocean. Eventually the captain made everyone stay below deck except those on guard duty.

Most of the stories he has told of his Navy years were not so grim and were fascinating to hear. He told many interesting stories last year when I took him to see the battleship Iowa, that is now permanently anchored in San Pedro...
and which his ship supplied during the war.

We had our video camera with is when we saw him in October, hoping to get more stories from him to preserve the memories. But he was not interested in telling stories this time. Perhaps if we had taken him back to see the battleship, he would have been more willing to talk; unfortunately, we ran out of time.

As it happened, nearly all of the men in my life served our country in the military. Both of my brothers joined the Navy, and for a while they were stationed at the same naval base at the same time.

This brother was a cook....

This brother was a welder...
Neither one was in combat.

My husband was in the Army. He just missed going to Vietnam.
Instead, his unit went to Germany, and he served as the chaplain's assistant. He was not in combat, either.
Our son did not go off  to war. He tried to go, though. He enlisted, was accepted in the National Guard on a preliminary basis, and went on some weekend training maneuvers; however, at the final evaluation, they decided he did not quite have what it took to be a soldier, so he was discharged.

He was very disappointed. We were very relieved. He would have been in combat.