Whooper Wonderland

A few weeks ago, the Rev and the G.P. asked me if I’d like to go on a boat tour to view the recently returned Whooping Cranes.  Since they were paying, and I always need stuff to write about, I accepted their invitation.

It was decided that the pauper (me) should chauffeur the wealthier folk (North America), so I attempted a Boris (my car) cleaning early Saturday morning.  I left the dog nose prints on the back windows because that’s how I identify my vehicle in confusing parking lots, and went to pick up my riders.  Mom’s BFF Pastor Carol was joining us, so we had a full bus.

After some fussing, we finally got the trunk loaded with enough optical equipment to accurately view Alpha Centauri (all of which the G.P. and I would wind up carrying) and started off down the road.  The problems started immediately, as no one actually knew where we were going, despite vehement backseat assertions to the contrary.  Mom had put the location into her GPS, but then refused to let me do what the lady in the phone said to do.  Dad helpfully said, “Mom knows where she’s going, but you can’t trust Mom.”  The Rev’s commands required NASCAR level turning skills, and Dad kept screaming, “YOU’LL KILL US ALL!”  I missed the on-ramp to the Harbor Bridge.  Then everyone started yelling at me in unison (except Pastor Carol, who huddled terrified in the backseat).  My frustration caused me to blaspheme loudly as I turned around in a gravel parking lot.  Cold disapproval from the backseat passengers dropped the temperature in the car a full 42 degrees.  I turned up the heater and pressed on.

We finally got to Fulton, after much nagging and disregarding of the GPS.  We ate lunch (which calmed everyone down significantly – especially those of us who had beers), and everyone (especially those of us who had beers) decided we had to hit the head before we left.  I went first.  When I returned, Carol and the Rev both announced that they had to go at the same time.  “It’s a one-holer,” Mom told Carol as she left the table.

BUT HOW DID SHE KNOW?  Mom hadn’t been to the restaurant before.  The Rev had evidently developed a very specialized form of moderately useful psychic ability.  Pastor Carol (who had recently traveled to Ireland with the Rev) and I marveled over it.  When Mom returned, I asked her how she knew – prepared to deliberately haul her to unusual places so that she could give me toilet specs.  “I went when we first came in,” she revealed.

Scientific inquiry can really take the magic out of things.


The S.S. Sinkmor

Finally, it was time to board the boat.  It looked like a pretty good ship, until I misread the name on the side as SINKMOR (it really said SKIMMER).  I started wondering how far I could swim in the cold water.  “Probably not that far,” I hypothesized as I walked up the gangplank.  Luckily, Captain Tommy was prepared with a safety lecture. He pointed out about 6.2 million lifejackets (so square they looked like they had been made from Sponge Bob’s entire extended family) stowed snugly overhead.  Captain T. also 029really hit the fact that the tour would take three hours (“a three hour tour,” sang the bird nerds), causing me to further contemplate crashing.  “Oh no! I’m Gilligan!” I thought mournfully, having systematically eliminated the rest of the survivors of the S.S. Minnow.

The purring boat backed up and we left the harbor. Pausing only to look at some double breasted cormorants on the seawall, we set out over the glass-smooth sea.

Soon we spotted my favorite birds of the day.  The small-eared grebes reminded me of prairie dogs as they shot across the water, only to dive deep, and then stick their little heads out, look around suspiciously, and then duck right back under.  The lady in front of us had been cradling something swaddled in a blanket.  I thought it might be a baby, or a small dog, or some kind of bird.  Suddenly, she whipped free a telephoto lens the approximate size of the Hubble telescope.  The grebes were about four feet from the boat.

After looking at a variety of ducks and cranes, we moved into whooper territory.  Captain T. pulled the boat right on top of an oyster bed, and pointed out a mated pair with their offspring.  The bird nerds went crazy, and Dad pulled out his own giant lens.  I stayed in the back with the Rev and looked at the birds out the window utilizing one of the sixteen pairs of binoculars we brought.  You don’t want to fight a bird nerd for position.

The whoopers really were beautiful, but I can see why they might have survival issues.  They produce a very limited amount of offspring – two, to be precise – and the more dominant chick usually kills the other. This act is called avian siblicide.  Biologists have taken to stealing the second egg and raising the chicks themselves, but this presents some problems.  Survival and mating aren’t instinctive for whoopers, so the poor scientists have to put on whooping crane suits and teach the juvenile birds how to stay alive (and…ahem…mate).  From what I observed, watching our parental pair trying to teach their inordinately stupid young bird (I named him Kevin) how to eat, I’m pretty sure the biologists have an uphill battle.   The bird nerds cheered for poor Kevin (who seemingly found it next to impossible to swallow a fish that his mother caught for him), but I mocked him tirelessly.  A fellow avian tourist was furious.  “I’ll bet you had problems learning how to eat, too,” she scolded, “and no one made fun of you.”

“Actually,” I replied, “people did make fun of me.  Two of them are sitting right here, in fact.”  My parents chuckled.

“Yeah,” quipped my mother, “how can you not laugh at someone who just shoved mashed carrots up her nose?”



Kevin (the one with brown on him) never quite figures it out.

A multi-family brawl was prevented by another boat sliding onto the oyster bed beside us.  It boasted an even bigger lens than the lady who was carrying the Hubble.  Some staring and speculation regarding size became immediately necessary.  The nerds sighed a collective, “Ooooooh.”

We traveled through the preserve for another hour, viewing other groups of whoopers and even catching sight of a cohort (a group of “teenagers”).  The total count for the day was 53.  As we turned back to the harbor, the birders came in to get their free glasses of Franzia merlot.  I (always keen to stay clear of people) adjourned to the bow of the boat for the trip back to the harbor.

The chilly wind whipped my face as we sped across the platinum platter of the sea.   I noticed a striking number of cobalt blue trashcans littering the marshes and shoals.  Captain T. helpfully explained that this is where all of Rockport’s brand new receptacles wound up after Hurricane Harvey.  Ironically, they’re the only litter we saw in the preserve.

Thanks to our adventure, I’m currently a compendium of useless facts about the whoopers.  There are only about six hundred of the birds left in the world, four hundred of which are here right now, and it’s worth the trip to see them.  Besides, someone probably ought to go check on Kevin.  I’m fairly sure he’s still trying to figure out how to eat a fish.

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Cold Snapped


Happy outside, but once it’s bedtime, Stadler insists on covers.

Man, o’ man is it cold outside!  Stadler is currently bouncing straight up and down out in the backyard, in a gymnastic expression of pure dog joy.  I am huddled under about forty blankets playing I’m-the-needle-in-the-haystack.  I have on six shirts, three pairs of pants, a hat with earflaps that looks like a kitty, fluffy bunny slippers which bear horrible deranged grimaces due to interference by the dog, fingerless gloves and two pairs of socks.  I’m not going to tell you about my underwear situation — just know that it is as copious as it is personal.

Despite the cold, I’m back on my gym kick.  I’m a swimmer, so six days a week I head out to the pool at the YWCA and swim laps for an hour or so.  I knew that if I skipped a day, bailing on exercise would just get easier and easier and I’d wind up shot-gunning enough cheese puffs that I’d have to wear a “wide load” sign while grocery shopping.  I decided to hit the pool despite the fact that Lord Kelvin called and he wants his temperature back.

I got to the gym, which was plastered with handwritten signs that said, “No Hot Water.” Now normally, I shower before I get into the pool like a good and upstanding citizen.  I’m a stickler about it as I hate it when other people don’t.  There’s one guy who evidently puts on a vat full of Drakkar Noir right before going to the gym, and shares it with all of us by jumping into the pool without rinsing off.  I call him Cologne Jones.  I don’t know if you’ve ever swum through an aquatic stench cloud before, but it is highly unpleasant.  Mustard gas is preferable to aqueous Drakkar Noir.  Today, though, I decided I wasn’t going to brave the showers.  I was pretty clean, plus I was positive that the water was going to come out of the spigot in the form of ice cubes.

As I entered the natatorium, more frigid water warning signs were attached to the door.  I was worried about the pool temperature, but put my goggles on anyway, ready to fight freezing water if I had to.  There were no other people in the pool.  The lifeguard was reading a magazine.  I decided that maybe I ought to dip a toe.  The water was fine, warm compared to the air in the huge room.  I took the plunge.

As I surfaced from my dive, I noticed a fine sheen of steam hovering over the top of the water.  It was beautiful and (most importantly) warm!  I began my laps, trying hard to remember to kick through my glide.  Eventually, the lifeguard pulled the lane divider out (over top of me, nearly causing me to drown) and the game was on.

I was pretty sure I was going to be the only person in the pool for the duration of lap swim.  Most people are too smart to go get wet in forty degree weather.  I was wrong.  About half a mile in, a huge man flopped into the lane next to mine.  Have you guys ever seen a polar bear jump off an ice floe?  It was just like that.  He swam like a bear as well, dog paddling along.  I chose to ignore that he was covered in black hair rather than white, and pretended I really was swimming alongside a very happy bear.  Then he decided to try to race me, windmilling his arms in a strange approximation of a crawl.  I passed him easily, beating him by four body lengths without even increasing my pace.

He stopped and huffed, while I kept swimming.  At the end of my next lap, as I was turning, he grabbed me by the ankle, his massive paw dragging me close.  I sputtered to the surface, removed my earphones, and said (snottily), “Can I help you?”

“Don’t you ever lose your breath? How do you do that?” he asked mournfully, sounding like a bear who was out of honey.

“Work on your stroke,” I replied, kicking off, leaving my earphone dragging alongside me.  Better to swim with no music that to have further conversations with ankle-snatching strangers.

He didn’t bother me again.  I finished my swim only to have the lifeguard tell me that the gym was closing at 1 p.m. due to the weather and that the pool wouldn’t be open the next day.  I threw on my warmest sweats and raced out to Boris (my car) to go home.  Even after a long hot shower, and an hour inside my Great Cocoon of Warmth, I still feel like I’m living in Superman’s arctic Fortress of Solitude.

The sad thing is that I’m not a native Southerner.  I grew up in the North (mostly Kansas, but a little South Dakota and Montana thrown in for variety).  I remember once going out sledding on the steep banks of the Smokey River.  We found the best possible hill, and placed our red plastic sled (which we had greased with Vaseline) at the pinnacle.  Down the hill raced Emily and I, whooping and hollering in glee…right until we hit the little hill (ramp) at the bottom and flew directly out into the middle of the river where we crashed through the ice.  We had to walk several miles home, through deep snow, in soaked snowsuits.  The Rev made us hot chocolate with marshmallows which we drank in front of the fire after we pried our bodies free of the frozen fabric.  We were so cold our skin burned, and we didn’t care. Now, I can’t even swim in a heated pool without visions of polar bears dancing in my head.  Corpus has made me a cold wienie.

I can see the dog (now literally doing somersaults) in the yard out of sheer happiness.  Last night, though, she insisted that I give her a blanket and still slept with her nose tucked under her tail. We’re all feeling it, even those of us who wear fur coats to bed.  I tell you what, if I had one, I’d consider sleeping in it.  Beats paying for heat!  Stay warm, folks!  This, too, shall pass.

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Cherry Bomb

Last summer,  my two small nephews came to visit for a month.  The problem with kids, especially little boys, is that they can be highly gross — even for a family that takes disgustingness pretty much in stride.   Once, the Rev had to drive home with two Newfoundlands who had just both been sprayed by skunks, (twice — the boys were pretty slow on the uptake). She didn’t even bother to mention the incident for a few days.

“Mom, the dogs reek!” I screeched, home on one of my many larder raids.  “What happened?”

“They’re fine.  They just got hit by a bunch of skunks.  Your father washed them with tomato juice! What’s the big deal?”

For about a year, anytime the dogs got wet you could smell the lingering stench, but it takes more than stinky dogs to faze the Rev.

Little boys, however, tend to be more terrible than even big dogs. Getting Avery to take his nightly shower involved a “Dukes of Hazzard” style chase, threats,  bribery, and finally bodily hurling the child into the running water.  Then you had to stand in front of the door, blocking it so that he couldn’t escape.  I think he used soap twice the entire time he was here, and that was only because the Rev soaped him.

One evening, all of us adult people were exhausted.  Mom wasn’t feeling well and had retired for the evening, so Dad called in the B-Team (me).

“Ab, I’m tired and Mom crapped out.  I don’t know what I’m going to feed these kids.  Get over here.”

“I’ll bring pizza,” I replied.

When I walked into my parents’ living room, the small children were flung over the furniture as though they were boy-shaped afghans.  Lolling and bored, Jovanni barely turned his eyes away from the television long enough to notice my presence.  Avery got right up and started bouncing on the couch.

“Hi Ab!” he exclaimed.  “Did you bring PIZZA?!?”

“Yep! Pepperoni!”


I went into the kitchen and began pre-heating the oven.  I noticed a fresh bag of cherries on the counter beside a dustpan just full of pits. Full, it would have weighed around four pounds, but the sack on the Rev’s counter was greatly depleted.  Avery came running into the kitchen, grabbed a handful of cherries out of the bag (depositing a very sticky mess of pits in the dustpan) and raced back into the living room.  I decided that I should investigate.

“Avery,” I asked, “how many cherries have you eaten today?”

“A BILLIONTY MILLION,” Avery replied, helpfully showing me his sticky, pit-filled fist.  Further research seemed to be in order.

“Mom?” I yelled through the Rev’s closed bedroom door.

“WHAT? I’M SICK!” came the wheezing, irritated reply.

“Did you just buy that bag of cherries today, though?” I asked.

“Yes.  This afternoon.  Go talk to your father.”

That seemed like sound advice.  I found the G.P.  shooting billiards in the Great Room.

“Dad, I think Avery ate like three pounds of cherries, maybe more, ” I ratted.

“Yeah, so?  That’s what they’re there for.”

“Isn’t three pounds kind of … excessive?”

“Fruit is good for him,” Dad huffed.  There is little sympathy for snitches in my family.

I went back into the living room and told Avery he couldn’t have any more cherries.  Instead, I made the kids a veggie tray. Avery gleefully plowed through the cucumbers.

I served the boys and the G.P. their pizza out on the couch.  They had found a cartoon that they all wanted to watch, and were happily ensconced.  Avery wasn’t touching his pizza.

“You need to eat your dinner,” I ordered.

“Okay,” he replied, slowly nibbling a corner.

“Really?!? You were so hungry!  At least finish your milk.”

He chugged the last of his milk and scurried off to get a book he wanted to show me…

And stopped dead….

Turned to face his grandfather (who was watching the tv while simultaneously sneering at his own piece of pizza)….

And simply EXPLODED!

I had never seen anything like it, except possibly in the “Witches of Eastwick.”  A flood of used cherries erupted from the child like a geyser of goop.  I started laughing and shouting lines from “The Exorcist.”

Avery ran to the bathroom, leaving a trail of viscous, red slime behind him.  I headed to get the paper towels.

When I got back into the living room, Jovanni was standing in his chair, clucking like an upset hen.  I walked over to assess the pile, got down on my knees and started to wipe.

“What the hell are you doing, Ab?” queried the G.P.

“I’m cleaning up the puke, Dad?”

“What the Hell?  Did a kid barf?”

Avery had literally burst two feet in front of the Dad’s face.  I guess the G.P. was not a fan of the pizza.

“Stand aside,” ordered my father, impersonating Batman.  “Don’t waste good paper towels on upchuck.”  He went to the kitchen and returned with the broom and plastic dustpan.

“But, Dad, your broom will smell gross forever!”

“Out of my way!” Dad commanded. “Let an expert handle this.”

I went to the bathroom to find Avery sitting dejectedly on the side of the tub.  I threw him in the shower, as the Rev barreled angrily down the hallway.

She popped her head in the bathroom.  “Is Avery ok?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I relied.  “He ate like three pounds of cherries and blew up.”


“At least. I told Dad about it!”

My mother looked at me scornfully, as though I should have known better.

“YOU SAID YOU WERE SICK!” I whined. “I told an adult!”

“You ARE an adult, Ab,” she rejoined as she stomped away to comfort Jovanni, who was sobbing like he was next in line to contract ebola.

“Shows what you know,” I muttered as I cleaned up the slime trail.

“Can I have some pizza now, Ab?” asked Avery, freshly washed and pajama clad.

“You’re hungry?  After that??”

I’m ALWAYS hungry,” he replied.

Then he ate three pieces of pizza.

They’re coming back in June.  We’re investing heavily in Scotch Guard.

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Captain “Knees and Elbows” herself.

I don’t know about your neighborhood, but in mine, explosions seem to be kind of a big deal.  Any day that is a holiday (and I’m talking about really marginal ones like national buy-your-secretary-a-thing-or-she’s-gonna-be-really-mad-at-you day, or national hamburger day) seems like an excellent excuse for the people who live near me to set off fireworks.  Small occasions aren’t so bad — I guess secretaries don’t rate the full twenty-one-Black-Cat salute – but New Year’s and Fourth of July cause my neighborhood to sound like Syria on “everyone gets a half stick of dynamite and a Bic lighter” Tuesday.

Now look, to be fair, I like blowing things up as much as the next person.  Once, when I was little, my brother, the neighbor kids and I surgically dissected about two thousand Black Cats, dumping the gun powder into a gallon glass jug, which we buried in the back yard, and ignited.  We anticipated neither the loudness of the subsequent BOOM, nor the giant crater that it left, so we didn’t have a good story ready when the Rev and the local Sherriff came running.  I think I tried something like, “MAN, DID YOU SEE THAT METEOR!?” but the smell of gun powder hung heavy in the air, and the block-headed neighbor kid was already squealing like a pig on roller skates.

So, although my criminal history indicates that I would be in favor of more rather than fewer fireworks, my current situations puts me in a dramatically different philosophical position.

You see, Stadler (my gigantic, intellectually challenged black Lab) is terrified of fireworks.  I don’t know if all of you have seen Stadler, but she is essentially a big ball of ebony fluff, three inch teeth, and assorted protruding parts – the better to stab me with.  Underneath her glossy coat, the dogs seems to have been loosely assembled from boxes labeled “Elbows,” “Knees,” and “Miscellaneous Pterodactyl Bits (pokey).”  This isn’t Stadler’s fault, and in most situations her general tendency to skewer me is at least manageable, if regrettable.

Not, however, when there are fireworks.

When the first big explosion goes off, “CRACK-POP-BANG-BOOOM,” my weird dog springs bravely into action — leaping on top of me as though I were a live grenade and she was sacrificing herself to save the squad.  Then, paralyzed with fear, she waits for me to explode, which I generally do, screaming, “AHHHHH! Get off me you enormous fuzzy jerk,” spitting balls of fluff out of my mouth at the same time, and trying to save my kidneys/liver/crotch from being skewered like a kabob by one of her protuberances. Stadler, instinctive protector of home and family, is of the opinion that when the chips are down, we throw everything at the invisible bad guys – including approximately 17 tons of fur and a whole lot of slobber.

Then she refuses move until the explosions stop – shaking, panting, drooling, wild-eyed and insufferable.

As inconvenient and painful as this is, I love my stupid dog, so I have taken some pains to deal with it.  She has doggy “night-night” drops from her vet which turn her into a happy, drunken stumble-pup.  She does much better when I dose her.  However, for the pills to be maximally effective, it’s best if she takes them well before the explosions start.  On New Year’s Eve, this was no problem.  I anticipated the fireworks and acted accordingly.


On New Year’s Eve Eve Eve (29th) , and New Year’s Eve Eve (30th), and New Year’s Day (1st), and New Year’s Day After New Year’s Day (January 2nd), I didn’t anticipate that the neighborhood would still sound like a war zone.

Even on New Year’s Eve, fireworks were illegal where I live, and I’m sure lots of people called the cops.  I, however, didn’t want to urinate on anybody’s birthday cake.  I get it.  Fireworks are fun.  Besides, I wasn’t entirely sure that the already beleaguered Corpus Christi Police Department would look too kindly on a woman demanding that the put a stop to fireworks because “my damned dog won’t get off me and I can taste my kidneys!”

Can you imagine the CCPD trying to zero in on the genesis of the stupid fireworks?

“Shut up, Bart.  Just listen!”

“Sarge: I see ‘em!  I think they’re coming from two blocks east.”


Let’s definitely designate a whole squadron of CCPD to spread out and chase fireworks – you know, because no one in Corpus ever gets robbed or anything (sarcasm alert).

Obviously, the cops can’t do a lot about the problem – but those of you who are being jerks about fireworks definitely can.  Why don’t you designate ONE NIGHT/holiday to blow stuff up? For instance, if the holiday is New Year’s Eve, fireworks happen only on December 31st.  What about Fourth of July?  If you have to ask, I’m thinking maybe you’re not getting this concept, BUT only blow stuff up on July 4th.  If, on some other occasion, you feel the need lose a thumb to a cherry bomb,  drive out in the country somewhere and explode stuff until your little heart is content (probably get permission first, unless you feel like getting shot adds to the experience). Igniting explosives in a residential neighborhood at 12:32 a.m. on January 2nd is just stupid.  If you’re going to be an idiot, go do it where no one else has to hear you.

Last night, burdened with the flu that’s been going around, and squished by the dog, I nearly exploded with NyQuil (Original Green Jaeger-and-Embalming-Fluid Flavor) powered Hulk rage and tracked down the offenders on my own.  It sounded like it was down to two warring homes a few blocks away.  Imagine me, sick, dressed as though I were headed for a winter vacation on the ice planet Hoth, plastered with abused Kleenex, followed by a giant, terrified Labrador actively trying to scrabble up my snow boots and perch on my head, slamming my car door, walking up to your home, and to hammer on your door.  You answer, thinking it’s the cops finally catching you, excuse at ready  – only to be accosted by what looks like a leaky Kleenex Monster in a pink ski mask, screaming at you to, “QUIT WITH THE STUPID FIREWORKS ALREADY, IT’S APRIL 15th!”

“Ma’am,” you would reply, terrified despite your drunkenness and size advantage, by generalized rage and clear psychosis, “I’m sorry but it’s only January 2nd.”


“We’ll stop,” you promise, gently pushing me backwards so that you can close, deadbolt, chain, and push a heavy dresser in front of your door before calling the police.

“See that you do,” I would return, loading the dog up in the car and heading home, leaving in my wake only debilitating fear and (probably) disintegrating Kleenex.

Or, we could just do this the easy way, and you could cut the bull crap.  As James Brown once noted, “I don’t know karate, but I know KA-RAZY.” No one wants to have to call your mother.

Posted in Humor | 1 Comment

Christmas Socks

Jovanni bookplatesmIt’s finally happened.  I’ve become the weird aunt from “A Christmas Story” who makes strange Christmas gifts for children, and expects appreciation.  I didn’t craft anything as egregious as a pink, fuzzy bunny suit for an 11-year-old boy this year, but I came remarkably close, making backpacks for my nephews, heavily featuring cats in space and happy fish with lots of teeth.  They also got new Christmas stockings made from the scraps, and homemade book plates for the literal truckload of knock-knock joke books I sent them. I always try to find creative ways to torture their father at Christmas.  I am aware that none of this is as fun as even the tiniest box of Star Wars-themed Legos, but I can’t seem to help myself.  I think it may be genetic.

Both of my grandmothers were die hard crafters.  One was excellent, a patient perfectionist down to the last detail.  Grandma Jasmin could rapidly turn out the most beautiful gifts, but she knew better than to make stuff for children.  She always bought us some kind of big, shiny wonderful toy because love can, absolutely, be purchased from an eight year old (at least in the short term).

Grandma Betty, on the other hand, was not especially good at making gifts – though sheanerybookplate did it every single year.  Once, she knitted my father a sweater that had arms so long they reached to the floor.  Due to said  “over reaching,”  she ran out of yarn for the left one, and just filled in with scraps – creating one, very long, very rainbow sleeve.  Grandma Betty also thought that our last name was ripe for puns, and so sent us horrible Christmas sweatshirts every single year with (often sparkly) bear appliques on them.  You could tell which ones were for myself and my mother because they had the attractive addition of a lacy Peter Pan collar.  There are about 10 family photos of us wearing these atrocities.  We all look utterly miserable, except the Rev. She smiles like she’s decided to cheerfully murder us all.  This is justifiable since it took her about four hours, nine million threats of violent death, and no small amount of bloodshed to wrangle us into those photos.

I think, however, my real inspiration for Christmas crafting is my mother.

One Christmas, when I was around eight years old, we were extremely poor, and there wasn’t enough money to buy gifts for the extended family.  That didn’t stop the Rev.  This should come as no surprise – runaway locomotives can’t stop Mom-the-Intrepid.  She put on her big girl britches and did something about it.

That year, the Rev grew her own horehound to make my Grandma’s favorite candy.  She sewed perfect moleskin shirts for my father and grandfather.  We couldn’t afford Christmas decorations, so she went, singlehanded, out into the woods, chopped down a small pine tree (which only LOOKED SMALL comparatively – in the house, it was enormous), strapped it to the roof of her car, and hauled it home.  The fact that she didn’t have a chainsaw was no deterrent.  Mom would’ve cut the thing down with a steak knife if she had to.

She put her kids to work.  We were official Christmas elves, making about 3,500 feet of paper chain which festooned the walls, the tree, and most often (when the cruddy Scotch tape gave out) the floor.  She forced us to listen to loud Christmas carols while stringing popcorn and cranberries.  This didn’t work out so well since forcing a needle through a cranberry is like trying to puncture a rock with a licorice whip.  My brother quit immediately.  I kept trying, but the cranberries got further and further apart, while my brother sneakily ate all the popcorn.  We wound up with one, extremely short strand of mostly popcorn on the tree.  It didn’t even go around once. It was magical.

There was one huge problem that year, distressing to the degree that I threw a fit so epic the neighbors are probably still talking about it: OUR STOCKINGS WERE GONE!  How, I reasoned, could Santa fill non-existent Christmas socks! To a kid, this is the definition of tragedy.  “It will be okay,” the Rev said. “We’ll just use regular socks.  Santa will know.”

Have you ever seen the size of an eight-year-old’s socks?  I was sure I was going to get three marbles and a jolly rancher from Santa that year.  Unacceptable!  I sobbed even lounder.

Finally, Mom gave in and grabbed her scrap bag.  “I’ll try to make some stockings, Ab, but I don’t have a pattern.”

“Can’t you just use one of Daddy’s socks?” I asked, still sniveling (I was a world champion sniveler).

“Maybe.  Go get me one, please,” she replied.

I trotted off to my father’s drawer, returning with his biggest, thickest, walk-outside-in-the-snow-without-shoes-on-because-this-sock-is-essentially-a-boot sock.  The Rev laughed a little at my greedy transparency as she pinned it to some plaid flannel and began to cut.  About an hour later, my brother and I had beautiful stockings.  Mine had a green satin cuff.  His was blue.  We still use them to this day – even though Santa Claus has long been in our rearview mirror.  They have always been only ours.  No one else in the whole world has the same ones.

My head has been turned in this life by many new and shiny items, but never once have I wanted a different stocking.  Nor have I needed one.  I think this is why I spend endless hours each year painting, sewing, writing, baking, illustrating and crocheting gifts for the people that I love.  I am not the craftsman that my Mother is, although each season I get a little better – the Rev provides excellent technical-support.   The present I’m really trying to give isn’t just a silly backpack.  It’s continuity – a link to my mother and grandmothers — who toiled for months until blinded by tiny stitches, fingers raw from needle pokes, they finally placed their gift under the tree for some snotty little twit to open and say, “AWWWW… THIS SUCKS!”

While disdain is natural, (and certainly one I expressed on many Christmases myself) my nephews had better be prepared to fake some gratitude.  Otherwise, 2018 will be the year of the pink, fuzzy bunny suit.

Crafting aunties are downright merciless.

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Hellular Phone

de facto chrgerLast week, approximately every single electronic device in my house shot craps.  The vacuum cleaner set out upon a course of self-improvement, deciding that it no longer wanted to suck, rebelliously kicking the dog hair and dirt right out the back of its roller.  My Roku decided that disco was a valuable new trend in television viewing and started flashing the programs on and off.  My sewing machine (in copious use this time of year) mysteriously shut down in the middle of a seam and wouldn’t kick back on.  My cheap iron wouldn’t heat up (no more grilled cheese). My modem decided to play cat and mouse with my internet service provider, and my waterproof iPod  tried to electrocute me in the swimming pool prior to ‘shuffling’ off this mortal coil.  Worst of all, though, my cellphone wouldn’t charge.

I know this has happened to a lot of you as well – your cellphone charges increasingly slowly, you have to carefully connect the charging cable, wiggling it into perfect synchrony with the innards of the phone, and then one day: WHAMMO, no charge-o, no mo’ (usually approximately 14 minutes after the warranty expires). I thought maybe the end of the phone was nigh, but I was hoping to not have to buy a new one until I got Christmas out of the way.  Phones (even the crappy ones I buy) are notoriously expensive.  I tried several methods of phone salvation I found on the internet.

First, I minutely adjusted the tiny tab within the charging port.  The Wikihow page said to remove the battery first, but my phone (as previously noted) was a junker.  Popping the battery could be done, but you’d have to use a bludgeon to get it out.  I turned the phone off and proceeded with the work.  In retrospect, my super pointy eyebrow tweezers may have not been the best tool for the job.  By the time I was done, the tab was certainly “pushed up,” but it also looked like it had been chewed on by carpenter ants.  I plugged the phone in with no results, but by this point I was considering any lack of electrocution a win.

As I moved the cable around, trying to find the sweet spot, I soon realized that if I looped the cord back around the phone, I could get some contact.  Unfortunately, the cord didn’t want to stay twisted in a position that defied at least three laws of physics and probably at least one of thermodynamics.  I had to weigh it down with a hammer.

I left my new charging station to work on the kitchen counter, and set about figuring out where to get a phone repaired in Corpus Christi, with brief forays into Sewing Machine Junction and the Great and Terrible Territory of Vacuum Cleaner Dissection.  Eventually, my phone got charged up to 100% and I transferred (for the first time my history of phone ownership) all my contacts to my SIM card.  The little bar dimmed down to 96% after this activity, so (just to see if I could make it through the holidays with a little dopey engineering and some luck) I attempted to plug it back into my hammer rig.  No dice.  This was the phone’s final charge.

That’s when every person in my contacts list decided it would be an awesome idea to text me photos and videos.  To put this in perspective, only three people on the planet regularly text me, and one of them is Facebook’s password reminder service.  That day, however, people I hadn’t spoken to in years decided it would be an auspicious time to send me pictures of their flooring/neighbor’s cat/houseplant with at least one of their thumbs at the side of the frame.  Then they wanted to have a looooonggg talk about it.  Try explaining that your phone has no charge when your phone is dwindling slowly away to nothing like a terrible actress hamming up a consumptive death scene – you keep thinking it’s done, but it never quite is. *Cough.

I loaded up and went off the cell phone repair shop.  Being a dork, I picked the one with the absolutely dumbest name.  Pro-tip:  adding a “z” to make a word plural doesn’t make cellphone repair an ‘edgy’ business.  It’s still cellphone repair.  The only thing dangerous about it is possibly having to tell a customer that their $1000 phone (worth literally $1.72 in materials) isn’t repairable.  Believe me, in that scenario, that ‘z’ won’t save you.  After waiting in line for a bit, a nice gentleman told me my phone wasn’t repairable because it was an “international phone.”  I’m pretty sure that was industry speak for, “Sorry, lady, your phone is trash unless you intend to use it for target practice.”  I was okay with this since their average price for phone repairs (on the Apples and Samsungs that evidently aren’t ‘international’) was hovering around $100, and my whole phone cost $40 to begin with.

I went home and ordered a new phone from Amazon.  I splurged and got one with a super battery, figuring that if I had to charge it less, the fragile port would be preserved longer.  The phone, plus an extra 32G of memory was $99 – quite a hit for poor little me.  Then I spent the two terrible days in the Gulag of No Phone.  I didn’t realize how much my life is ruled by the device until I was cut off.  It does everything!  It monitors my sleeping, exercise and eating habits. It gives me my email and lets me check my account balances.  I read all of my morning newspapers on the phone.  It tells me the temperature outside.  All my music is accessible on my phone – I actually had to listen to the RADIO in my car – BLECH.  Oh, and it allows me to communicate with my family and friends.

It took those entire two days to convince the Rev and the G.P. that my phone wasn’t working, and even then they were a little shaky on the topic.  Ten minutes after the new phone arrived and was set-up, I got a text from my Dad that read, “You can have my old iPhone if you want.”

After a considerable moment of face palming, I wrote back: “Thanks, Pops. That might have worked, but I now have a new phone…which is how I got your text message.”

“Have some gratitude,” Dad replied, “as least you HAVE a phone now.”

He was right.  Gratitude is important.  I’ll find mine just as soon as I figure out where I put all the screws to the vacuum cleaner.

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Bag Heroes


Stadler models her new, biodegradable poop bag.

I feel like I should start off by warning you, gentle reader that this entire column is about a topic that no one is entirely comfortable discussing.  It’s considered gauche to talk about dog excrement, (unless you’re screaming at ISAC about why a local dog park is the environmental equivalent of a poop tsunami) but it’s important to think about how we dispose of all waste.  I made a pretty grave mistake in that respect, and you could be making it, too.

Working this past year for the Island Moon, I’ve been exposed to lots of articles regarding the safety and preservation of wildlife – especially marine animals.  I don’t know how many pictures we’ve printed of poor turtles trapped in various kinds of refuse.  Plastic grocery bags and six pack rings appear to be the worst offenders.  For years, I’ve been physically unable to throw out those rings without cutting them to little shreds, trying to be sure nothing would get caught in them.  The grocery bags were tougher.  I made a resolution to stop using them entirely after chasing an HEB bag halfway across Arizona (I was convinced everyone would know it was mine due to my Texas license plates).  I started bringing my own canvas totes to the store.  I was successful about 30% of the time.  While it was better than nothing, I was still hauling an awful lot plastic home with me.  I heroically reconciled this failure by using the grocery sacks to pick up dog poop.

To be clear, our family disposes of an awful lot of dog excreta.  I know there’s been a ton of accusations flying around the Island regarding dog owners’ overall ineptitude when it comes to picking up waste, but from what I know about the sheer amounts our two dogs produce, I’d say Islanders are doing a heck of a job.  It would take about five days for Stadler and Rowlfie (who has a definite “spread the Rowlf” philosophy on bathroom activities) to blanket this place with an inescapable minefield of dog fewmets.  You have to do the math before you get to do the yelling, folks.

In many ways it would be better to leave doodie on the ground to naturally disintegrate and provide fertilizer to some species of plants.  However, there are also compelling reasons to pick it up.   Feces can spread disease, but more importantly, stepping in it while wearing flip flops is just awful.  Even if I had a day where I got lazy, and stopped caring about the foot health of my fellow humans, Stadler’s preferred bathroom moment is at a four-way intersection with cars at every stop sign. She is not a crypto-crapper – she loves spectators.  Her de facto audiences, however, rarely return the sentiment. Try not picking up poop while under the watchful glare of four car-loads of people who have been forced to wait for a dog to finish her business sometime.  You can call me from the hospital and let me know how it went.

Digressions aside, for a long time I thought I was doing a very good thing by reusing those troublesome plastic grocery bags as free dog poop containment units.  It wasn’t upcycling, but it was a start.  One particularly pusillanimous Thursday, however, I was playing my usual game of Lara Croft Poo Raider*, when I realized that there was a good chance that I had just hermetically sealed and preserved a big load of dog waste for the foreseeable eternity.  When I got home, I looked up decomposition rates of plastic bags.  Google helpfully said that it takes 10 – 1000 years for them to fully rot in a landfill.  I love Stadler to bits, but I really don’t think the next 100+ generations of humans need to deal with disposing of her droppings.  Clearly, I was not the hero I thought I was.

I took my problem to the Rev, adding “and what if the dog poop actually makes the turtles want to eat the plastic bags.  That can kill them.  I don’t want turtles to DIIIIEEEEE!” I shrieked, appalled at my personal foray into total idiocy.

“There is no accounting for the taste of turtles,” the Rev calmly agreed, and immediately began shopping for biodegradable waste bags on Amazon.

As in all purchasing ventures these days, the amount of options was overwhelming.  You can get everything from sacks that disappear completely in 18 months, to compostable bags, to ones you can flush down your toilet.  Mom and I had a good laugh at the flushie ones.  There’s no way a Rowlf offering would go down a standard sewer pipe.  The products had a varying price point, but on average, the biodegradable bags ran about 3 to 15 cents each.  It’s quite a leap up from free, but not prohibitively costly either.

We wound up buying one of the less expensive products.  The new bags will biodegrade completely in a landfill within ten months.  In my experience, poop turns to dust in about five weeks — although the process can be hurried along if you run it over with a lawn mower.  This makes for total waste disposal in under a year.  Plus, the new containment units are made of a thicker material than the old HEB bags.  It’s nice to use something that doesn’t have small holes in it.  My chances of Dirty Sanchez-ing myself have decreased astronomically.

I feel much better about the whole situation.  I’m still worried that somehow the turtles will get ahold of the bags and decide to feast on poo stew, but I’m not sure that I can stop them either.  Turtle Epicureanism is weird on a good day.

We have to pick up the dog poop.  It’s part of responsible dog ownership.  We also ought to be accountable for our world, and what we leave behind.  I would definitely prefer that my legacy be something other than a nine story high stack of grocery sacks full of dog poo. I suppose it could be worse — but not very much.

*I duplicate Croft’s target-shooting-from-horseback move, except instead of horses, rifles, and targets I use a bicycle, bags of dog poop and conveniently open city trash cans.  It’s a lot less sexy when I do it.

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