Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thought for the Day

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.

Rebbecca West
What do you want to do today?

Her head cocks right, eyes search the ceiling.

We're sitting in the entryway on the reformed church pew.  Mandy catches our reflection in the door window.
Mug shot
"Woof."  "Erruff".  Her body puffs.  The woof comes out with an breathy oof.  "There's a dog in the doorway."

I wave at the man and dog in the doorway trying to show her the connection between my wave and me.  She looks at me waving, then at the reflection in the window of the door.  "BARK". 

It echoes in the enclosed space, bouncing off the ceiling.  My ears hurt.  "Unlax," I tell her.

"It's only me." 

The conversation ends there.  I can't list options because she'll only hear the first suggestion.  I don't want to go outside at the moment.  I feel a need to check out the NWS site and find out why the thermometer is inching up toward forty.  I thought Jorge was pulling my leg when he mentioned a thaw.  The NWS forecasters were and are fairly inconsistent.  Light freezing rain and drizzle never happened in our area after 2 pm.  yesterday.  Below zero temperatures are in the overnight forecast  two days from now.  I need to get oak in the basement wood bin. 

Johann calls.  "Your phone is ringing, "says Dawn.

"I don't know where it is."

"I can't make it over.  Drank too much last night.  I'm in a bad way. See ya."

At eight pm the previous night, he calls to check in.

"Howyre' doin?" he asks.

We're speeding home after eating too much Lo Mein. " I'm OK," I tell him. Actually, I've got stomach cramps and a bad cough.

"I'll be over with the big truck tomorrow.  We can load some firewood, bottle that wine and discuss the greenhouse footings." 

"OK."   He tells me that he's been hanging drywall, working until two am.  Tonight will be another work marathon. 

"Been running hard and fast all day." he adds.

I'm bored beyond recognition and he can't find enough time in the day.

I lazy down at the library with Mandy at my feet reading the local newspapers and trying desperately to have a conversation with my library angel.  Every time I ask a question, be it about criteria for the book cull we're about to launch or about the grocery store in town that's up for sale, I get a long convoluted answer that begins in 1944 and ends with a purse snatching.


Friday, January 28, 2011

The Gallery

Boy and his dog

Gimme a kiss.

The other dog

I love to dig.

A nap after lunch

Jonathon Pine

Mandy's friend "Buddy"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Taming of a Shrew

The lightly falling snow obscures the hills off toward the northeast and the next town giving the impression of heavy fog. The Pooch is focused on an animal under the snow.  The fur on his back is covered with a dusting of snow.

I'm fixing a breakfast which involves several steps so I can gaze out the kitchen window and watch the activity under the bird feeder.

His intent gaze is broken on occasion when a bird larger than a chickadee or junco lands on the feeder.  A mourning dove, for example, finds him paws up against the pipe looking at up the morsel of poultry.  The mourning dove is a ground feeder and will not land with the gray tabby underneath.

First course in an extended breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal.  To combat the cholesterol in  the Amish eggs I consume, I forgo my distaste for cereal of any kind.  I alternate toppings of brown sugar and honey or dried cranberries depending upon my mood.  I watch the cat snowplow in deep snow hoping to catch the varmint tunneling beneath.  He alternates his technique with burrowing and a long paw reach which appears to me as a choreographed snow dance.  He works the animal in a circle, confusing the thing from its original purpose-a meal of sunflower seed.

I'm perplexed when I see the dark, furry shape emerge from its snow tunnel and scamper across the crust of snow.  The Pooch treats it as if it were a snake.  He jumps at it, paws at it delicately and avoids it scrupulously as if if were poisonous.  This cannot be a mouse.  Mice and birds are quickly consumed.

My guess is that the creature below the bird feeder is either a mole, shrew or vole.  The answer is on the inter net.Once I read the Wikipedia article on shrews I understand the cat's reluctance.

Some species of shrews are venomous.  The venom is contained within the grooves of their sharp spike-like teeth. The contents of the teeth of an American short tailed shrew are sufficient to kill 200 mice.One chemical obtained from the shrew venom is considered useful in treating blood pressure disorders, neuro-muscular conditions and migraines.  The saliva of the Northern Short-tailed Shrew contains the peptide soricidin which is used to treat ovarian cancer. Along with bats and toothed whales, some species of shrews use echolocation ( sonar).  Shrews hold 10% of their body mass in their brain which is the highest body to brain mass of any animal, including humans. 

This a smart cat.  The shrew merges from the snow tunnel and races across the snow like banshee.  The cat leaps after it.  Then the shrew tunnels back into the deep snow.  The interplay continues while I place the cast iron skillet in the oven to bake my tortilla egg pie at 400 degrees. The shrew seems to be pissed off, struggling and writhing on top of the snow once again.  Aroused from its winter torpor with a simple plan to fuel a metabolic rate as high as that of a chickadee which involves eating  up to 80% of its body weight per day or suffer through a body mass reduction from 30 to 60%, the shrew lies still atop the snow.  

The cat senses trouble brewing.  The thrill of a live toy has worn off. There's no promise of a meal.  He races toward the mouse and veers off at the last moment, leaping over the snow bank onto the sidewalk between the privet hedge and the house.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Five Dollar Holler

Excerpt from Vagrants, Varmints ,Miscreants & Ne'er Do Wells by Roger A Gavrillo, subtitled "Apologies To The Drunken Artist"  copyright 2000, all rights reserved Seven Roads Gallery Inc.

 The setting is the year 2000. I'm living in Sedona
operating a trading post in downtown Flagstaff , 45 minutes 
and 7000 feet up from Sedona via interstate 17." Downtown"
Flagstaff is sometimes referrred to as Old Town and the location of 
many small shops, cafes and tourist oriented businesses. It is within
walking distance of the campus of Northern Arizona University.

"The students who head downtown have some weird sense of style. The head gear, for example, could be something retrieved from the Goodwill discard bin or the recycled clothes shop on Aspen Street called Incahoots. Much of it I wouldn't be caught dead wearing even if I were hoping to land a job with the circus.   Cupcake hats, pointy hats, knit hats, hats with tassels, African king hats, Yoruba ceremonial garb but nary a Galoot hat. Perhaps they use the hats to water their horses when they're not wearing them.  Most of them resemble a bowl; and all these people have a dog.  I suspect it may have a connection with the over-consumption of alcohol.

The headline for the NAU student newspaper, The Lumberjack, features a picture of students crowded around a pizza box.  The by-line is Five Dollar Holler, the expression pizza hawkers use when lining up outside bars at closing time.  That also explains the crusts left in doorways and on the sidewalk when I walk to the store in the morning...

The first person in the store the other day was an American Indian lady selling phone cards. Yes, phone cards.Then another babe comes in looking for pinon ash. "What the hell is pinon ash?"  Later on, its dream catchers, then rattles and Hopi flat dolls.  A big, black tour bus pulls up in front of the Christmas store across the street.  On the side of the bus is a lion with a crown crest announcing the modern day stage coach as The Regency tour bus. The only ones who come in the store from the tour bus are an elderly couple from Ontario. He's got a huge bulbous red nose from long Canadian winters and a bottle of Canadian Club next to the TV.  She's just grandma with the plastic rain hat.

A lady from California with a cell phone pasted to her ear walks through. She's engaged in a stimulating conversation about the new set of laundry appliances her friend on the other end has newly acquired. At some point the subject of the conversation changes. She chides the other person about lapsing into baby talk. Baby talk. "Oh, please."  The wretched conversation continues.  The California woman is telling her phone friend that she, "Got a real deal on a Crown kachina from a Navajo woman on the street, only $100."  No more than a minute after the wretched woman from California leaves the Navajo woman comes in the store carrying a cardboard box.  " Are you buying?" she asks.  I look in the box.  The kachinas, if you could call them that, are plastic dolls with a buckskin dress and a tableta. .  Cheap Navajo tourist knockoffs.  "They're $35 dollars," she says.

God just pours these people out like a pitcher of Kool Aid.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dog Lovers

I've been fighting a particularly virulent upper respiratory infection. When I call my 80+ year old library angel, I tell her,

"We won't be culling any books today. I'm not well."

"Did I give it to you?" she asks.

"Yeah, but I won't tell anyone."

I send Dawn to the library to copy a document. My library angel sends a book home with Dawn. The Last Dog On The Hill by Steve Duno. When she's sick, I bring soup. She gives me books to calm me down and rest. It's hard for me to do nothing.

"He may need some reading material," she tells Dawn.

I'm halfway through the fascinating book which chronicles the life of an amazing dog named Lou. Adding personal details about his life, Steve Duno relates interesting anecdotes about living in California. I'm at the part where he's about to move to Seattle. Duno finds the six month old Rottweiler/Shepard mix on a trip to Northern California. The puppy is infested with fleas, over 50 ticks and has an infected wound on his neck. Duno rescues the dog and immediately drives to the closest vet who tells Steve,

"This dog would have been dead in six months."

Lou has foiled a Seven Eleven robbery, survived an encounter with a rattlesnake, made friends with Daryl Hannah, destroyed more things than Marly and charms gang members and reluctant apartment managers alike.

The other night, I wake up wheezing. I can't breathe. Leaping out of bed, I struggle for air feeling like I'd swallowed a nacho chip down the wrong pipe. Both Mandy and the Pooch run to the hallway where I'm desperately trying to clear my airway. Dawn switches on the bedroom light. "I'm all right, I tell all three."

"Do you remember when Mandy was as little as the picture above?" I mentally ask Dawn who's at work right now. She may be reading this on a break later in the afternoon. When she gets home, we'll marvel at the changes.

My mind strays to the encounter between Mandy and my only granddaughter over a year ago. The granddaughter shrieks in mock fear when Mandy approaches. A consummate actor at age four, Dawn does a tarot reading when the kid is born. The tarot says she'll be a handful. We see the beginnings of manipulative behavior where she refuses to eat a normal meal. Mom feeds her crackers a short time later. Riding in the back seat of a car, she wants to be the center of attention. To achieve this she has to raise the decibel level of singing to drown out the conversation between adults.

Mom reassures me before they come for a visit that the child will be OK around our six month old puppy. She has friends with dogs. I spend most of my time try to train the curious dog from jumping on a shrieking child. Later, I learn from my son that the parents don't like dogs.

I understand why someone would choose not to raise a dog or cat. But not liking dogs is another story. In a blog I follow, a UW-Madison professor debunks supposedly factual testaments of media hype about dogs carrying diseases. She classifies one such story as a corollary. For more information, I suggest booting up

My first teaching assignment was a fourth grade classroom in the most inner part of the inner city. I lived on a farm. I'd bring a chicken into the classroom to enrich their lives and find numerous teaching assistants-mostly local residents-terrified of the chicken. Fear of snarling inner city dogs I can comprehend. These same kids, I'd gather on weekends and bring them out to the farm. It was difficult to get them back to their homes after the short one day trip in the country.

The Pooch spends his nights hunting a mouse in the house. Dawn says she can hear his claws scurrying around on the kitchen linoleum. Over the weekend, I cornered the mouse on the first floor bathroom, only to have him escape into my office. The silver lining in that cloud is a completely reorganized office with clear access for the cat into the closet and around furniture. In the evening he'll spend an hour snoozing on a bed on the laundry table in the basement or lounging on a carpet in front of the washer. It's been two days now and I'm surprised that he hasn't left us a gift of mouse on the kitchen floor. It may be one smart mouse or as Dawn says,
"He probably ate the thing."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"G'night Mary Ellen."

It's barely seven am. I pull back the homemade drapes in the second bedroom and raise the dusty rose mini blinds. Dawn ( as in morning) is an ethereal blue mist. A large bird flies off the top of a white pine on the south fence line. It could have been a crow. They always hang around in the early morning, but no, the underside is a lighter color-an off white. The birds of Kickapoo Center sleep in. They're not active until the sun rises over the hills to the east. Of late, that's near nine in the morning. This is no sparrow hawk. It's too large.

G'night Ben.

Mandy stayed up late last night watching A Dog Year. Jon Katz's book is turned into a movie with Jeff Bridges. The star is a Border Collie named Devan(Devin?). Mandy gets so engrossed with Devan, she walks right up to the TV for a closer look. My wife and I watch Mandy and notice the similarities between the two dogs. The cat's on the back of the couch in the groove between the fat, bulging cushions, feet sticking straight up in the air. He appears to be oblivious to the world, but when I toss a barbecued soy crisp nugget at him, he turns over immediately and snarfs it up.

G'night Grampa.

It'll be frigid tonight. Well below zero. When Johann calls at dinner time last night, the thermometer outside the kitchen window says three degrees. It's ten degrees on the hill.

"It's nice and warm in the cabin," he says. "I can't even see my breath."

I counter with a memory of a salt box farmhouse along the Lake Michigan shore. The closest town has a hardware store, the Knotty Pine Cafe, a car repair shop on the road outside of town and a couple of churches. The names of the businesses reflect the Dutch heritage of their ancestors. The next closest town four miles to the south has a summer festival where they wash the sidewalks and streets beforehand. The previous tenants of the salt box farm house let the chickens roam in the kitchen. It took weeks to clean the dirt and filth from the house. The landlord was a crusty, old German truck farmer on the outside of the city. The neighbors were relieved to have a young couple living in the house. They told us stories of the old man, probably a drunk, beating his kids with a belt in the front yard. His pregnant wife ran off after one particularly tumultuous fight. The people across the county roads picked her up walking toward Sheboygan out of concern for the baby.

G'night granma.

We dress the baby in pajamas, snow suit and cover her head with a soft knit cap. There are two rooms upstairs. The larger one serves as our bedroom and the other smaller one facing the county highway is the baby's room. There's a heat register in the floor which is open to the living room below. In the living room is a behemoth oil fired heater. The brown enameled metal smells slightly of fuel oil. In the kitchen we install an Ashely air tight wood stove. If we leave the door to the upstairs open and fill the wood stove to the brim, the temperature on the second floor is a toasty fifty five degrees. When we mention the cold to the landlord, he surrounds the foundation of the salt box with hay bales. The pipes in the bathroom freeze.

G'night John Boy.

Our farm is a twenty acre parcel the crusty old German buys with the proceeds from an onion harvest. He owns the adjacent corner farm, barn and another salt box farmhouse-only larger than ours. A young couple moves in. They mention frequent bouts of illness. I'm suspicious and tell them to have the water from the well located down stream of the barn tested. When the results come back from the state, they are told,

"Do not even bathe in that water."

The crusty old German hears about our suggestion.

"Vat you go tellinth them the vater iss bad," he shouts at me. " I drink a cup all de time and notting happen to me."

He hangs a rusty tin cup on a hook next to a spigot from the well house. Piss and vinegar flow through his veins. Battery acid would probably curdle in his stomach. He knows he can't kick us out, so he raises the rent from 70 dollars a month to 90. We give him notice when the lower flat of an old mansion in the inner city owned by a teacher friend becomes available. We move in the middle of November.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bear With Me

Rule of thumb. Bear with me, I'll get to that.

I've got raw milk that's beginning to turn. The dog and cat will lap it up, but it turns my nose. I have a poverty consciousness that's out of control. I will not throw away two cups of milk. I look for a bread recipe using milk. One of my favorite cookbooks has a recipe for Old Fashioned Oatmeal Bread. Wow, a healthy alternative. I mix the 5 cups of flour, 2 cups of rolled oats and the milk, the yeast and so on, roll it into a dough ball, set it on a warm stove top and head off to the library. When I return, it's risen nicely. The recipe calls for dividing the dough into 3 pieces and putting them into bread pans. Let it rise for another hour, it says. I do and it doesn't. Bake it for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. After 20 minutes it's brown. I cut the heat back to 350 for another 20 minutes. I slice into a hot loaf and slather it with butter. Dawn says, "Very tasty." The next morning the plastic wrapped loaves could be used as weapons of war.

Still smarting from another bread failure, I open my credit card bill. Ouch. I wince and slide the bill under the return envelope flap with the due date face up. I need some positive reinforcement.

There's a can of re-fried beans in the frig. They're only 10 hours old, but I know what'll happen. Slowly they'll get pushed to the back of the refrigerator until, I discover the can of re-fried beans when surfing the icebox, all fuzzy gray/green covered with plastic wrap. I'll make tortillas. I nuke a bowl of oatmeal with dried cranberries and make myself an espresso mocha.

Rule OF Thumb: ( I told you I'd get to it).

Don't wear black sweats when baking. As long as I'm on the subject: Don't sit on a metal chair near the open back door of the Cashton Community Center in 10 degree weather. That's another story.

I cut my tortilla recipe back to one third. I toss the remaining amount of Rumford baking powder into the bowl and guess the warm water to about 5/8ths cup. This time I mix the water slowly into my dry ingredients and feel the dough. When I get the right consistency, not too moist so it's sticky, I toss the remaining amount of water. I shape the kneaded dough into small balls while my cast iron pan is heating up. After the first two tortillas are rolled out, I'm in the saddle riding the tortillas into nice taco sized, thin sheets of dough. While one is cooking, I'm rolling out another. As long as I don't get distracted, it works like a charm. Yahoo ( can you still say that?) My tortillas are fantastic.

Topping off my breakfast are three small tortillas on which I spread refried black beans, a half slice of crispy fried bacon, some no-name cheese I found in the meat keeper and Louisiana hot sauce. I put the glass plate in the microwave and head upstairs because it's TOO QUIET in the house.

The dog's on the futon looking at me. The cat's on the dresser looking at me. Both have that, "WHAT?" look on their faces. The microwave is beeping. I cooked the tortillas past the 30 second mark, but no harm is done.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I stop and look over my bifocals at the word.

Wow. What a mouthful.

On the back of the toilet is shotgun reading material ( print stuff for a short stay). A Menards ad, a Harbor Freight sales flier and the newsprint Times book review. Only in a print version of a book review would someone get away with using a word like calamitously.

In a job interview for a company that spends millions on technology to develop life saving medical devices and cutting edge products for our brave new world, the interviewer is distressed by the candidate's lack of enthusiasm. Just before he thinks it's time to end the interview, the woman uses a phrase uncommon in everyday speech. He's impressed. He concludes that this is a smart person and hires her on the spot. In time she becomes his number one assistant.

In the same book about technology I'm reading at the moment is this quote by the main character. Speaking of the Internet, he says,

"It's like sports- fun, expensive and it really doesn't matter."

The speaker doesn't file sales tax reports like I do. It does matter.

In several Wisconsin counties taxpayers fork over a portion of their paycheck to pay for the sports arenas. Most do so willingly because they're passionate backers of their favorite team. That's OK. But what about people who aren't fans. The little income they make, they try to stretch to meet car payments, food bills, and to buy a few new clothes for the kids. It isn't fair to pay for that stadium. I could go on, but it's an emotional issue not based upon fact.

I remove two "friends" from my Facebook account after I glance at an entry in which the wife of this couple converts a prayer into a so-called humorous tribute to the local football team. I mention it to my wife whose first response is "blasphemous". My wife is not a religious fanatic. When our bookkeeper quits without notice, her response was, "Not a very Christian thing to do."

At first light both of the "kids" walk down the steps to the back door of the breezeway. Mandy takes three steps and does her thing. The cat refuses to step in deep snow. After breakfast, brave cat tackles the snow. I see his tracks around the deck. He begins his walk close to the house where snow has melted. Mandy retires to the futon upstairs.

The Pooch is now snoozing on my desk next to the computer. He gave up trying to persuade me to let him out, which included a spell of lap cuddling and a lot of purring. The routine is the same. After a few minutes he'll get bored and stand in front of the kitchen window looking pathetic with a mantle of snow. I'll let him in. He'll jump on the island and beg for treats. After tousling with the dog, he'll sit on the back of the couch until his memory of wet fur, deep snow and cold paws is erased with thoughts of chasing birds.

Ah, yes. It is winter.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Building a Greenhouse

One more project completed. One last project in the works.

The ugly metal, porch railing we took to the dump after we'd moved in is replaced by an oak railing on our steps to the second floor. Johann, our carpenter, creatively hides the holes drilled in the bottom step for the grey aluminum railing with a four by four capped post. A few minor details such as filling in nail holes and rounding the corners of the post cap were supposed to be completed today. I got side-tracked.

A phone call from Johann right about breakfast time leads to his dropping by with a bag loaded with garlic bulbs. I'd mentioned, yesterday, during railing construction that we were on our last bulb.

After fixing Johann a small breakfast of three pullet eggs topped with mozzarella, a bagel slathered with butter and raspberry freezer jam, six pieces of thick cut bacon, organic hash brown potatoes topped with feta cheese and a cup of coffee washed down with a glass of orange juice, we get down to business.

I need an air nailer. The prices and details are mind boggling for someone with limited construction knowledge. I research framing nailers on the web and in Lacrosse. I find a tool site with a top of the line nail gun at a reasonable price. I boot up the computer and show it to Johann. With his experience as a carpenter, he quickly points out that the framing nailer is a good buy, but "Don't be surprised about the cost of nails," he says. "It won't be like going to the hardware store and buying cement coated sinkers for 99 cents a pound.

I tell Johann how pleased I am with the new railing. It's easy to rattle on after a cup of strong coffee for breakfast. I walk in my office and grab two sheets of paper off the shelf. Then I attempt to draw a schematic of the foundation for a proposed greenhouse.

It's like talking to Dawn, my wife.

I start by describing the traditional board and batten method of squaring off the foundation site. He interrupts by proposing a method which merely involves a few stakes driven into the ground. When I question a few details, like what happens when you drive a stake and the foundation string lines aren't square, he says you move the stake.

"But," I interrupt, "If you're using 2X2's which make a large hole and need to move the lines an inch or two. Won't the existing hole cause a problem with moving the stake." I get the standard answer. "Just call me and I'll come down."
"But what if you're not around?" He doesn't have much patience for my prodding questions. I know from experience that if Johann says we'll start work on Wednesday, that might mean beginning a day later. His favorite saying is, "Don't let yourself get a nosebleed."

I delve deeper into the issue. "If you dig your foundation holes ( I'm doing a post foundation) and they're off, it could throw the whole project off." He tells me, " You dig your holes, put in your bottom block and don't fill the holes with gravel after you set the posts, you can take a sledgehammer and knock the foundation square." Then as if this would calm my fears, he says, "Yeah my cabin is a little off."

The piece of computer paper I'd brought out is filled with squares, rectangles squiggly lines, numbered notations and a lot of graffiti. Although Johann's methods are unusual, I have a sense that there's a certain amount off "leeway" in the construction process. I may have to fix a few more lumberjack breakfasts, but the consultation fee is actually quite low. I'm nearer to having a good mental picture of a lush greenhouse filled with garden plants and a warm chicken coop behind the greenhouse filled with happy, clucking hens and a ferocious rooster guarding the flock.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Two fifteen am. Mandy comes in the bedroom grunting like a chimp. It means, "I have to go out". I take advantage of the moment to get a drink of water while she's outside. The routine is the same most nights. I'll leave the breezeway door open and she'll return in a few minutes. I'll tell her, "Come in", switch on a nightlight in the kitchen so I don't trip over her and stumble up the stairs.

The cat never moved from his fetal position on the thermal blanket on the bed. Mandy jumps on the futon in the west bedroom to resume chasing birds in her sleep. I optimistically snuggle under a comforter and flannel sheets to drift off. My nose starts to run. I've been more allergic of late, which I attribute to dust from the wood stove. It's been running ( the wood stove) 24/7 because of recent -10 temperatures.

On my bulletin board in the office I mounted a cut out Sunday color comic from Pearls Before Swine. It's a classic.

Multi-colored M&M look-alike figures stand on the chest of a sleeping rat/mouse. A row of pastel sharp edged balloons over the anxieteers contain one word
ping. The animal becomes wide awake. Each of the anxieteers hovers over the worried looking rat uttering an anxiety in a cartoon balloon. Fear, worry and paranoia are the general themes. Stuff that one sweeps under the carpet in daylight hours. The rat sighs. He can't fall back asleep. The M&M's do high fives, their job complete. One sympathetic M&M walks back to offer consolation. With bulging eyes, he says, "It'll be all right." A mean looking M&M comes back and swats the errrant anxieteer. The panel shows a poof where the meanie hits the consoler and in large type-smack- in the sharp edge balloon at the top.

It was 2:15 when Mandy wanted to go out. Forty five minutes later I'm still awake.

"You're going to have to get rid of the cat or suffer worse allergies. Remember to get the Amish patriarch to make a bottom rail for the new railing on the steps. You'd better be careful sanding those steps or you'll have dust all over the house. Your allergies will be worse. What'll I do with the dog if we want to travel? You don't have anything to do now that you finished the church pew bench. You're getting old. I wish I were closer to the kids. My son thinks we're strange because we don't watch football on TV. We need to get a high frequency antenna for TV reception. How am I going to pay for the new garage door? The garden is too much work. If you make a chicken coop you'll be even more tied down. Maybe you should save money and buy a metal railing for the steps.

I put on some sweats, walk over to Mandy and give her a reassuring hug. Downstairs I switch on the light over the sink. As I make some white tea, Mandy comes down the steps to check on me. The cat follows. He jumps on the island and gives me a nose buss. It's our way of smooching. I give him a treat. Mandy jumps off the couch. I give her a dog treat. I thaw a bagel and Mandy brings a goofy toy, offering to play. I chuckle and pat her on the head. Seeing I'm busy with tea and a bagel, she walks over to the cat who's lying on his side by the couch ready to spring into mischief action. She stands over the cat with the toy. "Hey, come on. Let's play." The cat races off with Mandy in hot pursuit. I shush the two. "It's the middle of the night you two goofs."

After two treats for the kids and a cup of tea with honey for me, the dog comes in the office and slumps on her side on the carpet. The cat jumps on the desk next to the computer. "It's going to be all right Dad." their eyes tell me.

Now two hours later, both have abandoned me and gone back to comfortable sleeping quarters. I should make a list of things that need attention tomorrow and go back to bed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bad Cat and Nutmeg

Shoulda named the dog Margaret. Shortened to Meg, like one of my favorite movie stars, I'm sure we would have added nut to the title.

Winter is a hindrance to my animal population. Walks across the frozen tundra are few. Mandy gets excited and streaks out to the cornfield when I ask, "Wanna to go for a walk?" There's a crust of ice from the recent New Year's Eve thaw which allows her to walk on top of the snow. I break through every few steps, making my walk look like Joe Cocker on stage singing Bird On a Wire.

In the middle of the field she stops and paws at the ground. I imagine a dead animal carcass to sniff and examine. The other day I decide to check it out. Whenever Mandy's allowed outside on her own, I find her in the cornfield and have to call her back. I follow the neighbor's tractor tracks which are icy and hard, slipping every other step. I abandon the groove finding that spaz walking is preferable to falling in the snow.

When I reach Mandy at her "spot" all I find is a mass of cornstalks. It looks like a hastily made burrow for some large rodent. Disgusted it's not something more exotic, I walk in a straight line toward the edge of the cornfield. The plowed furrows make small hills which hinder each step. No wonder winter walking is a chore.

Each time I take the state highway home, I gaze fondly at the spring fed pond below my neighbor's woods and pasture. The old railroad grade is clear between two swampy lowlands. In autumn the sight of geese skimming the pond is magical. Beaver mounds dot the surface. In reality a walk to the railroad berm is chancing ticks, mosquitoes and the neighbor's stallion who is protective of his herd.

The photo is one of Mandy's snooze places. Just below the couch, bad cat will lie on his back and pull himself the length of the couch sliding on the hardwood floor. Then, he'll race off with an erp vocalization , which means"catch me".

Mandy falls for the routine every time. A wrestling match will ensue. The cat will get the dog in a shoulder lock, but being half the size of the dog, he gets shrugged off. Thinking it's a neat game, the dog will turn in a circle, lie on her side waiting for Bad Cat to lick her face. Bad cat pounces upon Mandy's rear, biting her in the ass. That gets her attention, quickly.

In the end, I break up the tussle when I hear a loud meow. It means the cat got nipped in the ears or worse. The dog stops and looks at me with a, Gosh I was only playing, stare.

After reading Jon Katz's, Rose In A Storm, I'm more knowledgeable about the ways of a border collie, part of Mandy's back ground breeding. The book is a fictional story. The dedication shows the real Rose. Katz writes entertaining books about his adventures on Bedlam Farm. They're a
welcome respite to all the detective stories my library angel is fond of ordering.

Like Rose, Mandy perfects "The Stare". Most often it's a signal she needs to go out. When number one son worked with research monkeys at UW, he learned to never look a monkey in the eyes. It is an aggressive gesture. I need to learn more about border collies and their intense concentration.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Seven Roads Gallery

Curious. A single typing mistake in the title turns my online art gallery into a kitchen on a ship.

Cooking is a side interest of mine along with food. I grab a Mexican cookbook with glossy pictures of fabulous classic Mexican recipes like tortilla soup, tamales chilles rellenos and fajitas. I decide to make my first flour tortillas. Dawn made some previously which were good, albeit a bit thick.

The recipe calls for 5 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp of baking powder, pinch of salt, 1/2 cup lard and 1/2 cup warm water. They turned out to be fabulous shreds of flour. My arms almost fell off trying to create a dough. When the 1/2 cup of water wasn't enough to make a nice dough, I cautiously added more water, bit by bit until the water company called to say that I was creating a water shortage downstream from the Kickapoo. I go to the computer and do a search for flour tortillas.

I choose a recipe handed down from an abuela. I don't speak Spanish. I assume from context that the abuela is her grandmother. I get confused when grandmother is referred to as Abuelita.

From brief experience trying to find the home of a lost beagle puppy I name Scratchy, I drive to the Rodriguez home behind us on East River Road. The Rodriguez family works for a local dairy farmer. They do not speak English. Hand waving, pointing at my truck and a cute puppy with me muttering "Bambino" , I get a head nod I take as a yes response, "That's our dog." Needless to say I learned after the fact that puppy is perrito or little dog. Do not call me on the spelling.

Grandmother's recipe call for less flour ( 3 cups) 2 tsp of baking powder, 4-6 Tbsp. cup lard OR vegetable shortening( 1/4 to 1/3 cup), 1 tsp salt and 1 1/4 cups of warm water. The result is a smooth pliable tortilla dough which I mangle into 11 balls. There were supposed to be 12 so my tortillas are a bit on the thick side. I blame it on the lack of a tortilla press.

If you're not into flour tortillas check out

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ya, Ya

There have been a couple of Ya, Ya's in my life. One was an elderly woman whose response to question, statement or anything was basically " ya ya". The second wore Bugs Bunny underwear and worked in the dairy department of Wal-Mart. I use it here as a variant of slightly titillating , useless information.

We decide to have dinner on New Year's Eve in a nearby town, the one that Johann characterizes as a place where it takes three women to make a complete set of teeth. The restaurant is new. Dawn gets rave reviews from work associates. She tells me the chef is a Las Vegas pro, but not the one I know. "Younger," says. Whenever I meet my friend the Las Vegas chef, I pick his brain about culinary techniques.

When we arrive at the restaurant, the place is nearly empty. There's one table at the east wall with a reserved sign, hand printed with magic marker. Two teenage girls and an older women are working behind a counter which serves as bar and extra seating. "Sit anywhere," one woman says before Dawn can tell her, "We have reservations for two at 5:30." The scene is reminiscent of a trip in which Dawn surfs the dining guide in the motel room; calls to ask if they take reservations and the person at the other end of the line says, "Honey we're a fast food restaurant."

You need sunglasses to protect your eyes from eight 100 watt wall sconces and bright overhead lights. I look in the rear food prep area. My friend the Las Vegas chef is scurrying around a small kitchen in a burgundy chef's coat. "Make it good," I say. "I'm here." Twenty years ago the mother of one of my student's pointed out to me the best way to get a meal at William Ho's restaurant was to poke your head in back to let the cook know you weren't some derelict off the street. She was Chinese.

The chef greets me with a big HAY THERE . I rib Dawn about her misinformation. Our waitperson is wearing a zipped, hooded sweatshirt covering a very ample gut. When I order a beer, another teenager, obviously over 18, serves me. Slowly, people file in. There's a couple at the other side of the restaurant with a shrieking baby. Mom has to leave with the kid on one occasion and gets up to chase the little rug rat when he escapes from his high chair. The over 70 set needs to eat before bedtime at 8 pm. They arrive en mass. There's Col Sander's and his wife, Burl Ives, three farmers in bib overalls, the librarian from Viroqua with the turkey wattles and a gent bent over with a cane who looks like Uncle Wiggly.

Flashback to an Italian restaurant in Sedona on the day before Valentine's day. Our epiphany to beat the crowds is copied by every octogenarian in the local retirement community. The coup de grace-two members of a local rock band on guitar and violin playing Puff The Magic Dragon. Dawn had to send her food back.

After six thirty the twenty something set arrives dressed in their finest jeans and hoodies. Afterward they'll head for the bar next door to celebrate.

Our food is worthy of a Las Vegas chef. I'm not being facetious. It was good. When Teeny brings the bill, she forgets to add the beer. I remind her that she'll get a larger tip, if she re-figures the total. That convinces her to go back and correct the bill.

We leave driving no faster than 45 miles per hour in dense fog. Jorge begged off from accompanying us because the six mile trip is too dangerous because of a winding narrow country road and drunk drivers.

Johann calls in the evening of New Year's Day. He wants to know how a friend can rid her place of a ghost. Early in the morning, Jorge calls to tell us he's working on framing a wall for his new upstairs bathroom. I assume he's messing with us to get us out of bed after a long night. I tell Dawn to hang onto my phone for a minute because I'm washing potatoes in preparation for hashed browns with creme fraiche. Jorge forgets that we have a dog who delights in licking your face at six am.

New Year's Day the weather changes from 40 degree fog and mist to twenty degrees and 25 mile per hour winds. I believe that's the equivalent of 35 below zero. I muse that loading wood builds character. I quit after four wheel barrow loads and a whole lot of cussing when Mandy tips over a full wheelbarrow trying to attack a block of wood.

She's an animal.