My Bookstore, My Hidey-Hole

For nerds like me, bookstores and libraries are a sacred place offering, dare I say it, a religious experience that even a heathen like this ol’ gal can get behind. From the smell of the books to the wafting scent of coffee pouring throughout, bookstores are a little slice of heaven right here on planet Craphole. As one might surmise, bookstores weren’t a big thing in rural Iowa back in the ’80’s but I did spend copious hours in the musty local library, paging through books no one my age had any business viewing and I could tear up a Scholastic book order like Amelda Marcos at a shoe sale.

 With each of our moves I have managed to find a favorite bookstore to provide solace for my transient soul. After moving to Turkey I stumbled upon a tiny-wonder with a small selection of English titles but a phenomenal section of Turkish/English translations. After Turkish class, I would disappear inside that bookshop for hours and imagine myself back in a world where I didn’t struggle to communicate and where the task of speaking wasn’t exhausting. After a couple Turkish coffees and a few stories by Aziz Nesin, I was ready to take the ferry home and struggle my way through my new language.  

When I returned to the US, I had a toddler in tow so I shifted to frequenting children’s bookstores and soon found them to do for my kids what bookstores have always done for me, provide an epic escape from reality. In every city we’ve resided, we’ve found a compatible match and trips to the bookstore have always been transformative and frequent. After moving to Massachusetts a couple years ago, it only took about a month before we found our spot- An Unlikely Story Bookstore. This amazing independent gem also happens to be the brainchild of Diary of a Wimpy Kid genius, Jeff Kinney.

Once found, this store instantly became our nerdly hidey-hole. If there was an early dismissal or day off, we’d make the 30-minute drive to hide out in the stacks and blow way too much dough on books. But when Covid-19 hit, the entire state locked down, including our hidey hole. I was dependent upon the library’s online platform or the USPS (and we know how reliable they’ve been lately…) to deliver a fix when I started jonesing for a hit of magical realism or dystopian humor. Finally, after six long months, when An Unlikely Story finally opened for ‘appointment only’ shopping, I sprained a finger hitting the “sign me up” button. Yes, while the rest of humanity was pushing for an appointment to get their nails did, my priority was getting an appointment at the bookstore. (Said it before and I’ll say it again, I NERD HARD)

My offspring were excited, but they were more in it just to get the hell out of the house and get some new goods. But Mama needed to smell the paper, rub a hand across those glossy covers and spend some capital on mind-candy. I counted down the days until our bookstore fieldtrip. When I got the email asking, “Is there anything special we can help you find during your visit?” I replied with a hard no. Rather, I planned to gaze lovingly at the shelves while waiting to find my new love peering out from the shelf. 

As we pulled into the empty parking lot my heart began to flutter like I’d had too much Turkish coffee. I’m no fan of humans and I really hate crowds even when there is no pandemic. This bookstore was always packed so knowing we were part of a select few chosen ones allowed to enter this holy ground made me swoon. “Guys, look. There are only two cars here besides us. This is gonna be awesome!!”

“Yea Mom. Cool.” (Boys are the ultimate buzzkill.)

At our allotted time, a bookseller I renamed Judy (because she looked like a Judy…duh) joined us in our socially-distanced line in the parking lot. Judy offered a warmer welcome than I’ve received at family gatherings. “If you need suggestions or have questions, just ask. Our booksellers are as happy to see you as you are to see them. We are so glad you’re here.” 

After giving us the now requisite instructions about one-way aisles and hand sanitizing stations, we were unleashed into the store. We were three steps in when an angry Karen began to throw a hissy fit after Judy asked her to do the unthinkable and pull her damn mask over her nose.

“Well fine but don’t bitch at me when I barf all over your damn store!”

I was about to turn and tell Karen to simmer down and sit and spin, but Judy was all over it. 

“How about you step over here away from the children so we can talk about this.” 

Karen wasn’t ready for Judy and Judy owned it. I may have stepped on my child trying to eavesdrop on the situation but suffice it to say, I want to be Judy when I grow up.

We had 45 minutes from the minute we entered, and we covered ground like a pack of nerdy gazelles. Nugs was sucked into the Star Wars section like there was a tractor beam on him. Number 1 was down with the science books and I did a serious dive into sci-fi and general middle grade fiction for the podcast (if you’re not listening, check us out at twolitmamas.com) before exhausting our budget. We saved our last ten minutes to check out their brilliant gift section which held important gifts like socks with profanity, Ruth Bader Ginsberg action figures (RIP queen) and a timely workbook entitled, “Anyone Can Be President.”

As we wrapped up our adventure, I made a pitstop next to the life-sized statue of the Wimpy Kid (appropriately masked) and ordered a cup of joe to get me back home. I was topping off my oatmilk when Nugget burst into tears.

“Nuggie, what’s wrong? Did you want coffee?”

“No.”

“Did we not get something you wanted?”

“No.”

“What is it? Wasn’t it good?”

“I don’t know Mom, it was good but it wasn’t the same.”

And my brilliant little baby was right. While I absolutely adored my private shopping spree, it wasn’t the same. A bookstore isn’t just a retail space. It’s warmth. It’s safety. It’s shelf after shelf of possibilities and sure, all of those things were still there, (plus badass Judy handling Karens at the door), but he was right. It wasn’t the same. This pandemic world we’re being forced to deal with blows and while anti-social Gen Xers like me are doing fine with this isolation, it’s not working for everyone. (Or my ass…to be honest, my ass needs a little more accountability than six months of stretch fabrics can provide.) Unfortunately this was a  reminder that while we’re slowly accepting our new normal, our kids might need a little more time. But in that time, we can devour a few books and hide away in some amazing tales until this dumpster fire is over.

Decisions Have Been Made…Forward Ho!

cowgirl mom

I started teaching by doing art classes for kids in college. After grad school I taught in Philadelphia, then in Turkey, Iowa, Indiana and Massachusetts. I’ve taught everything from art to science and a million things in-between. Until recently, (and except for teaching for the Turkish mafia at that one school…) I’ve always been in progressive education. I believe in progressive education because it’s hands-on, experiential, project based and above all else, student led. There is nothing like sitting with a class and asking them what they want to learn then boiling it down to a curriculum. For close to 25 years I have passionately followed my students on crazy academic adventures while touting the importance of making learners not memorizers. I’ve been watching light-bulb moments from surprising sources for my entire career and it has fed me.

Twice in my life I’ve ventured into public education, never lasting more than a couple years at best because public education is so very different than those places I’ve taught and it’s frustrating. Public education in the US is broken but tradition is strong and we’re all scared to change it. I was scared to change it. My own kids went through public education and we did ok for a while but this year, even before the world exploded and sent us all into our foxholes for home learning, I sensed my boys losing their light.

Nugget is in special education. Between being Hard of Hearing, ADHD (as hell!) and in need of occupational and speech therapies, he’s also very young for his grade so he needed that nudge that comes from special education. He wasn’t a huge fan of school but he did well for a few years, until first grade stole his light. When he couldn’t stay focused or keep up with the math, he was left to falter. He sunk into a hole whose sides were made of self-loathing, low confidence and a hatred of school. Thankfully, that’s about when Covid hit and I got a front seat to his situation.

Likewise, my 6th grader was miserable. “Mom, it’s just so boring. Why do they just talk about things but never let us do it?” If I were not literally in his classes for my own job I would assume he was exaggerating but he wasn’t. I saw it every day myself. He was earning High Honors without doing homework or needing any help at home. Now, he’s no dummy but he’s also no boy genius. He simply wasn’t challenged, and it was killing him. He was bored and resentful.

I knew these things but like most of society, I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d always dreamed of homeschooling Nugget but finances didn’t allow for it. I knew his learning style wasn’t conductive to standard public-school methodology but what could I do until we could find a way for me to stay home? Plus, my view of homeschooling was very tainted by the anti-Darwin, militant Christian homeschoolers I’d met in Indiana. I didn’t want to be lumped into that.

We got Number 1 into a new charter school for the following year but in my gut I wasn’t sure that was the right move either. I waited anxiously all summer as the public turned on teachers, calling us everything from lazy union hacks to ungrateful slackers. (Hey? Weren’t you all just calling us heroes a few months ago when you got stuck teaching your own children and realized what buttheads they are? Whatevs.) I Zoomed into school committee and union negotiation meetings (while sucking back medicinal boxed wine) hoping, as the Quakers say, a way forward would open. But it didn’t and the union is still fighting valiantly.

Early on in this whole Covid mess, the Massachusetts head of education gave an empowering address about how this is the time to look at how we do things. This was the time for us to get progressive and make changes. My heart leapt as I screamed, “Hell yes!” startling my kids and cat. This was what I had been preaching for 20+ years. But now this is the same man who demands teachers sit in their classrooms to remotely address students because teachers should not be trusted to work from home. (Though we did it successfully for months prior.) It seemed that even in times as unprecedented as this and in a state as progressive as mine, the comfort of tradition paralyzes.

About a month ago, my husband, the Turk, and I were sipping cocktails in the treehouse and it all hit. “I can’t do this.” I said.

“Do what?”

“I can’t put the kids through this school mess. Nugget reads lips. He can’t read lips if everyone’s in a mask so it will be worse than last year and Number 1 is miserable. There is a better way to educate kids than this. I don’t want to do it like this for them.”

My dear husband simply said, “Don’t.”

“But what about money?”

“Honey, we have no money in Turkey and we make it. We have no money in Philadelphia and we make it. We always figure out. Now is for kids. We make it.”

Within days I devoured a million articles and books about homeschooling and soon found that there were very limited anti-Darwin militant Christian homeschoolers here in New England, but lots of hippies(and former teachers) like me that didn’t believe in the system anymore. I cheered along to podcasts about creating learners instead of memorizers as I went on my walks (I looked like a nutjob but I was moved.) and was empowered to rewrite my children’s education path and homeschool for the next year.

So Mrs. O is trading in her title. The boys helped create our curriculum and we managed to find a way to spend most of the first month at the beach doing everything from reading currents to analyzing bryozoans. (When mom taught science and dad is a water engineer, we go hard in the science zone.) We’re all excited about this new page and I’m proud of myself for putting my money where my mouth is and taking this philosophical plunge. The Quakers were right, a way forward did appear, just not where I was watching.

As is always the case with us, we never know what’s next so stay tuned because it’s bound to be interesting!

 

Fair Thee…Oh Well

Portrait-Photo-Fair-Winner

I’m not sure how your summer has been, but here in Massachusetts it’s been less than awesome. In addition to sharks, (which are still eating people, if case you wondered,) we’ve added jellyfish the size of Micronesia that look like massive blood clots. Pretty. We’ve taken the nation’s standard mosquitoes and elevated ours to deadly EEE mosquitoes. Oh yes, our mosquitoes cause your brain to swell and, quite often kill you. Of course, our ‘hood was the first to reach critical threat level and we’ve had a dusk to dawn curfew for weeks that will continue until the first frost. Awesome. Then of course there’s the whole Covid mess keeping us locked up. Thanks to the Covid, you can’t come visit us unless you’re from a handful of nearby states and we can’t come see you either. And for the cherry on the sundae, we’re in a rare drought that has killed off half of my garden against my best attempts and it’s been hot as balls in a place that isn’t supposed to be hot as balls. So, how’s summer you ask? Pretty typical for this year. 2020 Sucks.

One of the worst parts about this summer of 2020 is that there is basically nothing to do besides whine, complain and fight about opening schools. (I have literally run out of eye-rolls for this whole school topic. Ugh. Make it end.) Generally during this time of year, I enjoy forcing my family to accompany me to arts festivals, county fairs, and freak fests. I make them oooooooh and ahhhhhhh at paintings of sand dollars and smell candles made by stinky hippies. I adore exposing my sheltered husband, The Turk, to freakish American things like renaissance faires and carnivals. I’ve forced him to tour various state fairs as I painstakingly regale him with tales of my childhood as a competitive cattle showman and pie baker while we snarf down fried fat topped with sugar. This is my happiness. This is summer.

But thanks to 2020 that joy was dashed. No funnel cakes. No gargantuan pumpkins. No cow poop. No polygamist lion tamers in Renaissance attire. No joy. 2020 sucks. Instead, we’ve done as we have for the past six months and stayed home. Thankfully, our 3-foot deep pool provides me with enough room to paddle around on a noodle and sip spritzers, otherwise, I’d have done a Thelma and Louise ending months ago.

While many friends have been given respite by sending the kids to grandma’s, 2020 meant grandma couldn’t visit because she was from one of “those” states. The Turk remains hidden in his basement office and I knew if I didn’t want to visit the Betty Ford Clinic post Covid, I needed a plan.

“Boys, it’s fair time.  We’re going to do 4-H projects like we’re prepping for the county fair!” I announced only to be met with the larger than average looks of confusion.

“Whath a 4-H?” Nugget lisped.

As a kid back in Iowa there was literally nothing to do. (I remind my kids of this when they whine that the ocean is cold. “Suck it up kids, there’s no ocean in Iowa.”) So to keep us busy, my parents put us in 4-H the day we hit the 9 year-old eligibility date, meaning our summers were completely devoted to preparing projects and animals for the county fair. This also meant my mother got to farm me out to those who held skills she did not. (80’s parents were legendary at that.) I went to her girlfriend Karen for sewing, Grandma Pete for upholstery and refinishing, Dad for woodworking and my other Grandma for pies and bread baking. By the time I was a teenager, I could Martha Stewart with the best of them and had the purple ribbons and State Fair cred to show for it and my mother had peace and quiet.

“We’re going to refinish, reupholster, paint, sand and sew.” And while most 12 and 7 year-old boys would likely run at such a suggestion, Covid boredom has been rough on the youth of America and they jumped at the prospect.

We started by stripping down some old stools from the garage. Nugget stripped off the  cracked and crumbled pleather like he’d been stripping his whole life and his brother was handy with the staple remover. Though I was reluctant at first, Nugget convinced me to turn him loose with the electric sander.

“Tthththththththththeeeeeeeeeeeeeee  Mmmmmmoooooooooommmmmmmmm!” His whole body shook and his teeth chattered the entire time but he was a master. Number 1 was our design lead. He chose a nice navy paint for the legs and three contrasting fabrics for the seats because, “That’s who we are as a family Mom, a colorful mess.”

It took a few days of hard work and lots of staples but we are now dining on our posh creations. The Turk was probably the most impressed and even sent photos to his mother in Turkey. “I cannot believe you guys made these and I cannot believe I like them.” We definitely earned a purple ribbon.

Next we sewed floor pillows for the living room with Number 1 running the sewing machine and Nugget taking on the role of lead stuffer. Those were a solid blue ribbon with state fair advancement.

We had one round of zucchini bread with zucchini from our garden, (Before death by drought) and it was bad. It would’ve gotten a white ribbon for sure but we took a second shot and upgraded to a recipe from Auntie Martha Stewart and hit it out of the park.  Likewise, Number 1 mastered a chocolate cookie recipe to die for.

Currently, we’re sanding down an old coffee table for a lesson about stain and then we’re learning to make pasta. This plan has kept them busy, excited and hopefully laid the ground for some life skills. So while we might not get the ribbons in real-life, we’re earning them. The only problem with this plan is that I didn’t get to farm them out for a damn thing yet. Friends that make wine, where are you? I’ll send them your way.

Here’s the final products so far!

 

SQUIRREL in the Hole!

mother squirrel

I know, I know. You’re sitting at home, hopefully staying a responsible six feet from every fool that does not share your immediate DNA or a significant love connection, and you are dying to know about any updates with the squirrels on the Ozemet Compound. (oh, FYI – I’ve recently decided to changed the title from homestead to compound since it sounds more badass and since I really haven’t left since somewhere around March. I’m considering putting in some driveway spikes to keep out the maskless if this crap continues much longer. My compound, my rules.) I get it readers. My pain is your entertainment. So, you’re up on the news. You’ve binge watched all your brain can handle and now you absolutely must know…did the squirrels finally come to kill the Turk? Don’t worry. I’ve got updates.

To recap our spring, we were invaded by squirrels (Of course we were because, 2020.) My husband, The Turk, used some hard-earned Turkish Commando experience to battle the furry bastards. He finally managed to trap a wayward squirrel, or as I like to call them, fluffy-tailed-rats, in our above-garage mother-in-law suite. While he caught one, weeks later we found his friend in a rough state of decomposition. Though a squirrel crime scene was disgusting, this was finally the necessary prod The Turk needed to begin the much-needed renovation and give us some extra space.

The first step was to clean up the crime scene then seal off the area so not one, single fluffy-tailed-rat could penetrate the premises ever again. While this put our human minds at ease, it really pissed off the squirrels who’d taken up residence.  During the process, numerous fluffy-tailed rats stalked, threatened and vowed retribution. They peered in the windows and stood on branches outside our bedroom squeaking what could only be death threats at the Turk for stealing back our home.

However, after the snakes moved in, (again, read all about the annual snake invasion here) things started to simmer down, until last weekend. The Turk and I were upstairs folding laundy when a kid-scream pierced our peace.

“BABA!!!! BABA!!! There’s a squirrel in the living room!”

The Turk ran down the stairs with impressive agility for one in his mid-forties.  “Where he?”

Number 1 son pointed franticly to the fire place, thankfully enclosed in a steel and glass fireplace insert. “He just ran by!”

“I thaw him Baba. He wath thoooooo fat!” Nugget chimmed in.

It took a few moments but as the Turk and his mini-Turks peered at the glass door of the fireplace insert, two tiny paws and a rodent-esqe face suddenly appeared. The Turk screamed like a 13-year-old girl at a KPop concert before taking full inventory of the situation.

“What he is doing? How he get there?”

“I’d say he’s trying to watch Bob’s Burgers with us Baba.” My exact-replica son quipped.

The Turk shot him a nasty glare and the 12-year-old had the good sense to shut his pie hole.

“Don’t open that fireplace door Baba! He’th totally gonna get out and run all over our house.” Nugget added, never one to be left out.

By the time I arrived on the scene the Turk was shining a flashlight around and making squirrel noises.

“There isn’t really a squirrel in there is there?” I’m not sure why I possibly doubted this, (Because, 2020.)

“He is here but he not showing his face. Look.” He shined his flashlight onto the glass to reveal a multitude of fluffy-tailed-rat handprints reminiscent of a window adjacent to a toddler car-seat.

The next morning, following my coffee with Al Roaker, I flipped off the television and a small face appeared below it. Two rodent hands framed a fat, black face in the glass of our fireplace insert. “HONEY!!!! HE’S BACK!”

This time the Turk flew to my side. “What is dat?”

“I’m not sure. I think it’s a mouse.”

“It so fat. Maybe it is rat.”

“If there is a damn rat in my fireplace it’s done. I’m moving. There is no other way.” (Some things are non-negotiable in my existence.) Thankfully at that moment he turned and revealed a battered and balding, yet still identifiable, fluffy tail. “He’s one of them.”

“That is it. Now I set trap. Game on bastard.”

I must admit, I love it when the Turk goes all Midnight Express. At this same moment our  large and incredibly surly cat sauntered by and glared at our new resident who was still peering out from behind the glass. “Get him Cengiz! Get the intruder.” I’d assumed that a lifelong housecat had some internal kill switch that would kick in whenever he was presented with a rodent. Nope. Cengiz gave me a look that said, “I am not your pawn woman” before taking his usual spot in the sun where he proceeded to lick his missing testicles.

Hours later the little face disappeared, and he hasn’t been seen since. In response, both the Turk and I began our preventative measures. I scheduled a chimney cleaning that I’d been putting off since last fall. I plan to have my chimney sweep investigate the invasion and put an end to any more. Meanwhile, the Turk has planned out a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption that will fit perfectly within the fireplace insert with all the bells and whistles necessary to scare off the entire squirrel community. All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope my chimney sweep shows up first.

 

 

Hold Your Flute St. Patrick, I’ll Get Rid Of These Snakes

snake tamer

Readers, join me as I commemorate my third summer of survival here in the city by the bog. The learning curve has sometimes been steep but we non-New Englanders have made it through snakes, squirrels, chipmunks eating our cars, foxes crapping on our front step, 40 foot pines swaying in gale force winds, sharks, jellyfish, deer ticks and mosquitos carrying deadly cooties and other perils my mind has blocked for sanity. We’ve held our own and managed to come out on top…except when it comes to the damn snakes. I’ve shared many tales of woe starring one or more of those limbless bastards and yet, here is one more.

I have no love for snakes but as a former science teacher I was able to develop a professional tolerance.  However, the three men in my family are utterly traumatized by them, especially 6 year-old Nugget. A couple months ago Nugget was helping the Turk clean up some leaves behind the garage when they happened upon a nest of baby snakes. According to reports, Nugs caught a glimpse of one, six-inch baby murder machine and was paralyzed in fear. He shook. He screamed. He cried and then he fled. Since that incident in June, he will not enter any nature-filled area until I have done a thorough sweep for any snakes or even any sticks that might resemble a snake. As he says, “I’m juth not a fan of thothe damn thakes Mom.”

His father, the Turk, isn’t a fan either but he’s doing better. So far, he’s only run into the house screaming once this year which is way better than last year. He even felt so brave that last month when it was time for the annual sprinkling of the Snake-B-Gone (Seriously, it’s really a thing. It smells like Christmas morning and it works.) he took it upon himself to get the goods and secure the perimeter instead of waiting for his bad-ass wife to do the deed. Unfortunately, he made the newbie mistake of ordering Snake-Away (which smells like your grandma’s attic rather than Christmas morning). The scent of cinnamon and cloves drives snakes back to the bog better than St. Patrick and his flute, but the scent of moth balls makes them roll their little snakey eyes and chuckle as they take over your home.

Because the Turk has spent the last two summers commuting into Boston every day and I am not an epic snake-scardey wuss, reptile management has been my dept.  But thanks to the quarantine, he thought he’d take over this year and as husbands do, he assumed he knew the ins and outs of the job without consulting the expert…me.

Upon its arrival, he headed out to spread the first dose of Snake-Away that evening. As a former science teacher who sat though countless middle school “favorite animal” presentation, I know that snakes are most active during cooler parts of the day…like evening. But the Turk didn’t ask me. His evening time, cool weather dosing gave him an up-close interaction with a big mama snake in the backyard before he was sent into heart palpitations when the side-yard ferns began wiggling revealing a snakey love fest. By the time he found a recently shed snakeskin under one of the front bushes, the poor man was shattered. Noob. Breathlessly he rushed into the house, covered in sweat and fear.

“It will be ok now. I put out whole bucket. No snake will come.”

“Your lips to God’s ears honey. I don’t think you three wussies can handle any more snake sightings.”

24 hours later, Nugget and I were heading out to the car and a snake was waiting for us next to the driver’s side. Nugget freaked. “I will not go out there! No way! I’m thayin’ inside forever!”  I spent the next 2 days slinging 60 pounds of Nugget over my shoulder for every entrance and exit from the house.

On the third day when he’s almost forgotten about it, I made the mistake of dropping some top-shelf profanity when I nearly stepped on a pair of snakes on my way to the mailbox. “Thee Mom! The thankes are still here. I’m never leavin’ again!”

On the fourth day Nugget peered out the window to see one sunning himself on the lawn. “THANKE!!!!!!!!!!”

As we rushed to the window for confirmation, the Turk was pissed. “What is dis? Why they not leave? I use whole bucket of Snake-Away and they not go away!”

“That’s because you used Snake-Away. You need Snake-B-Gone.”

“You are crazy. There no difference.”

“No dear. Snakes like the smell of old ladies but not the smell of Christmas. Snake-Away is old lady.”

Number 1 son chimed in in a typical 12 year-old fashion. “You should kill it.”

I agreed. “My grandma used to hack off their heads with a hoe.”

“That is because your people are crazy.” The Turk retorted but then something dark sparkled in his eyes. “But yes. I can kill him. That will make them all run away because they scare.” He waved to Number 1, “Get me big rock.”

Within seconds the Turk and Number 1 were locked and loaded on the front step.

Shaking my head I muttered, “You better not miss.”

“I miss.” He confirmed. “Probably good. You know in Turkey if you kill snake his wife take revenge.”

“Hubba whaa?” Even after all these years my husband still drops these little jems of Turkish madness that send me spinning.  “So if you kill a Turkish snake his little snakey wife will come and get you?”

“Yes. Maybe I should not kill.”

Fortunately, Nugget had a doctor’s appointment offering me a hasty retreat from the madness.   I slung Nugget over my shoulder and left the other two to battle the 12” garter snake currently holding them hostage. Minutes into the appointment my phone chimed with a text.

“We have big problem. I am right.”

“About what?”

“I Google it. If you kill snake, his wife take revenge. Maybe I did not miss him. Maybe I kill him. She can come for me.”

There are no emojis to accurately represent my wide-eyed horror at watching my husband’s descent into madness, so I texted back the only thing I felt to be appropriate. “Ok.”

When Nugget and I arrived home an hour later, the snake was where we left him. I’m pretty sure when I approached to make sure he was alive, his rearing up was accompanied by him flashing two little snakey middle-fingers as he chuckled in my face.

That afternoon I explained to my husband the nuances of snake management, complete with a new bucket of Snake-B-Gone. A little mid-afternoon sprinkle of the cinnamoney goodness and poof – I haven’t had a snake flip the bird since, though I remain on high alert with my Snake-B-Gone at the ready.

A Tale of Squirrels and Pool Noodles

fat squirrel

While the world has been blowing up these past months, out here in our little house in the woods, things have remained as insane as they were prior to this current apocalypse with the added joy of some acts of aggression by Mother Nature’s little cherubs. During this spring’s hiatus of humanity, it seems all creatures great and small held some kind of gathering, a symposium, if you will. (No doubt it was spearheaded by the angry groundhog who’s taken up residence in my front lawn. It’s obvious by his waddle that he’s a vindictive diva.) Anyhooo, the outcome of the symposium seems to have been a directive for widespread assault on my home by Mother Nature’s SWAT unit starting with the squirrels.

Thanks to many years of urban living, I view squirrels as rats with fluffy tails so when we found out they had taken up residence in the un-finished apartment above our garage (What we first thought were raccoon squatters turned out to be an entire battalion of fuzzy-tailed rodents.) I was less than amused. Thankfully our garage is detached and a good 20 yards from our house but still, it was a situation that could not go unremedied.

My husband, the ninja Turk, set up a trap he found on-line and prepared for battle. His handy trap yielded its first capture about a month ago and while the captive was set free to likely burrow back into the above-garage apartment again, the furry bastard did manage to spread the peanut-butter the Turk had liberally used as bait, all over the second floor before he met his fate. Unfortunately, a few of his offspring fell victim to the Turk’s obstacle course of glue traps and it has been game on since.

Last week the weather finally warmed and it seemed the heat had sent the squatters in search of living quarters more conducive to the change in climate. The battle was toning down so I summonsed a fount of courage to gather my beach goodies from the warzone. (Because when it’s beach time, ain’t no damn fuzzy tailed rat keeping me away from my lounge chairs and noodles.) Within seconds of entering the premises, my nose was assaulted with the smell of death. Two steps further and I saw something any farm girl recognizes and immediately knows the sorce from whence it came… horse flies. They swarmed the windows on both levels of the top floor apartment. I haven’t been a farm girl in well over 30 years but I knew the combo before me meant something, somewhere was dead.

Thanks to my true crime addiction, I assumed a serial killer had snuck in and hidden a victim between the boxes of Thanksgiving linens and winter sheets, careful to leave no trace aside from the body. I did what any logical gal in that situation would do, grabbed my beach chairs, slung my noodles over my shoulder and got the hell out of there.  Then I immediatley passed the buck to my husband to deal with the stench.

“Honey – someone is dead in the garage.”

“Dead?” The Turk, shot me a wild glare. “You need stop watch that ID channel. It make you crazy.” The man knows me well.

“No seriously. I can smell it and there are flies.”

He slowly pulled himself away from nerding on his computer and rolled his eyes my way. “Fine. I go look.”

Anxiously I stood outside the big rollie-uppie garage door awaiting confirmation. Any second he was going to come out and say, “My beautiful, thin, brilliant wife who I am so lucky to have married all those years ago, you are correct. I have found the corpse of an evil, fuzzy tailed rodent upstairs. Your olfactory skills are beyond amazing. What a lucky man I am. Have you ever considered writing detective novels?”

Instead, he stomped down the stairs, threw up the rollie-uppy door and said. “You are crazy. No dead things there.” Before huffing back to his lair for further nerding.

Alas, a nose knows and this nose knew it would only take one or two more hot days for reality prevail. Three days later, The Turk dragged me away from making pizza dough in Tina to inspect. (What? I named my mixer Tina. Doesn’t everyone name those they depend on? What am I supposed to call her? Kitchenaid? Please.) He pointed to the upstairs windows whose screens were now bulging with massive horse flies desperate for escape. “WHAT IZ DIS?”

“I told you. Something’s dead in there. Read the flies man. That’s what we used to do on the farm.”

He cocked his head and squinted his eyes, “WHAT?”

“Flies come from decomposition. When somethings dead, maggots…”

“STOP!” He yelled. “You want me throw out before I even go inside? Why you know these things and why you have to tell me?” He didn’t wait for my likely, smart-assed answer before banishing the kids and I so he could commence a corpse hunt.

Tina and I were still kneading dough when Nugget burst into the kitchen, “Mom! You gotta thee thith, it thooooooo groth.”

It took the Turk mere minutes to find a deflated, decomposing fluffy-tailed rodent, frozen forever in a pose that said, “Oh crap.”

“Where was it?”

“Top floor in corner by beach stuff. He die under your beach chair and you miss him.”

“Hubba what?” Could I have really missed a decomposing tree rat hiding under my beach chair when I’d grabbed them just days prior? This was a new level of space cadetery, even for me.

Just to prove he was right, the Turk had me inspect the crime scene. Though he didn’t go as far as putting down a chalk-outline around the body as I would have done, he was 100% on the money. I’d grabbed three beach chairs, two noodles and a bag of sand toys right off the top of that dead tree rat and hadn’t even noticed. Quarantine has destroyed my mind.

The next day an angry squirrel stood on a branch outside our bedroom window, screaming at the Turk.

“He’s saying, you kill my father, prepare to die.”

Wide-eyed the Turk turned, “Seriously.”

“Yes dear. I speak fluent squirrel now in addition to Turkish and English.”

He simply shrugged, accepted my tale and left. Quarantine has killed his brain too.

This morning, there was a squirrel on the front deck peering inside the window, inches from the screen.

They really are coming for us but we’re just crazy enough to fight back.

I Can’t Dig It

Ohio photos

If one were to dig through decades of public records, I assume no less than 75% of all divorce decrees site the reason for dissolving said union as “home maintenance project.” Over the past days, the Turk and I nearly joined that crowd. Fortunately, his final jab of the shovel revealed the treasure we’d nearly killed each other to find, a septic tank lid.

Let me start from the beginning of our descent into the seven circles of hell. One of the many joys of our little house in the woods (like falling trees and raccoon invasions,) was that it came with a septic system rather than the luxury of a public sewer system to which we city dwellers are accustomed. The Turk and I were septic tank virgins prior to this purchase but he designed wastewater treatment plants back in Turkey and now spends his days talking about things like leeching fields, bio-solids and sludge removal, and I’m a Google queen so we could handle it. The thing we didn’t know was to ask for the exact geographical location of the tank lid before signing the final papers, which seemed like no big whoop, until it was time to pump.

Calling the septic man was on my to-do list since fall but it only ever crept into my consciousness at 3:00 in the morning when a random toilet flush seeming to glug more than normal caused me to imaging my septic system exploding and waking to find the remnants covering my homestead. However, once I returned to dreamland, all worries were forgotten. Fortunately, I saw the pooper-scooper at the neighbors’ last week and stuck while the iron was hot. I was on the horn getting a poop-pointment within minutes. There was only one problem, where was the tank lid?

The septic man assured me locating the tank was simple and a map could be found on page 15 of a report he guaranteed was in our closing documents. It wasn’t. Then he told me I could get the map from the Department of Health. I couldn’t. They’re closed for Covid. The Turk was certain he knew where it was and began to randomly dig in the general vicinity. I managed to watch him dig random holes for only a few minutes before I hid. I had no need to witness his descent into madness.

Hours before the poop-truck was due to arrive, the septic man texted me a map he’d managed to secure from…somewhere. Though I was thankful for this crumb, the map looked like Nugget had drawn it. It had no key to tell me which direction it faced and no scale. The only writing on the map was the word ‘deck’ scrawled on a rectangle. We have 3 decks, ask in the vicinity of said buried treasure.

With map in hand, I tried a low-scale search and recovery mission in the opposite direction of where the Turk had dug the first 50 holes. When I came up empty, the Turk decided to try his hand. Again, I ran for cover because I knew where this was heading when suddenly I heard, “Honey! I think I found it!”

In mutual madness we dug in tandem around the red concrete circle hidden in our yard. (If you’re following along, there are now 2 areas of the yard excavated.) Success. It was right where the new 1st grade quality map said it would be…until it wasn’t. As we neared the edges, we found this was only a concrete disc. Someone literally buried a 2’ concrete circle, painted red, in our yard for no apparent reason other than to screw with us. (Or perhaps it was to mark a shallow grave. It could go either way but I stopped digging just in case.)

Dejected, I canceled the poop truck and we returned to digging holes where the Turk was certain the tank should be following industry logic. “Why it is not here? Pipe comes out here. Outlet for effluent is 16 inches from here….pipe must be 10 feet. It has to be right here. Where it is? What the hell?”

Worried I was going to either lose my husband’s sanity or my yard, I dialed up the previous owners. Surely they would know exactly where it is right? No.

“I think….it might be….you know what, I’ll see if we have a map.”

Moments later I received a map. This map was likely drawn by a 2nd grader because it had straight lines, but still no words. It was dated 1973 and it showed the septic to be in a completely different location –the front yard.  Give me strength.

“I think it’s next to the fence,” came along with the second map. Armed with this new information, Number 1 Son and I decided it would be an easy find. The Turk was out on a grocery run and we planned to gloat about our success upon his return. That didn’t happen.

We dug the entire area in front of fence. We dug up bushes. We dug 3 feet down because Google said sometimes that happens. We dug to the driveway. We dug to the steps. We even managed to dig up some kind of wire we shouldn’t have but in none of that did we find a freaking septic tank. After 2 hours of digging the 12 year-old and I were exhausted and empty handed.

This continued for another 3 hours when the Turk got home. Our yard looked like a scene from the movie Holes. I was near tears and the Turk was near meltdown so we called in a friend who works in plumbing to help. He did the measuring thing. He did the map thing. Then he joined us. “What the hell? This is crazy. Is has to be right here. Where could it be?” His validation was just what the Turk needed.

“That is what I say. How it is not here?”

After another hour of measuring pipes, following lines and trying not to fall in any of the holes now pocking our property, greatness finally struck. What was listed on the drawing as a deck wasn’t a deck. It had been converted into a mudroom years ago making all our measurements – WRONG.  The digging started again but now in a different location and after removing all of the soil from the foundation and coming up empty, yet again, the Turk jabbed the shovel into the corner for safe keeping. CLUNK.

4 days, 2 maps, 5 grown-ups, 1 kid and that damn lid was on the corner of our house, covered only by gravel, right where no one would ever expect it to be.

Much beer was consumed after that clunk and when the poop man pulled up the driveway (after nearly driving into the ravine) the next day, I would’ve hugged that pooper-scooper were it not for the social distancing thing…and the fact that he seemed to have some of his work on him. As further validation, he also confirmed that lid was in the last place he’d have expected too.

We’re good to flush for at least another year or two and next time there will be no search because I’ve painted it orange. (Like I’d ever forget now.)  We managed to salvage our marriage once the holes were filled and I learned something important. Should I ever need to dig a shallow grave, it will take me about an hour but I can get ‘er done. However, I will need some Advil the next day.

 

I Shall Rule From My She-Fort

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When I was a kid, I loved all things Little House on the Prairie. I wanted a big sister who could braid my locks like Mary. I too had a whiney little turd sibling like Carrie and of course, being the overlooked middle child, Laura and I were simpatico.  I read all of the books (more than once) and like any woman now on the back-end of her 40’s, I settled in once a week to get down and dirty with the Real Prairie Wives of Walnut Grove. (Mrs. Olsen was pretty trashy under those tight curls.) But while there was madness with goats, fires and random blindness, the Ingalls family functioned pretty well in their little cabin removed from society, much like my own.

I’m also sure there was an episode when Ma and the entire family had to shelter in place due to a horrible virus that came from China. (That I’m sure was transmitted because Mrs. Olsen demanded they order Chinese silk for the general store. Hag) The one-room schoolhouse was forced to swap over to poorly planned e-learning leaving Ma Ingalls at home to school her own children and homestead simultaneously while being forced to rely on Pa to shop for necessities. I’m also sure that Pa Ingalls may have sucked at the task but when he forgot to get the coconut milk and brought home sourdough instead of rye, Ma made do but she was pretty pissed. (You guys remember that too right? No? Am I projecting?)

Each week as I carefully construct my alphabetized grocery list, organized by aisle to insure success, and send the Turk off into the wild with little more than a ninja mask to protect him, I feel a little Ma Ingalls. As soon as the Turk returns to the homestead with bags full of quality soy crumbles, kale and the occasional Oreo for balance, immediately I interrogate him. “Was it crowded? Were people wearing masks? Did you stay away from humanity? Were there stupid people crying about needing a haircut like on TV? Tell me everything.” I am literally dying to know what the world is like during this apocalypse.

Why? Because I have barely left this house since mid-March and while I am a major fan of this whole self-isolation thing, as are all career homebodies, I’m getting a little restless.  Way back in March, when the world blew up and it all hit the fan, my darling husband locked me down. “You stay home and I will do it. Just give me list and I can go to stores. You cannot. If I get sick, I can be fine but you cannot. You have asthma and you cannot even breathe like normal person anyway. You get the Corona, you can die. We cannot risk you to die.” And while it was a bit psycho, I know my darling hubby and I know that overprotective, paranoid, psychosis is his love language and protecting me from the horrible virus is his version of stepping in front of a shooter for me.  So for the past two months, he has Rapunzeled my ass in the tower until the plague passes.

Sure, I’ve been busy working from home, educating my little half-breed Turks, doing all the other crap mothers do to keep their family alive and more, but recently I’ve been jonesing to dip my toes into the societal waters for a minute, just to see what’s going on beyond my tree-lined view. However, Pa Turk said no. He hitched up the Cherokee, pulled on his bandit mask and said, “Not yet. Stupid people are everywhere. You cannot risk it. You can die.” And just like Ma Ingalls, I stood on the front deck waving as he headed off into the wilds of suburbia to bring home the tofu.

I understand his point of view but as an independent old broad, I really just want to take care of things myself. I want to choose my own cheeses and grimace at the old lady who cut me in line at the check-out. I want to feel that familiar disappointment when I look at the Target women’s department and roll my eyes at some moron taking up two parking spaces at the wine store. I only need like an hour, but I want to experience society for a little while just to remind me why I choose the reclusive life.  Just about the time I was thinking of breaking out, Pa Turk did something brilliant. He gave me a new fortress from which to rein to quell my need for fresh vistas.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that my engineer husband took our children’s request for a “tree-house” or even a “tree-fort” and turned it into a massive feat of aerial engineering. In case you missed it, here’s the tale. Anyhoo, after a year of waiting for the Turk to add the steps so that they could actually enter the structure 12 feet above their heads, it has happened. The Turk finally finished the tree fort. (Or as he quantified, Phase 1 is done. There’s more to come.)

I sent a friend photos of my view from the new fort and she wisely pointed out it should not be a tree-fort, but rather, a SHE-fort and I should claim it as my own. Utter brilliance! She-fort indeed! Mama has a new domain from which to gaze at the bogs, watch sunset over the wetlands and sip merlot all while two little Turks armed with Nerf guns stand sentinel.

Farewell society. Pa Turk will continue to do my bidding for a while longer while I ride out the next phase of the pandemic in my She-Fort. Ma Ingalls might not have had a she-fort, but she damn well deserved one. Amirite???? Stay safe friends!

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Engineer, Nay, Pain in the Rear

vintage engineer

You’ve seen the memes circulating the interwebs since the start of this pandemic. “Check on your extravert friends, we are not ok.” Or, “Check on your friends with strong-willed children, we are not ok.” Or, my personal favorite, “Check on your friends who work in professions which require them to refrain from saying 90% of what they are thinking, we are not ok.” In all this memeing, there is a forgotten group. For us, I’d like to offer this, “Check on your friends who are married to engineers, we are not ok.”

Those of us, the brave, the tired, the prematurely gray, who have spent hunks of our lives married to engineers have an unspoken bond. When one engineer spouse meets another, we immediately share a knowing nod that says, “I feel ya.”  There is no need to explain the madness, the half-finished projects, the overblown plans or the lack of common sense, because we battle it everyday. Are our spouses intellegent? Of course. It takes a serious nerd with a freakish understanding of physics to go into engineering. It also takes a brain that functions unlike the rest of humanity. 

Now, with the world on lock-down, all of those engineers are working at home. They have invaded our domains of sanity. Not only are our engineers home, they are bringing dozens of additional engineers with them via conference calls and Zooms. Last week I was privy to a conference call while changing laundry outside The Turk’s hidey-hole. In addition to my husband’s thick Turkish accent, there were two Indian accents, a French accent, a New England accent, one thick southern drawl and another that was unclear if it was an accent or annunciation issue. 

“I can’t understand half of these people so how do you?” I asked the Turk.

“I don’t.” He replied.

As each engineer on the call went off on what seemed to an unrelated tangent, it was clear the Turk was not alone. I fled before I got disorganization angina. (Yes it’s a real thing. I get it whenever I go into our garage.)

Then there are the plans. When my engineer is busy with work, he doesn’t have the brain space leftover to devise masterplans that he is fully capable of designing but is probably only partially capable of executing. (And even if he is capable, he loses interest half-way through – thus the hole in my bathroom ceiling at present.) The past month has gone something like this:

Laying in bed, “I have idea. This summer I am going to knock the wall, build new steps and turn attic into huge closet so we have more room for clothes.”  – or you could just rotate summer and winter clothes like me.

Sitting by the fire pit, “I have idea. This summer I can dig up yard and put in irrigation system. Then grass can grow.” – or we could just pay a landscaper to put down sod every year for 20 years and it would be cheaper than your idea.

On the deck, “I have idea. This summer I can rent machine, what is it…excavator? I can build jogging track all around woods. I can bring truck with gravel and we can walk there every day.” –or we can just keep walking in the cemetery across the street and never allow you into an excavator.

Eating lunch, “I have idea. This summer I am going to build new guest room in garage apartment.” – gotta catch that raccoon first.

Drinking coffee, “Last night I have idea. This summer I am putting new section on tree house that connect to other two trees. Then I can drink my beer there.” – or you could just finally put the steps on so the kids can get in it after waiting a year.

Readers, it’s rough. Every day he has a new plan and I can literally feel money slipping through my fingers with every word he utters.  And if that were not enough, there are the very engineerish things that might just kill me.

Like last week.

9:00 am “Honey, there is a wicked storm blowing through later with 65 mph winds. You should go get gas for the generator.”

“I can go later.”

12:00 pm “Are you going to get the gas now before the storm?”

“I can go in an hour.”

3:00 pm “Did you get that gas yet?”

“I can’t go now. It is raining. We be ok. I have plenty gas in shed  and tank of propane too.”

5:30 pm – Power gone – “You need to go hook up the generator.”

5:55 pm- leaning out the window in the pouring rain, still with no power.  “What the hell are you doing? Turn it on!”

“I can’t. There is mouse inside. I am waiting for him to leave.” (Insert heavy  profanity on my end)

6:15 pm – Generator is finally on and a drenched Turk enters. “I have to go get gas for generator. Propane and gas are gone.”

The Moment I’d Been Waiting For…“I know dear, you used the gas in the snow blower and the propane on the grill when you got drunk last fall and wanted to grill a frozen pizza.”

“Oh.”

Long story short, when he tried to get gas, the power was out in the gas stations too. Fortunately we had enough gas to get us through bedtime but when the power was still out the next morning, the Turk was forced to go out gathering gas so I could make the coffee that would keep me from strangling him. 

Brilliance comes with a price and this is the price. I get that, but please, check on your friends who live with engineers, we are so not ok. 

Raccoon Stew…Ewwww

vintage raccoon

So, your news feeds are nothing but doom. Your Fitbit no longer bothers to remind you to move after having it’s nudges ignored too often. Your mirror keeps reflecting back a head full of multi-colored roots. (Personally I’ve decided to embrace the gray, or what I like to call Jesus’s highlights.) You don’t remember how pants with buttons work anymore and your days flow seamlessly from coffee to wine. Add in some e-learning and managing video conferencing for 2 working parents and 2 kids and you need a good laugh. Dear readers, I am here for you.

I’m sure that after last week’s blog chronicling the pending Turk/raccoon cage match, you’re dying to know how things are panning out right? In case you missed it, last week I explained that we have a squatter living in the apartment above our garage. He’s suspected to have been in residence there for several months and has not bothered to make recompense for his time with us.  While I intended to, in a very American fashion, assassinate the adversary, my Turkish husband determined it best to relocate the furry little bastard instead. Since I’m not a fan of blood splatter, even on television, he won and last week a massive kill-free trap arrived on my doorstep thanks to FedEx.

It took a bit for the Turk and our offspring to get the gist of the trap but thankfully, they figured it out without using our surly cat as a model. The Turk had found a recipe for a special soup on YouTube that was guaranteed to lure the rodent into the cage but when I pointed him to the kitchen to conquer the task on his own, he and the boys determined it best to make a test run with peanut butter and beer and tackle the soup if the peanut butter failed.

So far, the Turk’s trap has remained bare.

Fast forward a few days.

I was preparing yet another of the 5 million meals I’ve been forced to make during this quarantine crap, when my darling husband burst into the kitchen with tears of laughter streaming down his face. He’d been on his weekly phone call with his mother in Turkey. As a typical Turkish mama’s boy he spends a good forty-five minutes or so every weekend exchanging the happenings on both sides of the Atlantic and of course, his battle against Rafet Raccoon, (I felt it easier to wage war with an enemy possessing a human name.) was a hot topic.  He explained to his mother that raccoons are real, not just cartoons like in Turkey, and that they run free in the US. He then explained that one had gotten into our garage and that he was trying to capture it by having me make a magical raccoon soup. That’s where it went south.

There were shrieks.  There were screams of disbelief. There were repeated exclamations of, “Why? Why? Why? What have they done to you in that awful country?” (PS – he first set foot in America like 20 years ago. Chill lady.) Hunting isn’t a thing in Turkey unless it’s for protection from something like wild boars. (True story. That’s the only time the Turk ever went hunting in his life.) His mother spent a good ten minutes lamenting the way her baby boy had morphed into an ugly American before he realized she’d totally misunderstood the story.

Somehow she’d gotten confused with his tale and my mother-in-law thought I’d sent my husband hunting for the raccoon so that I could then butcher the damn beast and make my family a nice raccoon soup.  And that’s when the tears of laughter began to flow and my darling husband had to dig deep to determine if he should correct her misunderstanding or just keep laughing and let her roll on to madness.

The misconception that I was some kind of bayou gal sending my husband out to gather roadkill for a nice family feast is not surprising. My in-laws referred to me as “the American” for years and while we did fine when I lived in Turkey, my mother-in-law has long been a wonderful critic of all things American, especially me.

So while we’ve yet to trap the little bandit in the garage, he’s still providing some serious entertainment and my husband, even during today’s phone call, is still using this as a nice opportunity to torment his mother. And just in case she decided to use Google to translate this post, as she sometimes does, here’s a little something to keep the fun alive.

 

RACCOON STEW 

(from cooks.com)

1 raccoon, cut into cubes
2 or 3 onions, sliced
2 to 3 c. canned tomatoes, chopped
Salt & pepper
Bay leaf
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
4 Carrots
1 Onion
3 Potatoes
2 Turnips

Brown the raccoon slowly in a Dutch oven. There should be enough fat within the tissues that no additional oil is required. Add onions during the last of the browning process so they won’t become scorched. Reduce the heat, add enough tomatoes and liquid to cover the meat, season and cover. Simmer over low heat until almost completely tender. Add cubed vegetables of your choice and continue to simmer until vegetables are tender. Serve hot with biscuits.