Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 2: London

Luckily we came to Europe prepared.

We each had an umbrella.

You can forgot your underwear, toothbrush, or (gasp) Rick Steves' guidebook...but do NOT forget your umbrella!

London and Paris were both showery and cool.

The cool weather didn't bother us. In Miami, summer is in full swing - and that means heat and humidity (in case you had no clue as to the origin of the NBA team name!). It was a nice break.

It is easier to walk and tour when not broiling in the hot sun. Today's rain was torrential, so we flipped our plans to an inside venue: The British Museum.

After that visit and future explorations in Paris and Rome, we are left with one conclusion: there is no reason to visit Egypt. Nothing is left. Between the British, French, and ancient Roman emperors, it has all been moved to Europe.
It's fascinating to see the Egyptian sculptures and stone panels. I cannot imagine how these items were transported from Egypt to Britain without damage - they are HUGE! Weighing TONS! Made of STONE! We have moved seven times and always have some breakage. The Mayflower movers of the 18th and 19th centuries knew their packing protocols.

For lunch, we dashed through the rain to the Menier Chocolate Factory joining my high school friend, David Bedella. David is an amazing actor currently performing in Road Show a Stephen Sondheim musical. The restaurant is located next to the theatre, and below the rehearsal space. We were able to see the rehearsal set up (up a long narrow flight of stairs, of course!) and other working areas. It was special to see David outside of a class reunion.

To our surprise, the rain stopped! We were able to take the Rick Steves city walk. I am a BIG fan of Rick Steves, especially after this trip. His books are more readable and usable than the usual travel guide fare. This walk began on London Bridge and ended in Covent Garden, where we were mildly entertained by a street performer who escaped from a cellophane body wrap.

We decided to take a bus from Covent Garden to Harrod's. Harrod's is a large, famous department store in London. Its famous motif?


I was surprised by the large food counters selling speciality items of candy, caviar, duck, and other such gourmet fare. We took the...stairs!, they had ESCALATORS!...up to see the Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed Memorial. The Fayed family owns Harrod's.

Back in Kensington, we stopped for our requisite tourist dinner experience: Fish and Chips! Chris is legal in Europe, so here he is enjoying his first pint (or so we believe!) I haven't had that much fried food in a while, but it was deliciously, greasily decadent.

I figure the Stairmaster Tube and Tour experience will take care of the calories, no problem!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Great Baker European Adventure: Day 1, London

As shocking as it may seem (at least to us!), Barry and I turn 50 this year.


To celebrate, we decided on a trip to Europe - and Kayla and Chris were able to come with us, an added bonus.

Amy (our 25 year old) is traveling through Europe on her own for a month. She's staying with friends, in hostels, and joining up with her cousin Serena for part of the journey.

On our first day in London, we learned two important interconnected facts.

The first: London is old.

Much older than the United States, if you can believe it. The roads are narrow, the buildings are tightly packed, and theyoften have year markers dating back for hundreds of years. The age thing is amazing. You are walking, driving, and spitting (not me, the other ugly American tourist) where people have done similar such things for centuries.

Many things have old, funky names. For example, we rode the "Tube" - Piccadilly line - to begin our adventure. Piccadilly, Piccadilly, Piccadilly. How often do we get to say funny words for perfectly legitimate reasons?

We passed a shop called "The Cheeky Fox". The window displayed several cute outfits. I don't want to shop anymore in Macy's (stores 1 - 5,667)...I want to shop at "The Cheeky Fox". OR the "Boots and Thongs". I think this was a leather goods store (as in shoes) but we chose not to explore, just in case.

Second: London (and Paris and Rome) are old, and as such require something different than touring America...

Strength and endurance!

This is NOT a vacation for the couch potato.

Due to the narrow streets, most citizens use public transportation. The system is easy to use with reasonable costs. We planned (and did) use public transportation in all cities except for one airport taxi ride. After viewing London drivers from the relative safety of our double decker bus (the driver moved that bus like it was a smart car - cutting in, cutting out, was CRAZY), we would STRONGLY recommend public transportation or taxis. London is bursting with taxis. The taxi drivers train for two years by riding a bicycle with clipboard/maps attached, memorizing routes in and around the city. Until they know all those routes, they cannot be certified as a taxi driver.

As a family of four with one child still to be put through college, we opted not to use taxis. I studied each metro service, and had transportation plans from arrival to departure.

In Heathrow, we cheerfully made our way to the well-marked Tube station.

The escalator up to the platform (40 stairs?) was broken.

Still cheery and full of first day optimism, we each hauled our 35 pound suitcase up to the train. Unbeknownst to us, the non-functioning escalator was a sign of things to come (more specifically, stairs to come!)(and come)(and come).

There is a reason you do not see many overweight people in cities dependent on mass transit. At least old cities. Stairs are de rigueur. While I am sure they must have some handicap arrangements, we did not often see options other than stairs, and saw several people with crutches negotiating the ups and downs of the multiple staircases that marked crossing lines within a station.

Kayla and I have been doing the "Insanity" exercise program this summer, which consists mostly of various ways of squatting, lunging, and jumping. I am still running 3 - 5 miles three times/week.

I was exhausted. Between the tube station stairs and the museum stairs, my legs were screaming for mercy. The Tower of London should read "towerS" with nice medieval staircases up and around and down (don't miss the Tower - one stands in history. It is an amazing feeling).

All in all, in each of our three city tour (London, Paris, Rome), we dragged those stinking suitcases up and down a crazy number of stairs. Then our daily activities took us in and out of museums, churches, historical sites, and the cities' metro stations - all with multiple staircases and long, long walks.

Thus began our great adventure - we loved almost every minute...and I will share most of them with you!;)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Finnished with Stieg Laarson

I know the story is set in Sweden.

I'm working on catchy blog titles.

Obviously, I need to work harder.

In the blog post, Should I read Books 2 and 3, I shared my disappointment with the first Laarson novel, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. I thought the descriptions were flat and tedious. BUT, encouraged by a number of blog readers, I decided to finish out the trilogy, reading The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

I enjoyed these books more than Dragon Tattoo. When I started Played with Fire, I almost quit and returned it unread to the library. In book two, Laarson again begins with didactic description of another journalistic investigation - after I had the jist, I started the skimming. I thought, "I'll be done with this book in an hour!"

Three hours later, I was exhausted from pushing myself to read...and had to stop to make dinner.

Once into the "action" scenes, Laarson uses his intriguing character, Lisbeth Salander, to lead the plot into fairly intriguing, if nearly implausible, situations. Oh, yes, he still bogs down the writing with unnecessary detail - for example, Lisbeth has to furnish her apartment. She goes shopping at IKEA. We get to read (if we don't SKIM, SKIM, SKIM) about EVERY STINKING item she buys at IKEA.

Since I have personally bought furniture at IKEA, and helped Amy furnish her apartment 100% IKEA, I was familiar with each item, even with their odd names (BESTÅ ÅDAL, MALM, EKTORP, KIVIK). Despite my ability to summon a vision of each piece...I did NOT need this much information.

Even with these trips into unnecessary and cumbersome detail ( I should know - I drag you through unnecessary and cumbersome detail in each blog post), the story picks up steam and becomes exciting and engrossing. The second book does not have an MUST read the third novel.

Hornet's Nest is the best of the three books. The story occasionally stalls, but now accustomed to Laarson's writing style, I quickly pick these out and skim through. I enjoyed it - left with some confusion regarding the Swedish justice system and court practices (very casual and tangential), but happy with the triumphant conclusion and the way Laarson tied up all the story lines.

I will recommend these books to you - but only as a borrowed or library read, and with the caveat that if you feel bogged down in detail, remember to skim. You won't miss what you don't read, I promise.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Cat Capers has taken a dark turn.

As you read in "Swimming Cat update", I'm swimming and the cat was doing quite well with the new indoor-outdoor routine.

I was feeling a little smug.

My house didn't stink. The cat was calm. My bite wounds healed with only moderate scarring. All was good.

Tuesday about 3 a.m., Paco meowed to go out. I let him out and stumbled back to bed.

At 3:30 a.m., I heard barking, screeching and yowling, and I KNOW that yowl (many nights of pre-outdoor cat-begging to go out noise).

I shot out of bed and ran out front. Two dogs were attacking Paco, who lay unconscious on the grass while one dog dragged him away by the leg.

I yelled, the dogs scattered, and I scooped up Paco and brought him inside.

Paco regained his senses after a few minutes, but was having trouble swallowing and walking.

In the morning, we took him to the vet, where he stayed the night after his wounds were treated:

Wow. Poor Paco.

Tuesday evening, a neighbor from down the street came over with flyers.

Apparently a gang of three dogs has been terrorizing the neighborhood cats (large feral colony and many pets, out like Paco for a nightly roam). SIX cats had been killed. They had caught the dogs on video during one of the attacks.

Since only 15 minutes before, I visited the neighbors' house and accused THEIR dog of the attack, I was conflicted about this news. GREAT. There goes the neighbor-of-the-year award.

It's time for me to MOVE OUT of MIAMI (or be run out).

Paco is recovering nicely, thanks for asking. He moves slowly, but did sit on the porch (screened and locked) for about an hour this morning, eating and drinking well.

I guess I'm keeping him in from now on - what I will do when he returns to health and his bad behaviors, I do not know, because I feel guilty enough to take quite a bit of aggravation for a while.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Swimming cat update

I admit it - the headline is disingenuous.

This blog refers to two previous blogs - one in which I survive my notorious cat attack (Cat Capers) and another describing my attempts to revise my swimming technique via a book called "Total Immersion" (All I need is a Book)

I thought "swimming cat update" might warrant a few more clicks than "Swimming/cat update".

Cute animal videos go viral all the time - you know you'd click the Youtube link to see a swimming cat.

The fact is, if we were as callous as those amateur videographers sometimes seem, we could have a video of a swimming cat.

Paco (our cat) likes to drink out of the swimming pool. He crouches on the edge, leans waaayyy over, and laps away. About four weeks ago, the pool level was lower than and he thought and ....splash!

Chris was outside at the time, so immediately performed pet rescue without first reaching for his camera.

Good for you Christopher!

I hate to admit it, but wonder if I wouldn't have put off rescue for at least one cute (horrible) swimming cat photo.

The swimming SLASH cat update now:

The cat outside experiment has been working fairly well. Paco typically hangs out in the backyard area from 3 - 5 p.m., wanders until 8 p.m., comes home to sleep for a few hours, wants back out at 11 p.m., then comes home for breakfast and a longer sleep.

The other evening when he didn't come home at 8 p.m., I went out looking. I found him - being chased around the neighbor's house and then cat-fighting. He didn't have too many scratches, so I think the ninja acumen he demonstrated attacking me must be quite effective against the neighborhood feral cat colony.

My husband noticed less cats hanging in the area - he thinks Paco is dominating and they are slinking off to new grounds.

I think he's delusional - it's all about the time of day. At 5:30 a.m. (Miami heat is on, so if I want to run, gotta get up and get moving), 12 cats languished on my neighbor's lawn and driveway.

The neighbors are more philosophical about this than I - "At least we don't have rats anymore!"

Don't worry - as appealing as a RAT tangent might be, I'll stay on topic.

We went to the condo in Clearwater for spring break - nine days. Paco and Aiden (dog) accompanied us.

Paco was a different cat. He slept 22/24 hours, wanted affection, no spraying, ate big dinners and cleaned himself until he glowed.

Like a teenager without his peers, Paco is a pussy cat when removed from the cat-gang infested land we call "home".

As to the pool activity -

My Total Immersion swimming is going well. I can swim 45 minutes without much effort. I am trying now to learn how to breathe to my left (I've always only turned to right). This doesn't sound hard, but it is apparently more than simply turning my head to that side. I thrash, I swallow water, I struggle. Last week, I had a breakthrough and was able to breathe left and right during a few laps.

Does anyone know how to keep water out of the ears - other than earplugs? They would be dangerous during an open water swim race.

Hooray for me - and if you are not RIVETED and THRILLED with the time you put into reading this BREAKING NEWS - sorry - no refunds allowed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tears versus Jeers

Crowded Mass this morning at St. John Neumann's in Miami - one of several first communion celebrations.

I delightedly watched the sweet eight-year-olds - boys in white ties/shirts, girls in their dresses and veils - carefully processing down the aisle. Clearly, a practiced maneuver. Each pair started after the other was half way down the aisle, bowed at the altar, then separated and walked into a pew row. Anxiously, the teacher observed from the side, and was probably unaware that as each pair walked, then bowed, she was giving empathetic slight bow as well.

Half way through the Mass, a small child hurt herself and began to wail. Mom scooped her up and headed mom-speed (like the wind!) to the back exit and into the cry room. The girl had good lungs. Despite the walls and glass, a faint wail could be heard for the next few minutes. Then quiet. Eventually, mom and child returned to Mass, all smiles.

I started wondering when it was in our emotional development that we stopped crying when we hurt and started cursing instead. As adults, we don't like feeling sad or hurt; it leaves us naked and vulnerable. We chose to get mad - a lot! In retaliation, we shove, complain, swear, cast aspersions, and recklessly gossip .

The world is teeming with animosity. We refuse to let our guard down and be exposed and intimate and loved (or fear the risk of acting in emotionally intimate and loving ways) and we have to cope in some way. It is SO much easier to be angry than hurt or embarressed or betrayed.

What a different world it would be if we retained our three year old willingness just to sit down and wail. We wouldn't hurt others, we wouldn't spread the pain - friendly fellow adults would gather around and pat our backs, offer a drink, a hanky, maybe even a "kiss and make it better".

A person would have time to calm down, blow the nose, get a hug, fix the makeup and get back to the day. Hurt dissipated.

Walking the dog one evening in Clearwater, we passed a man complaining about an incident while grilling dinner. Every other word was the f-word. He used it as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and helping verb. He was SO angry, and his diatribe did not seem to relieve his pain. Honestly, he was winding up, rather than down.

I wonder if he would have felt better weeping into his beer, rather than screaming at and into the bottle?

Mockingbirds were serenading the cool sunset, but the f-word man got none of that and all of bitterness.

I'm going to try kleenex over cursing - so, if you catch me weeping in the grocery or as I drive on the lunatic streets of Miami - smile, and bless my efforts for a peaceful pre-school perspective on life, love and loss!

Monday, April 11, 2011

All I need is a book...

I'm a big believer in books.

As a consequence, I'm a big believer in libraries, because I could never afford to buy all the books on all the subjects about which I am so infernally curious.

I believe that, for most subjects, somebody has taken the time to share knowledge and expertise in a book.

I have learned to faux finish walls from a book.

I've made curtains from directions in a book.

OHHH - learned a cool tip for eliminating seam pucker when sewing zippers in dresses from a book I picked up when wandering through the library.

What else...let's see...

Tips on improving my running time, choosing an olive oil, cutting paper (into cool designs, not just in half), knitting, cooking , pruning my roses, eating better (versions 1, 2, 3, 4...77), pilates, managing a classroom...not to mention all the cool books on less practical subjects like religion, politics, biographies...sigh...LOVE books.

The Miami library system is large, and each local library has a limited selection. When I read a book review, or see something on Amazon I'd like, I put in a library hold request. Eventually, I move up the system queue and it is delivered to my local library.

Apparently, so far in the past I have NO recall at all about requesting it, I got in the queue for The Four Hour Body, by Tim Ferriss.

This book is huge and covers ways to improve your physical health including losing weight, increasing flexibility, building muscle, improving sex (it's interesting that the chapter I'm excited about was NOT that one - am I old or what?) and SWIMMING more efficiently.

I've been thinking - like all of you - that a triathlon was my next bucket list item. Growing up, my mom couldn't afford much, but for physical fitness (she was so cool - I think she thought in categories about what we needed, and then figured out a way to make it work on our negligible budget) we belonged to the YMCA and took swimming lessons - for years. On Saturdays, we'd drive over, and swim for an hour during lap swim time. I seem to remember needed 100 miles of swimming to get some special badge, but who knows. Mom might have made that up. She knew I liked badges (trophies, medals, plaques). Frankly, I'm clearly still motivated by pretty, shiny objects:

So, I have decent form in the four basic strokes. BUT when I go to the pool and swim laps, I am out of breath, huffing, puffing, heart thumping wildly after a couple of laps.

THEN I read in Ferriss' book about the Total Immersion swimming method.

So, I requested Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better and Faster, by Laughlin and Delves.

Read the book. Drove to the club. Jumped in the water.

Re-learning to swim is NOT easy. I didn't feel comfortable bringing a library book into the pool area, so I was working from my notes. At the end, I felt I'd made some progress, but not much.

The book has a DVD available for purchase, but I didn't want to spend the money. THEN I thought, hey maybe there is something on Youtube! after video, including lectures by Terry Laughlin. (I suppose now I need to say "I'm a big believer in the internet. Someone has shared his expertise on nearly every subject." PFFT on you. I still like books more.)

Here's one of the swimming demonstrations of the method: Total Immersion swimming.

See how effortlessly he glides through the water?

I wasn't doing it ALL wrong, but definitely a LOT wrong.

Time two in the pool - massive improvement. Cut the number of strokes it takes from one end of the pool to the other in half. Could swim without any big physical toll for lap after lap, though I was doing a lot of the exercises and corrective techniques, so was not straight lap swimming.

Today I went in again, swam for 45 minutes, struggling to remember all of the motions and changes, but completed the laps with ease.

This is so cool!

I'm probably going to follow up with a lesson or two with a local Total Immersion coach, but for now, I'm thrilled. If you've wanted to swim more, but couldn't seem to make it work - give this a try. it is amazing!

Friday, February 25, 2011

It seemed reasonable at the time....


I was pulling out of the gas station (where I had waited 10 minutes for a pump)(the gas was a 'reasonable' 3.24, causing quite the queue)...

The pumps are lined up perpendicular to the road. One enters on the right, passes pump after pump, then exits on the left, through the same access point.

The access "in" and "out" lanes are divided by hatched yellow markings.

Perhaps I was a tad testy from the wait and the cost of a tank of, apparently, pure gold...

I was in the left hand exit lane, WITH my turn signal on.

On reflection, that probably was what confused my fellow driver.

As I wait for the traffic light, a car pulls into the yellow hatched area next to me.

The two gentlemen appeared to be cheerful - they were tapping and nodding to the strong bass beat in the 'music' blaring out their open windows.

I rolled down my window and said "Hi! I'm in the left hand lane with my turn signal on - what are you guys doing?" (I may have been affecting an British accent - substitute "What are you good men about this fine morning?" if you like that version).

The passenger on my side jovially slaps the arm of the driver, who glances at me and says "Sorry". I think some other words followed sorry. I'm not sure. Something about a batch of something. I suddenly realized I should be declared clinically insane and rolled up my window to avoid further self-incrimination.

The light changed and, with the delightful enthusiasm of youth, the man slammed the car into gear and sped off, tires screeching.

What a pleasure it was when we BOTH pulled into the adjacent shopping center.

In a serendipitious coincident, I had JUST been thinking about parking farther from stores in order to get more exercise. This new plan of action allowed me to avoid running into my new friends.

I have been driving two hours too long in Miami.

I beep, for goodness sake - all the time.

The light changes: beep, beep, beep.


It's time to get on the bike - for the environment, for the economy, and for the good of South Florida humankind.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Bound?

Watching the forecasts for the BIG SNOW...

Interestingly, a friend recently let me read letters she'd written to her father to describe her experience during Hurricane Andrew. I am very alarmed at the thought of a hurricane. We have all the protections - house is built per latest code, hurricane shutters, and generator. However, when a hurricane comes, we close the shutters and the house is sealed in absolute darkness. We have to listen and guess what's going on outside.

I do not like the thought of this one little bit.

Snow storms don't frighten me. As long as we're not on the road, I like hunkering down in the house, lighting a fire, watching the beauty of the snow. It's easy to marvel at something from the inside of a cozy room. AND if the power goes out, the basement stays decently warm. And there's always blankets and layers.

I'll take a blizzard over a hurricane any day!

My kids had so much fun in the snow.

Chris and his friends used to dig snow caves and build snow forts and stay out for hours. The girls loved it as well - snow houses and snow tag were their specialties.

While it seemed in the later years Barry's travels guaranteed he'd miss snow shoveling, we had a GIANT snow blower he'd purchased in Michigan. I'd attack the driveway with the behemoth and wonder WHY we did not pay a service like most every one else in the neighborhood. Typically, it's not so cold after a snowfall, so there was kind of a peaceful seduction to methodically cleaning off the driveway (if you could get pass the roar of the engine and the gas fumes).

In a hundred little ways, I know I'm getting older. Here's one - I have at least one clear memory of the snow of 1967. My dad cleared the walks and drive, and then dug steps up the sides of a MOUNTAIN sized drift next to our back door (who knows how high it really was - I was only 5!), and we spent hours climbing up and sledding down across the yard.

I also remember 1979. It seemed we were out of school every other day. SNOW DAY! SNOW DAY! SNOW DAY....until I'd had enough and was ready to get out of the house and back to school and friends. Kirk was down at college, so Kim and I had to clean the driveway. The side piles reached over 3 feet high.

When I was teaching, snow days regained their allure - I swear, teachers are more excited by the idea of surprise free day than the students! The first year we were in Miami, a tropical storm headed our way. Turns out, "HURRICANE DAY!" is as exciting to students here as snow days are up north. If I remember, the day off never materialized, and students were desperately disappointed.

Not me!

So northern friends, lift a cup of cocoa with me - I think I will have tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch, the perfect tribute to a winter day.

Midwestern to the core -


Friday, January 28, 2011


I'm feeling very sophisticated and connected lately.

My friend, Carolina Marrelli, is releasing her new CD on the 29th - Come Away. It's rock and it's cool and the message within and behind the music is incredible. She's gorgeous and gifted! To learn more about Carolina, go to her webiste, Click here to get a sneak listen to the newly released single, Facing the Giants.

On Saturday, Barry and I will be going to Carolina's CD release party. Woo-hoo, look at us! It's in the Design District in Miami, at Awarehouse. Despite all my Red Carpet glamour visions, this is a great, down-to earth, everyone-is-welcome event. Carolina is donating a portion of every CD sale to International Justice Mission - a "human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression".

I've been so impressed and moved by Carolina's radio and television appearances. Her passion for her art and social justice is contagious. The Holy Spirit's presence is this endeavor is so obvious, it's intimidating. I read a great book by Peter Kreeft, Jesus-Shock. Kreeft talks about the electrifying effect of a real encounter with Christ, and if we allow ourselves to entertain the supernatural and reach out, we too will experience this life altering "shock".

I see in Carolina the effect of Christ's powerful voltage and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I know some of you are non-believers - or maybe uncomfortable with the idea of spirituality - give the music a listen! It's not your "usual" Christian fare and you may hear something...well...something shocking!



One of Christopher's friends came to school with a story about his neighbor's chicken.

I won't elaborate, since the story involves carnage and clandestine activity.

What I find interesting is the number of people in a very suburban area who keep farm animals.

Where I live, the lots range from smaller than 1/4 acre (Stucco McMansions crowded onto a single original lot) to an average 1/2 acre to larger old Florida homes with "estate" property. Still, all of these homes are in neighborhoods - Miami's suburban sprawl. It's just house after house. Unlike Chicago, the "neighborhoods" in South Miami-Dade county don't have downtowns. The commercial district stretches along U.S. 1, and, on either side, after the stores, are home upon home. A few miles out is the "Redlands" where there are many farms and much of the Florida produce the nation enjoys is grown.

In the homes around mine, in ordinary backyards, people keep a variety of animals.

The aforementioned chickens are not unusual. While on one of my longer runs, I have heard or seen chickens clucking and pecking in several front yards. They don't seem to be kept in big enough numbers for Sunday dinner treats, so I'm assuming it's fresh eggs the owners are after. Maybe I'm unaware of the companionship and affection offered by a group (flock? clutch? coop?) of chickens.

A house in the next neighborhood section has a tall privacy fence, but there is no mistaking the "Nehhhhh" of goats. Milk? Cheese? Meat? The goats' playful and engaging nature? Who knows!

In December, 2009, I went on a tour of some lovely Coral Gables/Pinecrest homes. Two of the homes had bee hives! I have since seen newspaper notices of bee-keeping classes. Our yard is adequate, but not terribly big. I'm interested in the bees, but even if I tucked the hive in a corner, I ABSOLUTELY guarantee my dog would knock it over and get viciously stung within 48 hours of construction and habitation.

I can't leave out the sweater-wearing pig I taking his owner on a placid walk. I'm SURE the pig was for companionship, not bacon, but in a pinch, like a bad hurricane...that's a pet investment that could pay off.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cat Capers

WARNING: This blog is less blog-length and more chapter-length, so get a cup of coffee and prepare to read how willing I am to bare my idiocy for your amusement...

I began this blog entry several months ago. It was an evolution, both in events and composition. The saga, I believe, has come to an end with recent events.

I have decided to reveal my oddest activity (and among my activities and obsessions, to be the oddest is odd indeed).

For over a YEAR now, I have been trying to cat-proof my yard.

Yes, a cat corral if you please. An outdoor, open air cat cage.

Can't be done you say? Read on....

Why would I want to cat-proof my yard?

The why doesn't seem as defensible as it did a year ago...but I'll put my rationale out there - be gentle in your mockery.

When we moved to Miami, it was a very lonely time, especially for Chris. He entered high school - no friends, no mutual history, no activities. We went to the animal shelter (that story deserves a blog entry of its own) and picked out a four month old kitten.

Every time we've gotten a pet, the pet has become mine. The cats have avoided warm, rumpled kids' beds to sleep on my head. MUCH better. I've been the alpha dog twice for our beloved puppies, though Barry likes to declare himself "The Alpha DOG!" most often when playing with the dog, but sometimes randomly after a beer or two.

Paco was different. Paco bonded with Chris. To this day, Paco lets Chris carry him like a baby, cradled face up in his arms. He runs to the front door when the car lock "beep" sounds and Chris arrives home from school.

So as a Mom who saw her son suffer for a long year before friendships formed, I feel a great deal of gratitude and love for Paco.

Paco is a 15 plus pound, four year old orange tabby male cat. Paco was a sweet biddable kitty until November-ish, 2009. My neighborhood (like many Miami locales) has an large colony of feral (wild) cats. Our kind-hearted neighbor feeds the cats, increasing their presence around our yard.

Evidently, some (or all) of the female cats went into heat during this period. Despite the fact that Paco is neutered, the sweet lure of love made him...psychotic. He began to spray, pace, and yowl throughout the night.

Why not let him out?

Our first cat, Spooky, was an "in and out" cat. He hunted, most memorably bringing home a rabbit and tearing into by the front door as my neighbors came over for a morning coffee.

In general, the arrangement worked well - we'd call Spooky in the evening, and he'd come trotting home.

However, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Spooky was killed by a neighbor's dog who came onto our property and mauled her.

Since then, I've not let any of our cats roam.

Another consideration was the feral cats. They are not vaccinated, fixed, or clean. Territorial fights abound. Paco was front-declawed - how would he defend himself? And, while it was the least of my concerns, we had struggled with fleas for several months and I didn't want to repeat trying to rid yard, pets and home of the pests.

To wear Paco out, I took him outside in the fenced back yard. Two sides are chain link with a large ficus hedge cover - two are wood and smooth. Clever and strong, Paco found several areas to dig and push and pull the chain link fence away from the ground, and so escape to meet his amor (sss).

And so began my quest. LET me say in my defense - these measures took place over many weeks, and were mostly casual efforts while I was outside. Do NOT picture crazy Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) from Caddyshack (oh, now you are! ARGHH).

First, I tried filling the holes with heavy rocks, but Paco was able to pull them out with his man-hand size paws.

THEN, I wired the rocks to the holes, but rocks are hard to wire (duh) and the cat could evidently wiggle them aside and escape.

THEN, I wired bricks (leftover from drive-way paving)(much easier to wire securely)(consider that a helpful household tip) to the areas, which DID defeat him...but he dug new holes along the same line of fence.

THEN, I bought wooden garden edging, and wired THAT to the entire vulnerable fence line and VOILA! Cat contained and happiness reigned...da da dum...from March until this December. The intervening months were fabulous. We have a dog door, and Paco (as well as the dog, Aiden) would go in and out at will, enjoying the yard, catching lizards and watching the birds. We closed the dog door at night, but the cat rested well after his energetic jaunts.

Cat owners are probably scratching their proverbial chins at this time... how did I keep Paco from CLIMBING out of the yard???

When Paco was about a year old, he had a freak cat-accident. Jumping from the bar island to the sofa, he missed and fell awkwardly on the hard tile floor, breaking his front paw/leg. He had a cast on for 6 weeks, and limped for a long time. Paco hadn't climbed in so long, he didn't know he could - until one of the feral cats SHOWED him how EASY it was!

The floozy wiggled her alluring tail, jumped into the yard, caught Paco's manly eye, and then demonstrated how easy it was to escape from the dog and I.

Paco bided his time. I hoped for the best.

The day I found him on the top of the gate, yowling for help, I thought, "Hey, maybe he'll be too scared to try again!"

Nope, he had learned - the fence was conquerable. Up and out he went.

The dog door was locked and anytime Paco was outside, someone had to watch him.

If we don't take Paco out in the yard, he paces, yowls and marks up the house. It stinks. I hate it. If it were my cat, I'd let him out and the heck with it.

But it's my son's. And Paco was his special gift and gave Chris the happiness to make it through the hard awkward time.

When the fateful fence climbing occured in December, I had a brainstorm (sort of like a stroke) and went to Home Depot and bought plastic chicken fence (I included the link in case you want to try this useless trick yourself!) - 36 inches high, and rigged up blocking sections on the climbing corners (has to be relatively branch free for Paco to climb). This work was effective - Paco couldn't get a grip on the pliable, small grid fencing - for all of eight hours, when Paco realized he could move to another area and climb up and out.

For a moment, I pictured rigging the whole perimeter in the fencing....

What was I doing???

I have to laugh at myself - or cry that I went this far without quitting. All this plotting, planning, devising, and designing for a fruitless, impossible mission, all to try to accommodate this animal - and my love of my son. I have no ground to mock ANYONE who obsesses about her pet, carries it in her purse, dresses it in Gucci, or hand makes the animal's dinner.

As some of you know, last week Paco got out. Chris was searching for the cat in our neighbor's yard (a frequent haunt) as I watched the exits.

Paco exited on a run.

I chased.

Paco sat quietly as I approached, but when I tried to pick him up, he bit my forearm (like, the WHOLE forearm in his mouth) and used his back claws to scratch me, then ran off.

Here is devotion (or thick-headedness) for you...

I ran AFTER the cat, clutching my bleeding, screaming arm - and when I caught up, I used my own version of "Dog Whisperer" voodoo techniques to quiet the cat, pick him up, and bring him in (Zsst! Zsst! Calm. Calm. Zsst!). Oddly enough, this worked! Why I don't have two bitten arms, I don't know.

I ended up with a deep tissue infection, antibiotics, a tetanus shot, and an overdue physical scheduled with my physician.

SOOO...You think I would have learned.

TODAY, during our half hour early out time, I went in to get a glass of tea (run in, get ice, pour tea, run out)...I see the cat's bottom going over the fence under the bougainvillea.
Bougainvillea, while beautiful, is covered with thorns. I'm NOT reaching in there.

However, I insanely reasoned that if I found the cat early in his forays, there would be no problems grabbing him up and bringing him home.

That HAD been true in the past.

It is NO longer true.

Within 5 minutes, I found Paco. Paco allowed me to pick him up. I carried him toward our house - as I approached the front door, he began to yowl and struggle.

I thought I had a good grip on him - but he is a strong, strong kitty.

He twisted, and yowled, and twisted and flipped...and I dropped him after he bit my belly, and scratched my arms.

To add insult to injury - more accurately to add injury to injury - Paco skittered about three feet from me, then attacked, biting the back of my leg before running off.


This afternoon I'm talking with Christopher about Paco becoming an in and out cat.

I'm still worried about the fleas - but not about the territorial fights.

I'm pretty sure Paco can handle himself.

I unlocked the dog door (locked since December as Paco uses the door as easily as the dog)(we bought one of those high-pitched sound emitters to keep him from the dog door - made for cats, guaranteed. Can you say "she got her money back"?) and did not bother looking for the cat.

And, just this moment, as I finish this entry, Paco came in through the dog door, went straight to his bowl, finished his delayed breakfast, and curled up for a nap.

Cats rule.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Should I read books 2 and 3???

I like to read.

I read a lot.

I read all sorts of books.

I like to recommend those I like - for example, although it is disturbing, I enjoyed Room, by Emma Donoghue. On a lighter note, I also recently read I Still Dream about You by Fannie Flagg. It's comfort reading - like a nice stew on a cold night. Extremely different book styles, but both well written with great character development.

On Saturday, I picked up my hold queue books at the library.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was in the group, as were several critical essay volumes addressing Robert Browning - Chris has to write a research paper.

If you loved this book, you need to stop reading immediately.

I did NOT love this book.

The Washington Post claims it was "wildly suspenseful". REALLY? Wildly?

I was barely intrigued. I did finish the book, because some of the story's bones were interesting...but WILDLY?

What book did they read???

Characters: The Girl with the Tattoo - her I liked. Well developed, intriguing, beyond quirky character. Blomkvist, a journalist, yawn, yawn, yawn. Everyone else in the story was either extraordinarily superfluous OR a sexual sadist.

Apparently, Sweden is overrun with sexual sadists. They are everywhere. They are breeding. The poor dragon girl falls prey to a sexual sadist guardian. The journalist uncovers a family of murdering sadists. We get IN DEPTH descriptions of their acts and tools. GREAT. I'm skimming, skimming, skimming...the "sneak peak" at book two appears to reveal that the poor Girl was the victim of ANOTHER sexual sadist and abuser when she was 13. What is going on??!!

Sorry, Board of Tourism, but this has knocked Sweden off my European tour list.

Also, the story is rife with casual, casual sex. Random people meet, say "hey, how about sex?" and most often the answer is "great." I realize I've been married a LLLOONNGGG time, but really, it was just too much, too easy, and too frequent. Maybe the casual Swedes are motivated by extreme gratitude for sex offered without whips, burns, and restraints.

Twice the author used a character to note with discomfort that a young person had "got religion", as if it were one of those trying adolescent choices, like drugs or anorexia.

The plot has two parts. Part one was BORING. I started skimming with the lame, long, tedious description of Blomkvist's article about a Swedish financier. I like a great corrupt financier story as well as the next guy, but not dictated like a school report. Get me into the story! Make it speak!

Due to his article, Blomkvist is found guilty of libel against the financier. Plot 1's purpose is to serve as a vehicle to make a major investigative journalist available for private hire. Eventually Blomkvist has the opportunity to re-address this slur on his journalistic reputation and plot #1 re-emerges in new form, but the story on pages 21 - 30 is irrelevant to the conclusion of plot #1 and I give you permission to skip them.

Blomkvist begins work on a mystery with the Dragon Tattoo girl. At one point, he finds a picture showing someone taking a picture, and he needs to find that photographer in order to find her pictures because it shows the opposite viewpoint. MASSIVE skimming as he drives to a Swedish town and finds a person who says "No, I do not know them." Drives to another town: same response. Drives to another town "Maybe so-and-so knows them". Finds So-and-So - "YES!". Gives directions to photographer's house. Suspense finally builds....but NO!

The person is NOT HOME, and we get to read about the journalist driving to a hotel, sleeping, having coffee and returning.

This is WILDLY suspenseful???

With optimism, I picture the screen writers (the author, Stieg Larsson, has died)(I'm sorry Stieg) tearing page after page from the book. OR, the movie could be terrible like Angels and Demons, where we see Tom Hanks running from location to location to location to location until we want to scream and throw our drink at the screen (or is that just me?).

I pictured Tom Hanks as Blomkvist the reporter, simply because of the parallel between his running, running, running and the driving, driving, driving scenes.

The book picks up at the end. We get a better picture of the Tattoo Girl. Plot #2 ends at the 2/3 point with a not-so-surprising result. There's a torture scene that ought to make great cinema. Yay-rah Hollywood. Plot #1a is revisited and the Girl shines. Again, I didn't connect to the writing style, but I could see this working well for the screen writers.

SO, my question to you is - do I read/skim books #2 and #3, or give it up? Are the next two worth the time?