Monday, December 12, 2016

How to love winter storms

House Between back deck and snowy forest. Temp: minus 1.
 Sunday. We were snowed in this morning – a happy thing. Eight inches isn’t much but it was enough for us to celebrate with bacon and eggs for breakfast and a stay by the fireplace. The plows came around by mid-morning but by then we were well into Sabbath rest and listening to a Keller sermon on patience which scratched at a number of weak spots in our life. (Like what a beast I turn into when annoyed by other drivers.)

The snow began yesterday afternoon with temperatures close to zero. We planned to attend a party in the evening. Until we were on our way and freaked out by almost getting mashed into guacamole by another car. Someone spun out right ahead of us and did at least five slow-mo fish tails, before coming to rest facing across the lanes with both rear wheels on the shoulder.

We felt lucky to stop in time and not have anyone rear-end us. Because the party was a good fifteen miles across the city, we decided to heck with this and turned back home. The first real snow of the season and people ought to know how to drive without killing self or others! A good thing we turned home, because there were others in trouble including a nice, new pickup lying on its side in the ditch. Which reminded me of the Dodge Ram ads featuring hunky men driving straight up a snowy mountain.

Winter storms with their danger and beauty fill me with nostalgia and happiness. We have so much to be thankful for: the warmth of home, the splendor of the snow-draped forest behind us, rabbit tracks over the drifts, comfort food and our married friendship. I am unworthy of such bounty, and yet, when do we ever deserve the goodness that makes our hearts glad?

House Between front sidewalk
Rare sighting . Husband in pajamas sweeping path to bird-feeding station.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The JAWZ of war against mice

My ammunition dump.  
I open the silverware drawer and notice little black grains and wonder who dropped dirt among the forks. Bits of bacon? Wild rice? Not mice feces again!

The glories of fall with cool temps and blazing trees must alert rodents it’s time to find a winter home, and with our entire tribe in tow, why don’t we enter this promising house with a perfect entrance through the kitchen exhaust fan? Why not? Because I am going to tell people how to stop you!

Mice, I admit, are rather cute with their shiny black eyes and fuzzy gray faces. No one knew this better than children’s author Beatrix Potter who wrote mouse stories that could warm the most cold-hearted adult. Who doesn’t love Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, the mouse couple who angrily destroy a doll house because all the food is fake but then return in repentance with a broom and dustpan to sweep up the damage? If only!!

I’m not afraid of them, like some, or viciously calculating like others armed with a cookie sheet ready to flatten it the next time it appears. (Futile remedy, Andene.) Okay, I did have one encounter that made me scream. But I was in no position to protect myself since it ran under the bathroom door while I was temporarily indisposed.

If you see one mouse run across your living room and disappear under the chair, you may be sure there are others. If you find one dropping in your pantry, you may be sure there are others. If you find a cache of shredded kleenix behind the shoes in your closet, you may be sure there are others. If my mother, the queen of proverbs, were here she’d toss you off a “where there’s one there are a dozen.” I cringe.

When they begin to lick the butter you left on the counter, (don’t tell me to get a cat; my daughter’s cat has always preferred licking butter to catching mice.) and leave their little black rice kernels on the dinner plates, nibbles on the cracker box and holes in the cornmeal sack – it’s time to declare war.

We have tried various ways of capturing them including live trapping with the benevolent plan of releasing them some where wonderful like the wealthy neighborhood next door. But they just seem to prefer slumming at my house. The old-fashioned bend-the-spring-back-and-hook trap only succeeded in trapping my fingers as the latch is so touchy. Mice despise this trap, disarm it with ease and leave with the bait. They may be cheap, but don’t bother. Poison is bad for two reasons. If a mouse eats it and dies and your cat finds it thinking what a yummy little snack, she might eat it and die, too. The second problem with poison, though some deny this, is that upon eating a shit-load of bait the mouse makes his way back to his nest somewhere in the bowels of your house and feeling very sick to the stomach curls up and dies. Then as nature does her work the mouse begins to decompose. The scent of rotting flesh emerging from such a small creature is alarming. We know from experience. That dreadful smell emanating from our basement infused the rest of the house and lasted until the blue bottle flies appeared (you know what was going on there!) It could make a monk curse. Slowly it dissipates and disappears after a few weeks. Meanwhile all our frantic searching in cubby holes and pipes never revealed the dead corpse.

My secret to fighting mice is simple and cheap. Go to any hardware store or a place like Menards and purchase four or five JAWZ OF DEATH traps. They should cost more than five dollars apiece. This is the best weapon ever. You load the little basin under the trigger with peanut butter, pull back the JAW until it clicks and carefully set it down. Then scatter a few grains of oatmeal. Not many. You want it to be an appetizer or an amuse-bouche, a little mouth teaser as the French say, before the mouse tucks into the main course. Then WHOMP – instant death. Fast, accurate and deadly. This almost humane, don’t you think? And his last thought will be a pleasant one – the surprise of finding something so tasty right in his path on the way to the kitchen? Bonus! Disposal is so easy – no touching dead thing, just hold over trash can and squeeze open and down it drops. Most of the time you don’t even need to re-bait.
I know. But he IS dead. Don't feel too sorry for him. Not to put too fine a point on it, The CDC says: "Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites." Photo Courtesy of  Rachel Wilhelm.  
With JAWZ in place you can climb down from the safety of your stool and confidently put away the cast iron skillet you were going to throw. This is my best advice for autumn. For free. Lucky you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stop feeding the monster: Bird lessons in life

This week a handyman finished repairing holes in the siding of our house. A woodpecker hammered away until there were three holes large enough for chickadees to nest in. This is not a joke. They actually did. If you timed it right you could see a parent returning with little green worms and if you listened closely you could hear the ecstatic cries of the babies when dinner arrived. It was an odd thing to see a chickadee perched on the hole’s edge, its head poking out the side of our house. Whether advisable or not, we waited until they moved out before the work was done.

We are a little obsessed with bird-watching around here and learn all kinds of life lessons from them. Not that I take to the woods with binoculars. No. I’m too fat and lazy for that. We have extremely popular feeders on our deck so all I need to do is sit at my desk sipping coffee and twist my neck to watch. I try not to get too distracted by the constant commotion outside my window, but the other day I was disgusted by something I’d never seen before – a tiny song sparrow feeding a baby bird about four times her size. The baby was fluttering its wings as young ones do while the exhausted parent flew back and forth to the feeder, grabbing seeds and popping them in the demanding open mouth. Back and forth, over and over. I was witnessing the perpetrator of a malicious crime. Slavery. A murderer of sorts. An imposter. Pig. And here was a mother who didn’t even know this was not her own child.
This was a purple finch (little larger species than song sparrows) nest we found on our porch some time ago, but you can see the cowbird egg which is larger and a mottled brown. I removed it returned the nest to the rightful owners. 
Male Cowbird
The baby was a young cow bird whose mother had spied the innocent song sparrow’s nest a month or more ago and stealthily laid her own fat egg among the tiny sparrow eggs. The cow bird can’t be bothered to hatch her own eggs and instead sneaks into another bird home and leaves a fake. And it isn’t like the hatchling joins the rest of the brood thankful to be fed, thankful to be anywhere at all – it always hatches first – ugly, (okay all baby birds are ugly, but I’m annoyed here) blind and featherless, and then it commits fratricide by pushing the other eggs out of the nest to destroy all competition. You may not approve of this, but my husband set the foster mother free by dispatching the imposter.

It’s one thing to hear David Attenborough talk about certain disturbing aspects of bird life, but altogether a different thing to witness it firsthand.

I love metaphor and this was so flagrant I had to reflect on it. I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself far gone down a road you had no idea would end up severely depleting or even destroying your assets? Or health? Or family? I once nurtured a multi-level marketing company thinking it could make me, if not rich, then able to purchase “extras” like Calphalon cookware, percale sheets and massage therapy. I loved the product and invested a lot of money trying to make sales only to learn that as the months passed with little to show for my effort, it became clear I was the worst salesperson on earth. This was not becoming the nest egg I’d hoped for because I couldn’t bring myself to tell you how much good this skincare line could be for your flaky, pock-marked face. But I continued feeding time and money into the maw of the business hoping it would get better. Gradually, I fell into discouragement and guilt, but for several years I was afraid to quit. How could I admit such failure to my husband who had supported this risk? How could I make up the lost dollars? Finally, I told him how much I hated sales and how sorry I was for the wasted money and how afraid I was to stop feeding this monster in my life because I’m not a quitter, but what could I do? Then came one of the most wonderful proofs of grace in my life. He said – “Stop doing this. Let it go and don’t worry about it. It’s a valuable thing to try something out to see if it will work and to find out it doesn’t. You didn’t know this wouldn’t be your thing. So let it go.” I quit immediately and I’ve never forgotten the love he demonstrated in walking through that with me.

Epilogue: we’ve seen another batch of song sparrow babies that are genetic offspring. Definitely. I even imagine I’m hearing happier songs.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A new favorite coffee mug

A new favorite coffee mug 
We’ve always liked the earthiness of wood-fired pottery and not long ago friends took us to a cool potter’s studio near Amery, Wisconsin, where Sarah Dudgeon has been throwing and firing pots in an old country mercantile store that is also her home for about 20 years. There is an attractive charm to the setting – a creative tumbling of plants and color and chaos. (see her facebook page Dudgeon Pottery or go to the website) Sarah’s work –much of it with botanical themes – is gorgeous.

Dudgeon Pottery in an old general store near Amory, WI
Pottery has been an affordable way for us to support artists as we purchase gifts for others, and, of course, for ourselves. We excuse our obsession with the the thought that some day, when we die, our children will have the joy of dividing it among themselves. Uh-huh. The one that caught my eye that day had leaves and stems of a coppery golden sheen on browns that fade into a turquoise green background – I liked it even more when I held it in my hand. Not only for its beauty but for its functionality. It’s not uncommon for people with RA to have swollen sausage-like fingers. Yes, on certain days, mine look almost edible. So a handle designed to fit four fingers and a thumb on top distributes the weight of coffee and mug so there is minimal pain in getting that caffeine lifted to your mouth. Extremely satisfying. 

A load ready to come out of the kiln
It causes great gladness to witness how some people in this fallen world are able to combine their calling or vocation with what they love to do even when it is hard work and will never make them rich in money. But as you look around her site it is clear that in the diversity of color and plants and textures there is an unmistakable richness and warmth to the life she has created.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gentle Giants

The Scott County Fair had a draft horse show last Friday and we watched the six horse hitches for the mares division. There were ten entries from all over the midwest. At one point there were 60 horses in the arena - all thundering past the stands pulling coaches- the announcer liked to call them "Gentle Giants." When I stood beneath one who was getting all gussied up before the completion - her mane braided, her tail be-ribboned and her hooves shined - it looked like a spa for horses. Anyway - I stood beneath one of the mares and her lips rested on my head. That's how tall they are. The winner of that division was Percherons from Cheyenne, WY.   They are Percherons. Black beauties whose breed originated in France. 


Their synchronized beauty, their power and grace move me. Sometimes to tears. Silly me. But there is a theology to them that causes me to wonder. I mean wonder as in speechless. Amazed. A horse can be controlled with a bit and bridle if you know how. But there is something wonderful about the one who will come to you when called without being coerced. That is what God asks of us - to come to him. To not be like a horse that has no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come. (Psalm 32:9)