Monthly Archives: June 2015

Mad Hatter


So I’m hosting a murder mystery garden party in July. I did one two years ago and it seemed to be a big hit, so here we go again. While my first was set in Upton Abbey in 1912 (pop culture tie-in!), this year’s epic will take place on the Catsby Estate in 1921.

Because I never do anything in a small way, I’ve been scurrying to prepare periodesque costumes for my cast of suspects (my put-upon kin). This involves long strings of pearls, decorative fans, feather boas and especially hats.

When I had the idea for the party theme, I went online to check out the availability of 1920s ladies hats, and found them aplenty. However, the hats I found on eBay and Etsy were outrageously expensive, to the tune of several hundred dollars. “What nonsense!” I snorted to myself. “I’ll just make my own on the cheap!”


Beads? What beads?

Famous last words.

It turns out that the reason custom-made hats available for purchase are so dear is less because of the artisanship of the creation than the expense of the doodads and gew-gaws to pretty them up. “Upcycling,” it appears, means starting with a $2 straw hat and adding $200 worth of feathers. I can see where ostriches would be reluctant to part with their plumes for a nickel, but $35 each seems a bit rich. I may go into ostrich feather farming to make my fortune.

Part of my problem is that I’ve never subscribed to the “less is more” or “tastefully understated” philosophy. More beads! More ribbon! More, more, MORE shabby chic roses! For a month, my bedroom (well, let’s just call it a workshop, shall we?) has been strewn with appliques and puff balls and strands of beads. The cats are delighted. I’ve come to cringe at the knowing smirk of the clerk behind the till at JoAnn Fabrics when I haul my latest trove of fancies up to the counter. Really, though: is ANY ribbon, no matter how sparkly, worth $17.95 a yard? And do I REALLY need two yards?



An unexpected – Well, I probably should have anticipated it, though I never was much good at physics – effect of all this razzle dazzle is that each of the hats now weighs about five pounds. I expect to be hit with chiropractic bills from my injured relations after the party.

I finished my four hats this weekend. I look forward to seeing my sister and nieces in them. And to justify the moolah I’ve splashed out on the damned things, look for me to wear them to church, work and the grocery store every day from now on.

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Turf Wars


For a man raised on the South Dakota prairie, my Dad was inordinately fond of trees. He was known to snag seedlings out of ditches and bring them home to install in the backyard. The result after 55 years is a whole lot of very big trees and a lawn that shaded for much of every day. Side effect: our lawn has become increasingly patchy. My mother has long fretted about this, and a couple of years ago I had a lawn company come out to treat the grass with fertilizers and weed killers. My nephew discouraged this. “If you kill all the crabgrass, you won’t have anything green left back there.”

Wise beyond his years, my nephew.

Two years later, the lawn people having come and gone half a dozen times for regular maintenance, large swaths of the yard are reduced to compacted dirt. But at least there’s no crabgrass.

This is not of great concern to me, as I have always hated grass. I find its uniformity rather bland and it requires a great deal of fussing. It has to be mowed, for instance. Not only is this a tiresome waste of time that would be better spent weeding the flower beds, it has been my sad experience that no lawn mower invented has ever started in two consecutive instances. Lawn mowers break down just sitting in the shed. You’ll have them tune up at the small engine place, mow the lawn once, put it back in the shed and the next week it will be dead as a stone. For years, the arrival of lawnmower season was reliably greeted by tears of frustration and my mother’s plaintive suggestion that “perhaps we’d be better off in an apartment.”

Let the lawn drive me from my own property? Ha! NEVER! Last year I found a guy who comes to mow the lawn once a week. He drives one of those big machines with levers instead of a steering wheel and he gets the whole place done in about 15 minutes. As far as I can tell, he has shed no tears over my lawn. (However, my mother insists that he shakes his head a little irritably while mowing, irked at having to maneuver around my proliferating garden beds.

At my mother’s urging, I reseed the bare patches every.single.year. I dig up the ground, rake it over smooth, generously scatter seed, cover with a light layer of soil and water thoroughly twice a day. Watch the tiny seedlings sprout. See them proliferate. Observe them wither and die. Stomp around mad for the rest of the summer.


SyFy should make a film of this.

This year I have a new plan. I’m going to cover every bare spot I see with a charming garden gnome.

That won’t be creepy at all.

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Grim Pickin’s


Gather ye rosebugs while ye may.

At one end of my backyard are three large, old rosebushes. They grew from cuttings taken from my mother’s childhood farm more than half a century ago, and the bush from which they were taken had persevered on the hot, dusty South Dakota prairie since the 1930s. My mother recalls that it grew up over the gate in the yard, covered with needle-like thorns, and her mother was always after her dad to trim it back. But having just come through the Dust Bowl, where the entire farmstead was reduced to lifeless dirt, John Welsh could never bring himself to cut away any living greenery.

That original bush’s progeny, transplanted to central Minnesota, has been largely untended since 1960 – in part because I, like my grandpa, find it hard to cut back anything alive. Mostly, though, it’s because the cluster of bushes has grown into a monster, akin to the fortress of thorns that surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the old fairytale.

They are not a fancy hybrid – just a plain, old-fashioned shrub variety that flowers prolifically early each summer with yellow blooms for a week or so, then subsides into foliage and thorns for the rest of the season. They possess the hardiness of old, native varieties, seldom troubled by disease even when my showier roses are shriveled and mottled by black spot, rust, powdery mildew or any of the many other pestilences that reduce the rose gardener to fits of tears and profanity.

These roses, however, do have one perennial nemesis. Every year at this time, the leaves of the bushes start to brown and curl at the edges. A close examination reveals the leaves to be skeletonized. Left unchecked, the bushes are largely denuded of foliage by the end of June, only to sprout new, leafy growth again in July.

For an astonishingly long time, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Perhaps I’m profoundly unobservant, or more likely I never cared to venture within range of those vicious thorns. When I finally did take a closer look several years ago, in the midst of the spring die-off, I discovered an invader. The leaves were covered with small, green worms. The Internet quickly ID’d them as rose slug sawfly larva, destined to become a fairly benign little winged insect. There are three varieties of sawfly larva that affect roses in my area: the bristly roseslug, Cladius difformis; the European roseslug, Endelomyia aethiops, and the curled roseslug sawfly, Allantus cinctus. I seem to have escaped the bristly roseslug. The other two are happy consumers of my bushes.

The name sawfly derives from the fact that the female uses her elongated, serrated genitals (!) to cut into the leaf to deposit her eggs. And you thought human labor was hard work.sawflylarva

There is apparently no effective remedy for these pests, according to the experts. I avoid chemicals in the garden (save the bees!), and the recommended treatment, powerful blasts from the garden hose, tend to knock off the blossoms as well – but their blooming period is brief enough, and is the only thing that makes them worth keeping around. The only other recourse is to pick them off the leaves, one by one. And so, rose worm pickin’ season begins.

I used to be more squeamish about such things, and began by scraping them off leaves and onto the ground with sticks (inefficient) or picking them off with tweezers (messy). Finally, I got over the willies and started picking them off by hand. I find it most effective to gently roll them between my thumb and index finger, which dislodges them without mushing them into green jelly.

In a previous post, I confessed my aversion to killing just about anything (mosquitoes are an exception). This includes little green worms. So when I pick them off the leaves, I drop them a few feet away from the bush and watch them begin at once to creep back toward their source of sustenance. I suppose most of them perish of fatigue and/or starvation before they reach the bush again, so it would perhaps be kinder to simply squoosh them or drop them into a can of kerosene. Yet I cannot bring myself to be the active and immediate agent of their demise … and there is always the possibility that they will survive to fulfill their destiny as winged creatures with sharp-toothed vaginas (it’s possible my understanding of sawfly anatomy isn’t entirely clear).

I have so far offered this sporting chance to several hundred sawfly larvae over the past week. Like the flush of starry blossoms, rose worm pickin’ season is a brief one; in a few days it will be all over. Then what will I do with my time? No worries: aphid pickin’ season starts next week!

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Cat Fancy


Jeffrey, characteristically relaxed

We live in an age when a great many people are being supported by their cats, and I can’t help resenting the fact that I’m not one of them. As a middle-aged cat lady, I naturally follow a great many feline celebrities (“celebucats”) on the variety of online forums available to them: Pudge and Oskar and Hamilton the Hipster Cat on Instagram; Tom Cox’s @mysadcat, @mysmugcat and @myswearycat on Twitter; Hallmark’s Happy the Cat on Facebook.

(Side note: Hallmark has named both its cat and dog mascots Happy, which suggests either laziness or astonishing lack of imagination in the network’s branding team.)

There are also the countless thousands of cat-themed websites, vines, YouTube channels, .gifs, memes and Pinterest boards. There may even be cat-oriented Tinder accounts, though I’m too nice a girl to find out.

Typing “cats” into the search engine on YouTube generates 3.7 million results. If you set out to read every entry on the Lolcats I Can Haz Cheezburger site, you would die of old age long before you reached that very first, Alpha Burger Cat. The originators of that site sold it for $2 million in 2007.

As far as I can tell, the young woman who owns Pudge – one of my favorite celebucats – derives her living entirely from her laid-back Persian. Besides sales of Pudge-themed memorabilia (often also featuring doughnuts, oddly enough), Pudge rakes in the dough(nut) as a celebrity guest at cat conventions (yes, they are a thing). I suspect Pudge would rather stay at home in her Pudge Pod or snoozing peacefully on her doughnut-shaped pillow than travel from Edmonton to L.A. doing interviews and meet-and-greets. But honestly, this cat is so weirdly relaxed that she probably doesn’t mind the fuss, or perhaps even notice it.

And that’s one of the things that is so irksome about celebucat culture. Its biggest stars don’t actually do anything to merit their fame. They might as well be Kardashians. Indeed, cats don’t even have to be living to be famous; I follow an Instagram account called Merlin’s Moments. Though the titular Merlin disappeared from home shortly after I started following him, and his dessicated corpse is no doubt laying in a ditch somewhere, Merlin’s Moments persists. Cash Cats, which consists of cats lying and sitting on currency, sometimes surrounded by weapons (I don’t get it), has more than 112, 0000 followers.

The whole point of this rant is … why aren’t my own felines pulling their considerable weight? True, they don’t sport handlebar mustaches or look grumpy or eat cheeseburgers. But they are good and pretty cats. One of my previous cats, Jeffrey, even had a trick: when you scratched him near the base of his tail, he’d tuck his head between his front legs and perform a perfect somersault. Now tell me THAT’S not worth some money. Sadly, I never got the chance to preserve Jeff’s unique gifts on film before he “crossed the Rainbow Bridge” (cat-lady-speak for died) last year.

I suppose I’d have to put some effort into promoting my cats if I really wanted to exploit them for filthy lucre. Instead, I’ve decided to adopt the stance that letting your pets support you is shameful and wrong, and I’ll tuck my DVD of “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas” in the back of my closet and never look at it again. I will continue to toil in obscurity to provide my cats with the lavish lifestyle to which they, the freeloaders, have become accustomed. And I will tell them, quite truthfully, that they are as clever and beautiful as any of those LOL cats. So there.

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Groundhog Day


Last evening I was sitting with Mom around the little firepit in the backyard. As I went to fetch more wood from the plastic barrel we keep it in, I happened to notice a pile of loose dirt next to the foundation of the house. There was a largish hole next to the pile. I knew, of course, what it was.

Groundhog. Woodchuck. Whistle pig. (Really. Wikipedia lists whistle pig as a name for this critter. Must be a southern thang.) The scientific name, I learned, is Marmota monax. That sounds like the name of an actress in some sci-fi porno movie. Whatever.

The Internet also tells me a groundhog (what we call it here in central Minnesota) is a member of the squirrel family. I like squirrels, despite their propensity to empty the bird feeder in a single visit. Squirrels have fluffy tails and little hands that hold on to nuts and corn cobs and peanuts like a tiny person. They have fat cheeks and sparkly eyes. They hang upside down by their toes (again, to empty the bird feeder, but it’s still cute).

This creature doesn’t look like a squirrel to me. It looks like a prairie dog or a really, really big rat. Wikipedia offers this alarming factoid: “In areas with fewer natural predators and large amounts of alfalfa, groundhogs can grow up to 31 lbs.” Guess I won’t be starting that alfalfa farm, then.

I’m beginning to have visions of that classic 1972 horror film, “Night of the Lepus.” Okay, that was about giant killer bunnies. But still.

Thoroughly alarmed by this invader, I visit one of the gardening Facebook pages I follow. I post my predicament and am immediately inundated with dire predictions of imminent doom.

“It will burrow under your foundation! The house will collapse!”

“One chewed and dug his way into my basement and died there.”


One helpful soul suggested I introduce a blacksnake to take care of my problem. Um … pretty sure I’d then have a BIGGER problem, namely homelessness, because I can’t live on a property that has a blacksnake on it.

The Humane Society website, not surprisingly, offers an opposing view – essentially, “live and let live.” This is normally my modus operandi. I don’t kill things. Even little, horrible things like spiders. Every spring I spend hours gently picking sawfly larva off the rose bushes and dropping them on the ground a few yards away from the bushes, because really, they deserve a fighting chance.

I actually forked over good money to the National Wildlife Federation a few years ago to have my backyard designated an official wildlife habitat (I paid extra for a little metal sign proclaiming that status; it is displayed proudly on the door of the shed where I keep my toxic lawn chemicals). Even though the designation is entirely meaningless, I can’t help worrying that if I (ahem) “terminate” my groundhog problem, a grim representative from the NWF will appear at my door with Official Papers Revoking My Habitat Status. I would hate that; I actually paid quite a lot for the sign.

Honestly, if it were only about the foundation of the house falling in, I’d tolerate the fellow. This old shack is crumbling already. But I have invested much time, money and heartache (those roses!) in my gardens. Dig up my dahlias? Consume my coreopsis? Not on my watch, buster. This yard ain’t big enough for the both of us.

The garden group has suggested a wide variety of folk remedies reputed to dislodge my unwelcome tenants: mothballs, garlic, Irish Spring soap and used kitty litter dumped into the holes.

Of these, soap seems the least objectionable – and therefore, almost certainly the most ineffective. I’ll try it anyway. If that doesn’t work, used kitty litter, which I accumulate in vast quantities, will be the next course of treatment. I’ll keep you updated.

The war is ON.

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Funny Lady?

“Write a blog!” people tell me. “It would be HIL-AR-IOUS!” I’m often told I’m funny, though I suspect they generally mean it in the “curious; strange; peculiar; odd” sense of the word. Woody Allen once said, “I think being funny is not anyone’s first choice.” I can’t help wondering what his first choice would be.

I suppose I’m content to be funny, in any sense of the word.

Things you should know about me from the outset:

  • I am the perfect stereotype of the middle-aged catlady: single, slightly plump (working on that!), bespectacled, surrounded by felines (only two … so far) and feline-related memorabilia. I also share my modest, central Minnesota home with my 88-year-old mother. She is in better shape than I am.
  • My leisure hours are spent pursuing quaint, spinsterish hobbies like growing petunias and making cross-stitch pictures, usually of cats.
  • I possess an extraordinary – unnerving, really – number of wigs for a person with a full head of hair.
  • Ditto for vintage hats, which I don’t wear but like to look at. And dozens of cookbooks, though I rarely pull out a saucepan.
  • I collect cat-shaped teapots. And figurines. And articles of clothing with cats on them. (See catlady stereotype above.)
  • I make my living pimping beer bread.
  • I used to act in community theatricals, until I started being cast as dour matrons instead of bright young ingenues. My last role was a lady wrestler. Who was dead.
  • I am not growing old gracefully, but I am growing gray oldfully.

That is perhaps as much self-disclosure as anyone can stand for the moment. If I can think of things to say about my life in the spinsterhood, I will update this blog regularly. More likely, you’ll never hear from me again.

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