Category Archives: Lifestyle

Intimations of Mortality*

13484257 - grim reaper on the road

Since I reached the half-century mark last fall, I’ve been a little preoccupied with my impending demise. Not that I’m planning on shrugging off this mortal coil any time soon, but it’s, you know … out there. Death, I mean.

You see, I’ve reached the stage of life where my own body is beginning actively trying to kill me. It seems Mother Nature figures by this time any offspring I may have produced are old enough to more or less fend for themselves, and I’m not spawning any more, so really I’m just taking up space. Even the very oxygen I breathe is turning my formerly well-disciplined and law-abiding cells into havoc-causing free radicals.

As a spinster, I occupy a higher-than-average space on evolution’s hit list. It seems I may be penalized for failing to fulfil the biological imperative (i.e., reproducing) with an increased risk for ovarian and breast cancers. Protest though I may, Ma Nature simply smirks, “I don’t care how skilled you are at propagating dahlias. Your job is to propagate your OWN species, slacker.”

Mother Nature’s opinion of me:

It doesn’t help that I’m 1) kind of a hypochondriac; and 2) morbidly fascinated by deadly disease. I tend to diagnose any twinge or twitch as some exotic malady I spent two hours observing on YouTube the night before. Sleepless night? Must be Fatal Familial Insomnia Syndrome. A nosebleed has me wondering how on earth I got exposed to Ebola.

You get the idea.

Despite my fascination with horrible things that can happen to me, I strenuously avoid any opportunity to actually find out if something’s wrong. I.do.not.want.to.know. Thus it was with extreme reluctance that I went in for a physical exam – my first in eight years – a couple of days ago. My doctor poked and prodded in the usual ways, probed all of my orifices (this is why they get paid the big money) and pronounced me apparently healthy, if not fit. Then she sent me downstairs for a mammogram after extracting a promise to schedule my next exciting adventure, which involves a lot of laxative and a flexible hose, sometime soon.

The next day I got my test results in my personal “My Chart” online account. Under mammogram, I found the following: “No suspicious mass, asymmetric density, architectural distortion or suspicious microcalcification in the right breast.”

Hurrah!

Then: “Small area of architectural distortion in the outer left breast middle depth.”

Oh. How could this be? My left boob has always been my good boob; my right boob is the problem child, subject to cyclical soreness and random burning sensations. Leftie, by contrast, has always just hung their quietly, minding its own business.

Moments later I was on the phone with the nurse at my doctor’s office.

ME: I just looked up architectural distortion on the Internet–

NURSE: Don’t. Don’t look up stuff.

screaming womanToo late. It is enough to say that what I had learned from Dr. Google was not a day brightener. Additional scans were recommended; I set up an appointment at their earliest convenience. (MY earliest convenience would have been at that very moment, dammit.) For the next two days I avoided further search engine forays, but did spend a fruitless few moments looking for “home mastectomy kit” on Amazon Prime.  Might as well get my money’s worth out of that annual fee.

6154052 - x-ray mammogram

Stunt breast. (Not my actual mammogram.)

I had the follow-up scans. The technician was initially perky and reassuring. “These things are almost always just overlapping glandular tissue,” she explained.

(Did she just call me fat?)

She dashed off to send my films to the radiologist for evaluation, leaving me alone to notice that for follow-up exams they move you from the generic, hospital-green exam rooms to the rather ominous Susan-Komen-pink exam room.  One of my scans was on the screen behind the leaded glass barrier. A dark outline of an oval shape filled with squiggly white lines and blobs, like something colored by a toddler.

I remembered something else from the test result: “scattered fibroglandular densities.”

28155186 - portrait of 4d ultrasound scanning machine operator

These technicians are always very cheerful. And why not? THEY’RE not dying.

The technician returned. “The radiologist would like to see a few more pictures,” she said, just a little less brightly than before. She started pulling out a series of plastic attachments designed to squeeze my ample bosom into various unnatural configurations. “Looks like I’m dirtying up every dish in the kitchen!” she quipped.

Ha ha**.

Off again to consult the doctor. Back again, after a slightly longer interval than the first time.

“Well, we’re going to go ahead and send you on down to ultrasound.”

Awkward pause as I reached for a kleenex.

“I’m sure she just wants to confirm that the area of density was compressed out by the scan,” she said – or something like that. I have no idea what that meant, but I was apparently supposed to interpret it as encouraging.

I changed out of the pink gown and trudged down the hall to Ultrasound Imaging. Was escorted to a dimly lit, all-white room. Directed to put on an all-white gown (slightly unsettling color scheme; invokes associations with ghosts and angels and other DEAD things).

I had forgotten to remove the little nipple sticker with the little ball bearing on it from my last exam. I tucked it into my purse. Might come in handy as part of a costume if I ever decide to get into pole dancing.

Lying on the exam table (draped in white, natch), I contemplated the possible implications of all this testing. Mostly I dreaded having to tell my mom I have cancer. This was partly because she’s been hounding me years to have a mammogram (“I’ve heard buxom women are at higher risk.”). But mostly it was because she’s almost 90 years old and doesn’t need to hear THAT kind of news. My grandmother died of breast cancer that metastasized into her bones, a painful death that gave my mother a particular terror of breast cancer. It was a fear I never really shared.

Until now.

The young woman who conducted the ultrasound was pleasant, albeit less aggressively upbeat than the mammogram lady. She was also, inexplicably, wearing blue scrubs. She had me lie on my side, then smeared me up with some kind of gel. I closed my eyes as she moved her probe over my naked flesh – over the breast once, then again. Pause, and a tap on the keyboard under her screen. Around the suspect area again. Another keyboard click. The probe moved to my armpit. More movement. More clicks.

The technician finished up. These professionals are trained not to divulge anything they may or may not see. So I was surprised – and deeply grateful – when she remarked, “I don’t know what was on your mammogram, but I think you’ll get a good result from the ultrasound.”

“I hope so,” I answered, “because this is scary.”

“Yeah, I know,” she agreed.

relayforlifeBack in my car, in the parking lot, I wept.  Then I drove to my office, where I found the whole place draped in purple. I remembered that it was Relay For Life day, an annual event to raise awareness of … wait for it … cancer. Oh, irony. You so crazy.

Though the mammogram lady had said they’d try to get results back to me by the end of the day, because otherwise it would be all damned weekend, I didn’t hear anything on Friday. I checked my email frequently over the course of Saturday. Bupkis.

Finally, at 5:00 pm today, an email. A report. Findings benign. Come back next year.

You better believe I will.***

 

 

*”Intimations of Mortality” is a poem by Wordsworth about death and stuff.

**Really, she was very nice. But I wasn’t feeling terribly jocular at the moment.

**Now all I have to worry about is rabies. Wait for another post on THAT. My life. Oy.

 

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The Journey West

Little Town on the Prairie

Little Town on the Prairie

This past weekend mom and I made the trek back to the ancestral homeland. Not northern Europe, but eastern South Dakota. It was the occasion of the annual Mohror family reunion. For many families, such gatherings are days-long events. By contrast the Mohrors, in keeping with their (allegedly) German heritage, practice brisk efficiency. The reunion commences at noon with a tasty potluck lunch, followed by a short business meeting (I know; I don’t get it, either), a group photo of the oldest generation, and general dispersal.

The whole thing is over by a little after 2:00 pm.

Home of the Arlington Cardinals (I guess)

This is slightly disappointing for my branch of the family tree, who drive four hours to get there. But it’s always nice to see our kin, for however brief a time, and since we were locked into an overnight reservation at the world-famous Pheasant Hotel, we had plenty of time to explore the wellspring of the Mohror tribe – Arlington, South Dakota.

Arlington was founded in 1880 and was originally called Nordland, with all streets given Norwegian names. It was briefly – and inexplicably – renamed Denver, but the postal service frowned, so the town fathers decided on Arlington (since there are no other cities named Arlington in the world, I guess). I don’t know what caused the Norwegians to lose their Valhalla on the prairie, but I imagine it was a bitter day when Olaf Street was renamed Main Street.

I expect the Battle for Nordland looked something like this:

My great-grandparents ordered this home in a kit from Sears Roebuck. Family legend has it they later lost the place in a poker game.

My great-grandparents ordered this home in a kit from Sears Roebuck. Family legend has it they later lost the place in a poker game.

The Mohror tribe came to Dakota from Iowa, I believe, though the circumstances of their migration are hazy. On my mother’s side, the clan fled west from southern Minnesota during the Sioux uprising of 1862. Seems like heading back east would have been the more sensible course, but my folk have never had much of a sense of direction.

Our first stop on the grand tour was American Legion Post 42’s damned impressive veterans’ memorial. It has life-size statues of the different branches of the service, plus an assortment of engraved benches, nine flagpoles and black granite tablets inscribed with the names of those from Arlington who served. We found my father, Clarence Junior Mohror, as well as others my mother remembered well. “That boy used to throw my shoes out the bus window a quarter mile from our driveway,” she commented, pointing at one etched name. “He was killed by a sniper in the war.” (Subtext: good enough for him.)

Salley headstone

Salley headstone

Next stop was the Arlington Cemetery. Apparently they mix Protestants and Catholics all together in this town, which seems a bit radical. We located the Welsh kin, with their modest headstones, then trooped down the hill to the Salley family plot. My great-grandparents, Warren and Sabina Salley, were early auto enthusiasts. They drove their new-fangled Model T all over the country in the years just following the Great War. Great-grandma collected pretty stones from the places they visited, and after her death a local craftsman embedded these small treasures in the family headstone. It’s not clear to me who is actually buried under it, though, as my mom casually commented, “I think they buried grandma in the wrong place. Grandpa was a little fuzzy in the head by the time she was buried.”

Hm.

Ella Flora Oliphant was the daughter of Daniel Salley, patriarch of the Salley clan. Thanks, ancestry.com!

Ella Flora Oliphant was the daughter of Daniel Salley, patriarch of the Salley clan. Thanks, ancestry.com!

Next to the Salley headstone is a tall, stone obelisk. “Oh, there’s that Oliphant!” my mother exclaimed, and I looked around wildly for some unusual species of pachyderm. “Mom always insisted on putting flowers on that grave, since they’re supposed to be some kind of relative. But nobody knows who they are.” God bless, Oliphants. Gone but not forgotten. Well, gone and forgotten. But be-flowered, at least.

JohnMohrorheadstoneThe Mohror dead are some distance away (perhaps the Protestants and Catholics are separated by distance, even if they don’t have their own exclusive graveyards). We are humble, unassuming people, and this is reflected in the simple headstones our forebears bear. However, a scion of some other branch of the Mohror tree has recently erected what can only be described as a Grand Edifice to himself (he’s not in residence yet, but apparently wanted to save his spot). I gather he made a fortune in almonds out in California.

Seems fitting. I’ve always said we’re all a little nuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But, Weight! There’s More!

Mom photos batch 3 013

Mom and me, around my 47-pound ideal weight.

In kindergarten, I weighed 47 pounds. I remember this distinctly, because I was the lightest one in my class and I’d already absorbed our culture’s core value: skinny = good. Unfortunately, soon after that I began to absorb other things, like pizza, French fries and ice cream. I wasn’t 47 pounds for very long.

BabyMe

Look at those adorable fat rolls!

Actually, my battle with the bulge started very early. As an infant, my cheeks were so fat that they pushed my lower lashes into my eyeballs; I required some sort of doctoring for that, I gather. A baby dumpling is adorable; an adolescent dumplarge, not so much.

Over the subsequent five decades, my girth has fluctuated – never really achieving svelte, but always just this side of genuinely obese. Since I turned 50 last October, things have changed. With the onset of perimenopause, my always-sluggish metabolism seems to have ground to a halt.

It’s slower than the giant Galapagos tortoise, which heaves its considerable bulk at a top speed of .2 mph. It’s slower than the South American sloth, a creature whose very name means “reluctance to make an effort.” It’s slower than the saguaro cactus, which musters a paltry one inch of growth in its first 10 years.

frozenfrog

Me, only faster.

I’ve read that in subarctic regions there is a species of frog that occasionally freezes solid. It can stay that way for years, in suspended animation, until a thaw revives it.

My metabolism is slower than that amphibian’s.

The result of this near-comatose condition is that my weight has ballooned exponentially (at least something about me moves fast). Now, let me stop you before you launch into advice for reversing this trend. I know: eat less and move more.

Okay, but what are my OTHER options?

Back in January, I blogged about my new fitness regime, which consisted of walking briskly through a rather poorly animated Wii environment called “Rhythm Island.” Over the course of about three months, I faithfully strapped on the controller and numchuck and wandered through this cartoon world in time to up-tempo music. It was a slightly creepy routine, as this artificial landscape reminded me uncomfortably of the 1960s show, “The Prisoner,” in which Patrick McGoohan found himself hostage on a mysterious island, surrounded by strange people and balloon creatures. A feature of Rhythm Island was a silent population of humanoid creatures who seemingly spend their entire lives staring blankly out to sea, waving their arms randomly in response to nothing I could identify, and following my virtual progress through unblinking, pupil-less eyes.

Apparently, exercising while experiencing a low level anxiety and paranoia isn’t effective, because although my perky cartoon coach Dora assured me at the end of each session that I’d walked several miles and burned hundreds of calories, the weight kept piling on. To hell with that. I broke up with Dora in March.

Since then I’ve been working nightly in my garden. Admittedly, picking worms off the rose bushes doesn’t raise one’s heart rate all that much (unless you really don’t like worms). But with the number of times I’ve bent from the waist to pull a weed – approximately 1 million times – I’d expect at least my waist to be trimmer by now. Not so’s you’d notice.

There’s a commercial that runs every night touting some new body sculpting procedure. “Get back the figure you had in one day!” it promises. Okay, but do I get to pick which figure that was? There have been so many …

I’m skeptical of this wonder solution, but perhaps it bears further investigation. In the meantime, I’ve sent away for that home liposuction kit I saw advertised. You just hook it up to your vacuum and away you go – literally.

body-contouringPretty sure that will work.

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Call of the Wild

Mortal Enemies?

Mortal Enemies?

We have varmints. Well, one varmint. Specifically, Neotamias umbrinus, the Western chipmunk. At least, that’s what we believe streaked past my mother in the basement yesterday. It was immediately followed by a black streak that she definitely identified as our cat Remington. I don’t know which startled mom most: a woodland rodent in this very unnatural habitat, or the usually somnolent Rem’s sudden burst of ambition. I suppose the innate hunting instinct overcomes acquired sloth in even the most pampered pets.

This is not the first time we’ve been invaded by denizens of the Wild Kingdom. For several autumns running we attracted a solitary (as far as we knew) shrew or mouse. In any case, we only discovered a single corpse each year, usually in the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Presumably the victim had been cornered, caught and carried from the basement up to the inhabited areas of the house so we humans would be sure to note and appreciate the predator’s laudable killing skills.

Peep, displaying the razor-keen hunting instinct that has made our home a rodent resort.

Peep, displaying the razor-keen hunting instinct that has made our home a rodent resort.

Fortunately, the current resident hunters leave the body intact. Before I was born, our family had a Siamese cat who hunted outside and had a habit of leaving a single piece of its prey, some unidentifiable internal organ, for its owners to find on the front steps in the morning. I would have assumed it was a love offering, but my mother disagrees. Apparently this cat held a grudge against my father for an unfortunate falling-into-an-open-toilet incident, and mom believes the awful offal was intended as a warning, like a decapitated horse’s head in a bed: “You’re next.”

A few years ago, under the tenure of cats Jeff and Mr. Fuzzy, I was distracted one evening by the sounds of both felines hollering at me from the basement stairs like a pair of insistent preschoolers: “Hey! Hey! Mom! Mom! Hey! Mom!” Rolling my eyes, I went to investigate. I found both fierce predators stationed about halfway down the steps. This was suspicious; usually these two gave each other a wide berth, but just now they were huddled up together, staring at something below. Descending to their level (physically, not emotionally), I instantly saw the source of their fussing: a LARGE garter snake was slithering a lazy S-shape across the concrete floor. Now it was MY turn to holler. I’ve seen nature documentaries of mongooses attacking 6-foot pythons; obviously, Jeff and Fuzzy weren’t mongooses (mongeese?), but I still expected them to act more like carnivores than adolescent girls. In the end, since I am as much as scaredy-cat as my scaredy cats, I called my brother 10 miles away to come and dispatch the monster.

So apparently chipmunks in tiny outfits are a thing.

So apparently chipmunks in tiny outfits are a thing.

But back to the chipmunk. It’s unusual to see a chippy around our place; they generally prefer a more wooded environment. The “tamius” in their genus name is Greek for “steward” or “housekeeper,” which gives the little guys kind of a homey, efficient vibe. I picture a little rodent in a neat apron and babushka, holding a diminuative broom and briskly tidying up the seedy debris left behind in the room where I overwinter my tender bulbs. In reality, of course, the vermin is scurrying around among the boxes of Christmas ornaments and out-of-season clothing, pooping in my best dishware and incubating bubonic plague, hantavirus and hemorrhagic fever in its twitchy little body. I’ve been reading a book about rabies (spoiler alert: you don’t want to get this disease), so I also imagine the critter, frothy-mouthed and raging, lurking behind a jar of homemade pickles, waiting to leap out and bite me on the ankle. Death by chipmunk lacks the heroic dignity I aspire to.

Rem & Peep are too busy watching kitty porn to bother with chipmunks.

Rem & Peep are too busy watching kitty porn to bother with chipmunks.

As of this morning, we’ve seen no further evidence of the invader, alive or dead. Perhaps Remington, having read the same Wikipedia article I did, has discovered that chippers sleep an average of 15 hours a day, and thus feels enough in common with the thing to befriend it. Just what I need: one more freeloader.

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Garden of Weedin’

Pretty!

Pretty!

My small town collects yard waste once a year, in the spring. This year, on the morning of the collection, I gazed up and down the street in bafflement. A couple of my neighbors had set out a bag or two at the curb; most had none.

I had 32.

In the three weeks since then I have already amassed a new mountain of debris at the back of the property large enough to be mistaken by a passing archaeologist for the remnants of a long-lost civilization. It’s composed primarily of weeds pulled from my flowerbeds and dead branches trimmed from the shrubbery.

My question: What do OTHER people do with their crap?

Granted, my landscaping is far more garden-oriented than my neighbors’. Most maintain long, uninterrupted stretches of lawn they just have to mow once a week. The guy next door, though, has a sizable vegetable garden, and I don’t see the margins of his yard becoming fortified with bulwarks of decaying organic matter. He must have SOME weeds. Where do they go?

Where.Do.They.Go.

I tend to foster more unwanted vegetation than I would if my beds were blanketed in a nice, thick layer of mulch. In addition to keeping down weeds, I understand that a covering of wood chips or coconut hulls tends to keep the ground cooler, retains precious moisture and improves the quality of the soil. I did mulch for several years, but my mother isn’t fond of the looks of the stuff and, frankly, with as many beds as I have now, it gets damned expensive. And so I weed.

I don’t mind that part. In fact, I find weeding very nearly as relaxing and cathartic as flicking sawfly larvae off the rose bushes. A gal can get a lot of heavy thinking done while performing the mindless exercise of pulling quackgrass and purslane from among the daisies and gladioli. It’s what to do with the haul that’s vexing.

For years, this arbor hid a multitude of sins ... er, snakes.

For years, this arbor hid a multitude of sins … er, snakes.

My first several years gardening, I was all about composting. I bought first a plastic, snap-together compost bin, then later a kind of silo made of polyurethane, and threw my pickings in them. When these quickly filled, I started throwing stuff in the u-shaped enclosure formed by an old dog pen my Dad erected (his dog Ralph spent a total of about 10 minutes in there over a lifetime of 15 years) that has now become the frame of the grapevine arbor. Soon that receptacle, too, achieved maximum capacity.

Articles in gardening magazines (I have stockpiled a mountainous collection of those, too) give the impression that one need only dump green and brown organic matter in a heap, stir it around a bit once in a while and presto! Dark, rich, loamy compost magically appears in short order. But years after I started my various piles of wilted weedage, they remained … piles of weedage Actually, that’s not entirely true. They remained piles into which species of vermin had taken up residence – notably, snakes.

Snakes! Nope. Nope. Nopety-nope-nope.

This is NOT OKAY.

This is NOT OKAY.

The moment my sneakered foot was swarmed by baby garter snakes was the moment I decided to get out of the compost business. So now I’ve started accumulating plastic garbage receptacles, which I place in more or less orderly rows behind the shed. Theoretically, at some point I will haul the already-overflowing units to the municipal compost heap (aka Snake Valley). The hitch with this plan is that my little, red Kia can’t tote many garbage cans. Precisely, it can tote zero many. And so the garbage receptacles continue to proliferate almost as fast as the weeds that fill them.

So much NOT pretty.

So much NOT pretty.

I believe this is known as the Circle of Life. Isn’t nature fascinating?

 

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Who’s In Charge Here?

Last evening, surveying the carnage the children had created in the living room, I was moved to mutter that age-old maternal lament: “Where have I failed?” In a fit of pique, I even threatened to put the miscreants under the deck to fend for themselves. Don’t call social services; my kids are cats, not homo sapiens, and the threat was an idle one. I’d never expose my darlings to the Cold, Cruel World – and they know it.

I currently share my life with two cats. People often seem surprised to hear this. Perhaps my catlady zeal makes them assume I co-mingle with at least 40 felines – or perhaps it’s just the way I smell. In any case, though I tend to think three is the optimal number of cats for a single household, for the time being I am making do with my pair.

Separated at birth?

Separated at birth?

My younger furkid is Remington, named for the 1980s TV character played by Pierce Brosnan. I like to tell him he’s a swank tuxedo cat (he has shaky self esteem), but the patchy quality of his black and white markings suggests an unseemly liaison with a Holstein in his family history. I guess I will discourage him from participating in that PBS “find your ancestors” show. Despite his questionable lineage, Remington does have an almost regal air. Long and sleek, at repose on his belly with his long front legs extended and his sharply pointed ears erect, Rem resembles one of those statues of the Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet. His jaguar-like appearance belies his personality, however. Far from a powerful predator, Remington is, to put it bluntly, a wuss.

"Oh ... were you trying to work? I don't care."

“Oh … were you trying to work? I don’t care.”

On the other hand, Peep, my little, orange girl, is a smug bully. You wouldn’t guess it to look at her. Like her human mother, Peep is soft, round and a bit slovenly; she sprawls rather than lays, and on a subway she’d be the guy manspreading over three seats. While noises as subtle as a heavy sigh send Remington scrambling for the basement, Peep confronts a howling vaccum, grinding garbage disposal or shrieking smoke detector with indifference bordering on contempt.

Modern technology meets immovable object.

Modern technology meets immovable object.

Lately Peep has made it a point to assert her dominance over Lucifer, the robot vacuum, whom she seems to believe is another cat, hairless and even rounder than herself. When Luci begins its rounds in the living room, Peep deliberately plants her considerable bulk directly in the machine’s path and stares it down. If a cat could talk, Peep surely would speak with a tough Brooklyn accent: “You want a piece of this? I got your rotating brushes right here.”

A few mornings ago I was getting ready for work. My bedroom door was closed, but not shut (after 50 years of settling, no vertical line of our house remains in plumb, and there isn’t a door in the structure that actually latches without the Herculean effort of simultaneously lifting and pushing it into position). I was standing on one foot, wrestling the other into the leghole of my granny panties, when the door was pushed open and Peep muscled his way in, followed by Remington. It reminded me of Lenny & Squiggy’s characteristic entrance into Laverne & Shirley’s apartment – Peep played the role of swaggering Lenny, while twerpy Rem was the Squiggish sidekick.

wassupThe duo disregarded my immodest appearance – indeed, ignored me entirely – and marched across the room like they own the place (which, for all intents and purposes, they do). Up onto the bookcase under the window, blithely knocking off a stack of CD cases in the process, and into the windowsill. Hearing the ruckus, my mom (who seems to believe me to be in feeble health) called urgently, “Did you fall?”

“Nah. Just the cats tearing the place apart,” I responded.

Again?

‘Nuff said.

Mom and I have grown resigned to the fact that we are the least important inhabitants of Mohror Manor, functioning largely as domestic staff. I’m not bothered; it’s actually nice to know one’s place in the grand scheme of things. I’m content to accept how Peep has arranged the Great Chain of Being in our household – with cats perched at the very top.

"I'm the King of the world!"

“I’m the King of the world!”

Bastet would approve.

 

 

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Serving Size = One (plus Cat)

Cat Lady Saturday Night

Cat Lady Saturday Night

The food company I work for, previously known for cheese balls, dips and beer bread mix, has lately turned its focus to meal solutions – that is, answering the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” Our meal collections include products and recipes to provide wholesome, homemade fare for a family of four.

It’s a great idea, but not a perfect fit for middle-aged spinster cat ladies. For me, the answer to, “What’s for dinner?” is likely to be, “Toast.” (Or cereal. Or ice cream. Or all three, if it’s a holiday.) It’s not so much that I don’t appreciate good, wholesome food (though in fact I don’t); the bigger issue is quantity. Recipes simply aren’t designed for solo eaters. My very sensible mother, who spares me the pain of having to deal with this problem by cooking for both of us, has suggested that I simply cut down the measurements on recipes. However, this requires a facility with basic mathematics (Fractions! Division!) that I only marginally possess, and frankly can’t be bothered to bone up on.

It does help that I’m not one who craves variety in my diet; I’m happy to eat the same leftovers for every meal as long as the supply lasts. A few years ago I made a fettucine alfredo with heavy cream and butter. The recipe produced an enormous quantity of noodles and sauce, and I subsisted on this for many days. By the end of the week the cream had curdled and the butter separated out into a greasy puddle under the noodles; I was guaranteed a raging bout of dysentery 20 minutes after every meal. But I finished the whole thing, by God.

My brainchild

My brainchild

In a misguided effort to compete with the bright, young whiz kids who sail up the corporate ladder past mid-careerers like myself, I suggested to a company exec that, instead of jettisoning our old trade in cheese balls, brownie mixes and pound cake, we might repurpose them. I envisioned a whole new line catering to a very special niche market: people like me. Instead of kits containing products and recipes for entrees and sides, these collections would cater to the unique needs of past-our-prime singletons with feline companions, to wit, sweet, fatty and carb-intensive comfort foods. I even pitched a name for the campaign: LonelyTime: Cheese Balls for One. Each collection would come with a cheese ball mix, chips and dip, brownies and a can of tuna for Fluffy. Shockingly, my proposal was met with … blank looks. Hrumph. Just wait until I form my OWN company and become a bajillionaire. In the meantime, it seems I won’t be celebrating that hoped-for promotion to Vice President of Specialized Marketing.

Until I get my enterprise off the ground, I’ll go on making too much food and filling little plastic containers of leftovers. I’ve already got a freezer full of ‘em. At least when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I’ll be well stocked with provisions – at least until the electricity cuts out. I wonder if Walkers like cheese balls?

Too-Much-for-One Cream Cheese Spaghetti Casserole

Adapted from this recipe

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Ingredients

Ingredients

1 lb. spaghetti
1 Tbsp. Tastefully Simple Roasted Garlic Infused Oil
1 lb. ground beef
2 Tbsp. Tastefully Simple Onion OnionTM Seasoning
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. Tastefully Simple Mama Mia Marinara Sauce Mix
1 packet Tastefully Simple Roasted Garlic & Herb Cheese Ball Mix
1/2 cup whipped cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 cup shredded Mozzarella or cheese of your choice

Method

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease or spray a 9 x 13 or equivalent baking dish.
  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions; drain.
  3. Heat Roasted Garlic Infused Oil and Onion Onion Seasoning in a large skillet on medium-high heat.
  4. Add ground beef and brown, crumbling the meat as it cooks. Drain when browned.
  5. To the beef in the skillet add the diced tomatoes and Mama Mia Marinara Sauce Mix. Simmer.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together cream cheese, sour cream and Roasted Garlic & Herb Cheese Ball Mix
  7. Layer as follows in the baking dish: cooked pasta, cream cheese mixture, beef mixture. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.
  8. Bake until bubbly and heated through.

 

Finished dish

Finished dish

Serve with Tastefully Simple Salted Pretzel Roll Twists with Shallot Tarragon Compound Butter.

Salted Pretzel Roll twists, brushed with Shallot Tarragon Compound Butter

Salted Pretzel Roll twists, brushed with Shallot Tarragon Compound Butter

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Lone Survivor

screaming womanFeeling a little guilty this morning. I had to take a life, something I try hard to avoid. But sometimes a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

Let me explain.

Last evening, after a loooong day at work, I was driving home in the loaner car I’ve been using until my Kia is back among the living. As I pulled up to the first stoplight, I happened to notice I had company. On the dash in front of me was, I swear to God, a baby tarantula. But wait, you say. Tarantulas aren’t native to Minnesota. Yeah, that’s what they said about Bigfoot. And yet:

Admittedly, I’ve seen bigger spiders in my time. But I’ve never seen one so hairy and menacing. It glared at me from a dozen or so glittering, hate-filled eyes and then … I kid you not … it reared back on his hind legs and waved its front talons at me with clear intent to maim or KILL. Did you hear me screaming from where you were?

Hastily I pulled off onto a side road and even more hastily bolted from the vehicle. But what to do next? I had no weapon to hand – the only object that might be applied for self defense was a plastic garden shoe I’d recently purchased at the dollar store. Meanwhile, my nemesis had crept into the crevice between the dash and windshield. Inaccessible.

Lurking.

I circled the car warily a few times, no doubt arousing the suspicion of inhabitants of the nearby homes, before deciding there was nothing I could do except get back on the road and hope I survived the 10-mile journey to home. And then douse the entire auto in gasoline and set it ablaze. As you do.

So I resumed the commute … only to have the villain make his reappearance as soon as I hit the highway. During the following, extremely tense 20 minutes, the eight-legged horror dodged and weaved on top of my dash while I dodged and weaved in my lane of traffic. It made several advances and I was sure every moment it was about to leap on my neck and drain my blood with its pointy, pointy fangs.

Miraculously, I made it back to Osakis – alive, but traumatized. As I pulled to a stop in front of my house, the creature made its move. It darted across the dash and onto the driver’s side door, scant inches from my twitching form. I scrambled across the gear stick to the other side of the car and exited the passenger door. Leaving my belongings behind, I fled into the house.

Inexplicably, my mother expressed some skepticism at my tale. Armed with a fly swatter, she went out to vanquish the foe. She returned minutes later, proclaiming there was no spider anywhere in that car.

Cunning beast!

This morning, filled with trepidation, I returned to the scene of my terrifying encounter. I opened the driver’s side door and …

[cue the Psycho violins]

There.It.Was. Crouching on the armrest of the driver’s side door like a cougar ready to spring upon its hapless prey. A scream of terror – or was it rage? – filled the air. Whether it came from me or the monster, I cannot say. (Actually, I can. It came from me.) Instinctively I swung my new cat purse (adorable, by the way!) and struck a fatal blow. The thing crumpled and dropped onto the road, where I stomped on it for good measure.

I’m not proud of what I’ve done. But in the epic battle of (wo)man versus nature, we sometimes have to use our superior intelligence and advanced technology to conquer.

But I don’t think I’m going to get that spider gut stain off my new purse. And so you win in the end after all, mutant spider. Well played.

Dramatic re-enactment:

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Hail and Farewell

My mom and her youngest grandchild.

My mom and her youngest grandchild.

Over the weekend my clan had a small family celebration. All of our family celebrations are small, of course, owing to the lack of fecundity among its members. My parents had three widely spaced offspring, and though my sister tried gamely to keep the line going (she has four beautiful girls), my brother contributed one new branch to the family tree and my own shriveled womb is an empty vessel. Ah, well.

Anyway, it was my bro’s only child, John, whom we had gathered to fete. He is lately graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in marketing and supply chain. I don’t know what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s more potentially lucrative than medieval literature.

Call me biased (or call me Scooter; I’d like that), but I’m inclined to pronounce my nephew a Remarkable Young Man. In defiance of his Mohror heritage of physical ineptitude (we are genetically coded to stumble over our own feet), he excelled in hockey and baseball in high school, and recently served as the manager of the College of Charleston’s Cougar hockey team. I’m not sure why a college in a city whose annual snow accumulation averages zero is into hockey, but whatev.

He followed in his Dad’s footsteps in becoming a gifted drummer, and has been playing professionally in the Charleston area while pursuing his studies.

Above all, he has been – as far as I know, at least – that rarest species of young person: a genuinely good kid. At least, we’ve never seen his name in the local paper in accounts of youthful miscreants wreaking havoc, so that’s good.

John has inherited the Mohror side’s dry wit and our tendency toward solitariness. He is something of a loner, though not in a creepy (“He always kept to himself,” said a neighbor of the man whose toilet was found clogged with body parts) way. Rather, he’s more in the mold of the Lone Ranger – his own man who goes his own way.

Admittedly, we have sometimes questioned the wisdom of his independent streak. Over his family’s horrified protestations, he spent a week at rodeo camp, though to my knowledge he’d never as much as sat on a horse before. I never got all the details of that adventure, but it’s my impression that it was one of those literally “hard knock” life lessons that builds character (and breaks bones).

My nephew’s childhood was not entirely carefree; he experienced hurts and worries that I wish he had been spared. To his credit, he has not allowed these challenges to dictate the course of his life. Instead, he has chosen his own path – and I think it’s a good one.

It seems these are no longer part of the standard uniform for railroad employees. Sad times.

It seems these are no longer part of the standard uniform for railroad employees. Sad times.

In a few days John will begin the next chapter of his life. He has secured a good job with a railroad in the East (though, since he apparently will NOT wear a grey-and-white-striped cap, nor befriend any hoboes, I don’t know what the hell kind of railroad this is). It’s uncertain when we’ll see him again. But wherever his life’s journey takes him, I hope he’ll know and remember that he is loved, and that we are so proud of the man he’s become.

Godspeed.

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Angry Birds

angry birds banner

Last evening, while I was puttering in the backyard, a blackbird fledgling hopped through the open door of the garden shed. My efforts to coax it out only caused it to scamper further into the dark recesses of my “woman cave.” All the while, the child’s mother was scolding me loudly from a nearby tree. When it was time to go in for the night, the little peeper was still in residence. Rather than locking him into the dark and stifling structure, I propped the door open a few inches to permit his egress at his convenience. I’m hoping, when I check the shed after work today, that I’ll find its population down by one, rather than up by an indeterminate number of snakes, mice, rabbits and other undesirable tenants.

My mom worried that the little guy might fall victim* to a white cat that prowls the neighborhood overnight. However, based on my experience of bird-cat relations, I’m more hopeful. Despite anti-cat propaganda that puts cat-caused carnage against bird populations on a par with the Visigoths’ sack of Rome, I maintain birds can hold their own against their feline foes.

In 2013, a controversial study in the journal Nature Communications postulated that cats are responsible for between 1.4 and 3.7 billion bird deaths a year. That does indeed seem appalling. But consider that the world population of birds is estimated at 400 billion, and the paltry .00925% that cats cull seems a little less egregious. Based on the cacophony of tweets and chirps that starts up about 4:30 am every morning outside my window, I can say with certainty that the winged creatures are not endangered species in my yard, at least.

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We maintain a congeniel habitat for our feathered friends.

Indeed, my experience suggests that birds are often the bullies in cat-bird interactions. Last summer I witnessed the startling spectacle of a bright orange blur of cat streaking across the neighbor’s property at full speed, pursued by a trio of dive-bombing bluejays. The last I saw of the beleaguered feline, it dived under a camping trailer; the jays perched on top of the vehicle, laughing and pointing at their humiliated victim.

Peep, stymied by a fragile mesh of screen.

Peep, stymied by a fragile mesh of screen.

More recently, I had just lain down for a Sunday afternoon nap (that’s what weekends are for, yo), when I heard my cat Peep chattering from his perch on the windowsill. She was clearly agitated by something, making that staccato eh-eh-eh-eh sound that I’ve always interpreted as the cat version of a string of obscenities. I got up to investigate and discovered, a mere foot or so from the screen window behind which my cat glowered, a tiny bird on the end of a tree branch. It was a house wren (Troglodytes aedon), about the size of a tangerine, and it was taunting my cat. I swear to God it was staring Peep straight in the eye, bobbing gently on its twig and singing a sprightly song whose lyrics can only have translated to, “Neener neener boo boo.”

At left, the house wren, Troglodytes aedon. Not to be confused with Trog, the 1970 low-budget horror film that marked the low point of Joan Crawford's career (right).

At left, the house wren, Troglodytes aedon. Not to be confused with Trog, the 1970 low-budget horror film that marked the low point of Joan Crawford’s career (right).

Frankly, as stealthy as cats imagine themselves to be, a bird that allows itself to be snuck up on by a cat is, in my opinion, not much of a bird. Birds have the great advantage of wings, which allow them to flutter just out of reach of their earthbound enemies, who are left to shout in impotent rage and shake their furry fists toward the sky before stomping off petulantly to take a nap.

As for the ghostlike predator that stalks our neighborhood, I hope he doesn’t have to depend on his hunting skills to make a living. A few days ago a quiet evening around the firepit was interrupted by a raucous din coming from the lilac hedge. A murder** of crows had descended on the shrubbery, occupying almost every branch. Their attention was directed toward the ground, and they were hollering in unmistakable fury. Beneath them, in a little hollow among the roots, cowered … the white cat. Whatever it had done to piss these guys off, it clearly regretted it. Rather intimidated myself, I backed away and left the stand-off to reach its natural conclusion. I haven’t seen that cat since, by the way. I prefer to assume he found other, more hospitable hunting grounds. But I did see a bit of white, furry fluff adorning a new nest in the pine tree yesterday …

Our swallow condo is always a hot property.

Our swallow condo is always a hot property.

*Sad coda: The fledgling apparently did leave the shed overnight, but was found some yards away, deceased of unknown causes.

** a group of crows is known as a murder, presumably because their raucous cries inspire homicidal thoughts in anybody who has to listen to them.

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