Fearsome Felines and the Food Chain #atozchallenge

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It seems the local food chain experienced a bit of a shake down this afternoon.

One of my three felines—the only one who goes outside—is a formidable force in keeping the local rodent population to a reasonable level. In fact, the chipmunk population has considerably decreased since he started going outside, and I imagine the mouse population has too, based on the body count. Nearly every day, he leaves the gift of his most recent victim on the walkway where I will be sure to see it when I arrive home.

Today, my neighbor stopped me as I drove onto the street. She informed me that a coyote was seen crossing our street midday on Tuesday. It seems my fearless feline has fallen from his position as king of the food chain. Now, if he happens to escape the safe confines of our house, he will have to navigate the neighborhood in fear.

The Dog

The expiration of the dog has come full circle.

Ever since my daughter went away to camp for the first time, and the paperwork said not to send mail that contained sad news (i.e. an announcement that the dog died), our non-existent dog has died each year while the kids are at camp. At some point during their week away, I send a letter announcing that the dog has died, and the kids are amused (although sometimes their bunk mates are horrified!). The expiration of the dog has been an ongoing joke for five years now.

This year, in a strange twist of events, I was the one who went away from home. J and I traveled out of state for an athletic competition. The boys were busy with their own activities back at home, so my boyfriend stayed with them, and kept them company.

When the kids go away, it has been my pattern to wait until a few days have gone by before I deliver any news about the dog. When I left, however, C couldn’t wait to tell me about the dog. Apparently, he felt the need to get it out of his system right away. Perhaps he thought he might forget as the week went by.

I had barely landed and settled in my hotel room halfway across the country when the message came. And it was a doozy of a message! Just in case you thought we’d be all right, Mom, here are some of the things you feared could go wrong. Oh, and the dog died.

Interestingly, when I got to the part about the dog, I knew that everything was under control, and I could relax. This trip was the first time that I had left home for more than a brief while, and I was on edge, concerned about what would go on in my absence. I had voiced my anxiety to the boys in the days leading up to my trip.

As it turned out, I had little to fear. The boys are older; my boyfriend is competent; and just maybe my neighbors were doing a little “neighborhood watch” in my absence….

But I’m glad ‘the dog died’ early in the week. That message relieved me of my worries!

Staples

“What are you doing with all of the toilet paper you are stealing from the cabinets?” I asked an unsuspecting W Sunday morning when he returned from his weekend camping trip with the Scouts.

He looked at me blankly. Then a puzzled look overtook his face. “Huh?”

“The extra rolls of toilet paper you are taking from the cabinets? What are you doing with them, and where are you putting them?” I asked again.

The conversation had begun the night before, when he wasn’t here, which is why he didn’t see it coming. I had gone into the kids’ bathroom to get some medication for a coughing, sniffling kid, and I noticed there was no toilet paper in the holder. (Now, I’d love to rant about why the paper roll can be empty and no one would address the issue, but I’ll save that for another time.) When I opened the cabinet to replace the paper, there was none.

“Where is all the toilet paper?” I asked, to no one in particular. “I think I just put several rolls in here.”

“You did,” responded C. “You gave me like four rolls about a week ago.” Yep. My recollection, exactly.

“Did you put them in the little cabinet?”

“Yeah, right here,” he said, opening the cabinet. He turned and opened the cabinet under the sink, just to check that he hadn’t put them in the wrong place.

And so the conversation turned focus to W, who was always experimenting on something… and always using household goods to do so. Then it devolved to the neighbors with keys to our house, and the fact that they might be coming in for toilet paper. After all, who would notice if a roll (or two) of toilet paper disappeared here and there?

And so today, since the other two kids had blamed W, I figured I’d pull him into the mix before I settled on the neighbors.

“Is this like the spoons?” W finally asked. Ah, the spoons! I had forgotten about the spoons. With three teens in the house, we never have enough spoons. At one point, I accused the boys of ferreting them off and melting them down to make something more interesting: swords, knives, etc.

More recently, my measuring spoons went missing. But not all of my measuring spoons, just the ¼ teaspoons. All of my ¼ teaspoons, of which I once had four and have since located one. I didn’t blame anyone in particular that time. I just mentioned that someone must be coming into our house and stealing my ¼ teaspoons.

“Yes! This is just like the spoons!” I answered, too jubilantly.

“What’s the problem in there?” J hollered in from the living room.

“Just Mom being all paranoid again. Something about the toilet paper…. She thinks the neighbors are stealing our toilet paper.” We all three dissolved into giggles.

My “paranoia” is my way of using the little issues to have some fun. What the kids don’t realize is that if I didn’t express my “paranoia,” I would be pointing the finger at them and requesting that they work to curb their excessive use of essential household staples. Or maybe I am pointing at them….

 

The Frog

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When I was younger, I had a collection of knickknack frogs. One of these—made of tin and wood with limbs that dangle from joints of twine and wire—was a gift that I received many years ago, and it has a simplicity to it that is reminiscent of an earlier era. As I have moved residences over the years, I’ve pared down my collection to my favorites. This particular frog remained as it reminded me of my past for reasons I can’t exactly pinpoint.

In the townhouse where I landed with my children after my divorce, the frog took up residence on a shelf that held some books and a few ornamental items. Seldom did I notice it sitting there in its decorative, take-up-space kind of way.

One day when my children were still fairly young, I found this very frog sitting in the middle of my propane heat stove, right next to a candle that I had placed there at the end of the most recent heating season. It was late spring, and warm enough out that the windows had been open with regularity. The sight of the frog startled me because I wasn’t expecting it to be there. How odd, I thought. I wonder who put that there? It seemed like a bold placement for such an object, and I picked it up and moved it back to its normal location on the shelf.

The next morning, I woke the children, and I took a quick trip to the basement laundry room to gather some clothes. As I passed through the living room, I stopped abruptly, startled when I spotted the frog, once again sitting proudly—albeit unexpectedly—on the heat stove. The children were upstairs waking and preparing for school. I glanced around the room, not really sure what I was looking for. The room was empty. I set the laundry basket on the floor, and returned the frog to his spot on the bookshelf.

I took a deep breath, shaking off my surprise, and I went about my morning preparations.

When I was ready for the day, I went downstairs to the kitchen. I opened the door to welcome the spring air, and went to the back of the house to open the back door. Mid-way through the living room, I froze. There, on the stove, was the frog, sitting right in the middle where he’d been twice, now three times. My heart pounded in my chest as I thought through the possibilities. I glanced around the room expecting the unexpected, only daring to move my head. I pondered going to the basement to look around, but I couldn’t do it. Not alone. I went to the kitchen phone and called my neighbor.

“I think there’s someone in my house,” I reported in a near whisper. “Can you come over?”

“I’ll be right there.” She arrived a minute later, wielding a kitchen knife.

“What are you going to do with that?” I asked her.

She looked down and shrugged, smiling weakly. “It’s better than nothing!” Together, we searched the house while I explained the unexplainable to her. We found nothing, but we got a good laugh. We concluded that one of the children was playing a trick on me. No one would fess up.

It wasn’t until several months later that my oldest finally admitted to moving the frog. He read in a book how to secretly move an object. Or something. I have to say, he got me good, and we will forever joke about it.

Since that experience, the mere sight of this little frog holds an unexpected emotional charge. When I happen to see it sitting (usually in its normal place) on the shelf, I have a momentary jump in heart-rate, as if its very glance in my direction has power beyond its inanimate self. Then I laugh at the memory.

Family business

I was in the grocery store the other day, and I wandered into the bread aisle where a mother was arguing with her teenager. She was telling him how disrespectful he had been of late. She was disappointed that he wasn’t taking more responsibility around the house. She wanted him to be more involved with the family and their activities. He never went anywhere with the family anymore, she whined. Why did he have to act this way? His counselor said he was making progress, but he was supposed to be more involved…. Why wasn’t he doing what his counselor said??

This conversation went on at great length as mom carried on about all the things that were wrong with her child and his behavior. She palmed the loaves of bread, weighing one against the other, as she told the boy how much of a disappointment he was to her. Her voice became louder, whinier, and though she didn’t actually yell at him, it might have been better if she had. But she was in the grocery store, after all.

I was embarrassed for this woman. I thought about quietly suggesting that she take her conversation elsewhere. The boy probably would have appreciated it. No doubt, he would have been mortified if he had known how many people now knew about his business—his family situation, his counseling, and his inability to live up to his mother’s expectations. The store was quite crowded, after all, and the bread aisle is always popular.

But the boy wasn’t actually there. In fact, I don’t know that she was talking to a boy at all. I don’t know that she was talking to a teenager, though her tone and demeanor gave me my biggest clues. The entire conversation took place on her cell phone.

For whatever reason, cell phones allow people to believe that their private conversations should be held in public. They haul out their cell phones when they feel the need to say something, and they don’t bother to look around to see who might overhear. Or who might be offended. And they don’t consider that not all conversations are appropriate for all forums.

In this case, Mom was complaining that her son was disrespectful, and I’m pretty sure I know where he learned that trait. I would guess I’m not the only one who figured that out.

So the next time you’re tempted to haul your private business into the grocery store in a loud and unfiltered cell phone conversation, look around to see who might overhear what you have to say… and blog about it later.

Snowmen

Each year at this time, an army of snowman cookies arrives at my house. Uh, wait… let me start over.

Each year at this time, through a great deal of effort on my part, an army of snowmen arrives at my house. This year, I tried to gain support for the cause. On Sunday morning, I looked at W sitting on the couch surfing the Internet on the iPad. “Hey W,” I watched him intently. He looked up. “Do you like to make little balls out of clay?” I asked with a tone that implied I had something exciting in store for him.

He looked at me with a raised eyebrow before he sighed with a hint of disgust. “Do you want help with your snowmen?” Yep, he was on to me. Every year, I try the same tactic.

I nodded too fast, like an excited puppy. “Yeah! You wanna help?”

“Not really,” he replied as he returned to the iPad. I went to the kitchen, hauled out the bowl full of dough, and began to roll it into balls. Tiny balls. Actually, three different sizes per snowman. These cookies are labor intensive, but they are the local favorite—in my house, in my neighborhood, and among my family. The fact that they have been a favorite is why I have continued to make them. Every year. For seventeen years.

It wasn’t long before I had an army of little snowmen on my kitchen table. And taste-testers hovering. My daughter had her first bite. “I think we should keep them all this year. We give away too many.” This thought was one that would never fly with my neighbor who believes I make these cookies specifically for her and then withhold all but a small number.

I turned to Facebook with this thought. To my neighbor I posted, “My taste-tester just tried a snowman and says we need to keep them all this year.” The reply: a resounding “NO!” and the annual “war of the snowmen” had begun.

At least daily, I receive a text, Facebook message, phone call, or an in-person assault. “Where are my snowmen?!” And daily, I have to deliver the difficult news that they are still naked, they have to stick together for their “army” training, or they have not yet said good-bye to their friends. (Really, I’m stalling while I make other cookies to “fluff up” the plate). Soon, my neighbor on the other side adds her two cents in anticipation of receipt of her yummy snowmen.

These little snowmen have evolved over the years. Initially, they were simply a part of my cookie tradition. But through the annual battle, these cookies have taken on a life of their own. They add extra fun to the holidays in my neighborhood, and they bring us together each year. I imagine I will continue to make them for another seventeen years. And I wonder how the tradition will evolve from here.

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