How Not To Catch A Chipmunk

An uninvited guest preempts preparations for invited ones

Leave door to garage open too long while unloading groceries from car. During an early afternoon bout of vacuuming in anticipation of guests tomorrow, notice a flash of brown fur along the wall,  vanishing behind desk.

What the hell was that?

Investigate. Observe chipmunk cowering by door to garage, now closed and locked after all groceries in.

Open other kitchen door, that leads to the front patio and butterfly garden.  Hope chipmunk will find his way out. No such luck. Chipmunk proceeds in opposite direction, zipping past door,  straight through kitchen and into living room.

Shreik.

Grab dusting stick, used to get cobwebs out of places not otherwise reachable.  Give chase while also opening door to deck. Swat at chipmunk running along baseboard radiator, thinking he’d seize chance to scoot outside. No such luck. Observe chipmunk zipping past the open door, back through kitchen and into bathroom. See chipmunk hiding behind toilet.

Grab dusting stick again. Hoist self onto vanity counter.  Scooch along until swatting at chipmunk with feet off floor becomes possible. Observe him zipping back out and turning left to scoot back under desk instead of heading out open door RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. Stupid damn chipmunk!

Give chase. Chipmunk ends up tucked behind breezeway radiator. Curses. Frantic call to brother the B.A. wildlife biologist/Ph.D microbiologist.

Brother suggests humane trap. Sends link with description, and price. That much? Drat, that means a trip to the hardware store. So much for using bro and sister in law’s impending visit tomorrow as motivation for a total house swabdown. Swabdown Interruptus.

Hardware store, trap obtained. On your way home, stop to replenish chocolate supply and collect Friday pizza and wings.

Receipts go in a cubby at the top of desk hutch. Hungry. Stuff receipts in there quickly in order to get on to consuming wings.

Chipmunk leaps out of cubby in desk hutch, lands on desk and vanishes at light speed.

Scream.

Intuit that chipmunk has retreated into bathroom again, under closed door with unusually wide gap at bottom. Discover chipmunk cowering behind toilet, again.

Fail to realize trap could be introduced into bathroom, door closed, and chipmunk captured.  Give chase instead. Open door again, back up on vanity counter again, thwap at chipmunk with dusting stick, again. No luck. Chipmunk exits bathroom at warp speed, turns left, again, instead of going out open door RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, again. Chipmunk presumably hiding under desk again although he cannot be seen back there.

Improvise barrier to keep chipmunk from running through kitchen again. Barrier constructed of top of late husband Mike’s oak kitchen table, disassembled and brought in from garage. Table was the only thing other than clothes, books and a hurricane lamp  late husband brought with him into marriage. Thanks, hon, still useful. Block off  kitchen, hope little bugger won’t get in there again. Set trap, eat wings, wait.

Not good at waiting, but use it as a chance to sit outside with AD (Angelic Daughter) and try to chill.

An hour later, after three intermittent checks, see that the trap has been sprung. Got him!

Carefully lift trap, take outdoors,  sweet-talking chipmunk to keep him from running from one end of trap to the other, causing trap to heel over like a ship on wavy seas. Close house doors behind. No repeat! Walk to edge of  yard, push lever down to open doors of trap. Don’t see anything. Hear quick rustling of leaf on grass, “thth.” Check trap. Empty. Never saw him run. Fast little dude.

Congratulate self on adding “chipmunk extraction” to list of skills.  Screams turn to smiles. Express pride and  relief. Desk area reopened for business! Sweep up remains of granola used as bait. Little bugger didn’t get much supper, ha.

Swabdown to recommence in the morning, prior to cooking for guests. The invited ones.

Enjoying a chipmunk-free desk area, and hoping to keep it that way, I remain,

Your smug-about-ability-to-manage-intrusive-rodents-and-grateful-for-brother’s-advice-while-creeping-OCD-wonders-if-there’s-another-chipmunk-in-here-somewhere,

Ridiculouswoman

Gravetending

A walk with grief is a walk with love.

It was a gorgeous day, very like the day we buried the urn  – blue, sunny, breezy.  The third anniversary, marked with a picnic at his grave, peaceful under a huge willow tree. This time it felt less like a ritual of grief, and more like a simple, everyday gesture of love.

The rose we planted that first year didn’t do well this year. Too many Japanese beetles  pockmarking the leaves, same as they have done to the roses in my butterfly garden at home. The vortex didn’t help, either. The soaked, soggy spring caused me to underestimate the importance of getting out there to water the fuchsia that hung from the shepherd’s crook by the stone. I removed it in July, shriveled, brown and twiggy, and so lightweight with the dryness that it jerked upward when I lifted it with too much force, expecting more weight.

Before the picnic, we went to the big-box hardware that has a good garden department. I wanted to get him a new hanging basket to ride out the summer, and a new shrub to replace the rose. As we browsed, a monarch butterfly kept landing on plants in front of us, as if making suggestions. When we came to the butterfly bushes, there were several monarchs flitting around our heads and enjoying the shrubs named for them. Angelic Daughter noticed they kept landing on specific bushes, and staying to enjoy the fragrance and the pollen, I suppose. We bought a dark pinkish-purple butterfly bush, and a hanging basket of impatiens that matched that color exactly. Back home I loaded the shovel and some gloves, then we picked up salads from our usual spot, and headed out to the cemetery.

The breeze made it difficult to spread the blanket, but I used its direction to help, and we enjoyed a quiet half hour under the willow, lunching while gazing at the new plants and decorations Mike’s eternal neighbors had received from their loved ones since the last time we were there. After lunch, I dug out the failing rose bush, and, predictably, stabbed myself with its thorns, right through the gloves. I planted the butterfly bush and hung the impatiens. I lugged four gallons of water over from the pump.

Two more gallons to rinse the stone, and highlight his name and his title, “Father.” That was his job, and he loved it, and it’s perfect to have on the stone to describe him.

I talked to him, and told him how much we both miss him. I asked him to try to find a way for her to really feel he is with her.

On the way home from her job Monday, we talked about missing him. “A day without Dad. I miss Dad. He can’t come back.” Repeated at least twenty times through the day, through most of our days now,  her last grains of hope and disbelief slowly dissolving into certainty, finality, consumed by the permanence of loss.

I told her again it was OK to be sad, but Dad wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time. Hypocrite. Inside I was feeling my own extreme loneliness, and pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, a trick that keeps me from crying.

As we pulled into the garage, I noticed the song on the radio was “You Are Not Alone.”

You are not alone
I am here with you
Though you’re far away
I am here to stay

Lately I’ve been changing the channel when a Michael Jackson song comes on.  Just can’t, anymore. But we listened to this one. I relaxed my tongue and had my tears.

Anniversaries are so hard; marking them with rituals probably makes it worse. This time, though, was more about how remembering, yearning for and missing him is a normal part of every day, not just anniversary days.

It finally rained, a good long soaking rain. Choir practice started last night. This choir has an uncanny ability to conjure precipitation. It always rains on Monday nights.

New phone for Angelic Daughter yesterday. New, substitute caregiver last night.

Sun today. But almost every sunny day has a few clouds.

The weight of this anniversary forced me to realize that this third year of widowhood was about accepting the normalcy of grief, and how carrying it and walking with it is permanently woven into each of our days, and will be in every day to come.

Tending the grave and talking to Mike as I did reminded me that grief can’t exist without love. If we walk with grief, love is walking right beside it, holding its hand.  Balanced, but too subdued. I hope this walk will lead us someday to peace, even back to joy.

Until then, I remain, your hollow yet hopeful

Ridiculouswoman

Twenty Years Ago Today, Less Three

A home now more beautiful is yet less whole.

It was Mike’s idea do the “American Gothic” pose in front of our new (old) house. We stood side by side, beyond the concrete sidewalk in front of the kitchen door, where that tall grass is now. Back then, that walk had been tightly lined with yews.

Mike’s parents entertained Angelic Daughter at their place through moving day. We were ready for them now, the movers gone. Standing with an upturned pitchfork between us, we waited for the laugh. We got it.

Anniversaries come close, this time of year. Today, the twentieth anniversary of the day we moved in. Next Saturday, the third anniversary of Mike’s death.

Both days were hot. The house isn’t air conditioned, and we didn’t have fans when we first moved in.  Exhausted from the closing and the move, we opened the windows and saved shopping for the next day.

That first morning, we heard a rooster crow. There was a small farm at the end of the road, with a horse in the field. I came downstairs around six, and saw a red fox in the front yard, looking right at me through the bay window, one black paw lifted. After about a minute of mutual stillness and staring, he trotted off, apparently satisfied.

The second day, early in the morning, someone knocked at the kitchen door, below the master bedroom window.

Mike went down and answered. It was a woman asking to buy the house. She had grown up near an orchard (there was barely a tree left of the one that had been across the street, decades before) and dreamed of a house like ours. Her prayer group was praying for her dream to come true.

I guess they didn’t consider they were praying for the destruction of someone else’s dream, hard earned through years at a job I loved working for a boss I didn’t, a savvy townhome purchase  (I seem to have an eye for real estate that will appreciate) and urgent timing. When I heard her story, I was loudly unkind.  “My God, we just moved in!”

“She hasn’t slept in four days,” Mike said to the lady, by way of apology.

Ten years or so later, he came around to my way of thinking – that to show up on someone’s doorstep two days after they moved in, whinging about how your purchase thwarted their dream when yours had just come true, was not a nice thing to do.

Our elderly neighbor, now long gone, got it right; she showed up with a plate of cookies and stories about what the house had been like before, and who our predecessors were.

We knew that the previous owner had died in the driveway, shoveling snow or trimming bushes. We welcomed his lingering spirit. We could smell his pipe smoke from time to time. It’s gone now. Perhaps he, like the fox, approved of our plan to live in this house rather than tear it down to build something bigger, which, in 1999, was what people did.

The executor left a watercolor portrait of the house on the wall that records the trees that were cut down before we moved in, the tree I had cut down since, and the yews I replaced three years ago with a bluestone patio and front walk, bordered by azaleas, ferns transplanted from my mother’s yard, sedum, catmint, Russian sage, yarrow, wildflowers from seed, milkweed (for the monarchs), buddleia and bee balm. Landscapers installed the walk and patio, and ripped out the yews. They put in boxwood, to grow into a privacy hedge, a serviceberry tree and a thick layer of organic soil, to get me started.

When we moved in, Angelic Daughter adapted instantly. I was stunned. Transitions had been so hard for her. But that evening we showed her to her new room, and her real, up-off-the-floor bed.  She climbed right in and fell peacefully asleep.

Twenty years in the house today. Nearly three without Mike. Previous “moving in” anniversaries went unnoticed or unremarked, but this milestone magnifies Mike’s absence. He should be here to enjoy the anniversary and the new patio and the garden, planted specifically to attract the hummingbirds and monarchs he loved.

Three years as two-thirds of a family. Peaceful sleep has been hard to come by.

Angelic Daughter yearns for him. I ache for her. “His love is always with you” isn’t enough. She wants to know how to know that. She want to find him.

She wants to know what he wants for her, now.

“All I can tell you is to listen. Something in you will tell you Dad is near.”

Will it?

“It’ll get better. Remember the happy times.”

I hope it will, and she can.

As next Saturday approaches, I remain,

Your trying-to-stay-strong, tearful, hurting, hopeful

Ridiculouswoman

Turndown Service

I sleep with Hilda. Not sorry.

I sleep with Hilda.

Hilda is a lavender stuffed hippopotamus.  Go ahead,  laugh. I’m your neighborblog sixty year-old widow.  Hilda makes me feel better, so get over it, OK?

Every night when the leftovers are put away and the dishwasher is loaded and running, I haul myself and my creaking knees up the stairs, and find Hilda, looking adorable, tucked in under the covers, waiting for me, the bedside table lamp aglow.

Angelic Daughter’s turndown service.

I take it as a sign of Angelic Daughter’s deep emotional intelligence, and her ability to pick up on cues I didn’t know I was sending about needs I wasn’t conscious of having.

Ok, that’s a flat out lie. I know I have NEEDS, primarily for the calming, anxiety-curing, panic-attack abating hugs Mike gave, and for the comfort that his very presence provided.  While people on the autism spectrum might have difficulty making eye contact, demonstrating “focus,” decoding facial expressions, or understanding tones of voice, it would be a mistake to assume they lack emotional intelligence. It may not be obvious, but it’s there.

“I miss Dad.”

“I miss him too, sweetheart.”

Angelic Daughter knows Hilda is a comfort to me, both because stuffed animals are comforting in general, and because Hilda has been a comfort to her, too.  I created a voice for Hilda (a sort of “bless your heart” kind of Southern accent – not sure why) and Hilda comforts Angelic Daughter by conversing with her that way, from time to time.

I found Hilda at a local toy store, a really good independent toy store that Angelic Daughter and I liked to poke around in. Its narrow aisles had shelves of stuffed animals, baskets filled with quirky fidget toys, bouncing balls and toy soldiers, racks of costumes,  arts and craft stuff, board and card games, books and a large section of model trains.

So naturally it went out of business. But not before I found Hilda.

I seized on her immediately.

Hilda righted a childhood wrong.

When I was about three years old, I had a stuffed hippo. I loved that thing, but I don’t remember naming it, or who gave it to me. It was grey. One day I decided to add some color.

I took a set of markers and drew a rainbow of parallel, curving lines all around that Hippo. Encircled its eyes and traced its tummy, big face, back and legs with a multi-colored, multi-lane highway of marker love. I was proud of my artistry.

When I showed Cruella DeVille my mother my gorgeous design, expecting praise and delight,  she snatched that hippo away and screamed at me for “ruining” it.

I had no idea why she was so angry, and I never saw that hippo again.

So Hilda was a second chance at hippo happiness.

Never mind that actual, living hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet – they can bite a crocodile in two, run at speeds 35 mph or more and have huge teeth and powerful jaws. They’re very aggressive on both land and water. They kill around 3,000 people a year.

But my stuffed Hilda hippo is a skwooshy, lavender beanbag of love.

She doesn’t complain when I squeeze her tight, or squish her giant jaw-face, or take up too much room in the bed. She’s just there for me, if I need her.

And something deep in Angelic Daughter gets that I do. Need Hilda.

Everyone has a comfort item.  I hope.

I still have my baby blanket. My uncle borrowed it for my infant cousin, and never returned it. On the brink of heading off to college, I suddenly decided I needed it back.

Unc was living in my late grandfather’s grand house, an English manor-style home with a huge living room and a huge dining room opposite, across the front hall, where Grampa’s cook (yes, his cook) would call for us that it was time to “go through,” meaning, cross the front hall and find your place at a dining table that could seat 12.

Around the time of the disappeared decorated hippo, our family dog was a  black and white malamute (like a husky, but bigger) named “Buddy.” Because he was my brother’s buddy.

My cousin, Unc’s son,  named their red and white husky “Scary.”

When I asked for my blanket back,  it was discovered at the bottom of Scary’s huge chain-link cage.

Unc gamely retreived it, filthy and full of holes. I gladly washed it and took it to college with me.  I’ve had it ever since.

So you won’t hear me laughing if your self-care includes your bwanky, or dolly, or your teddy bear. Or your stuffed hippo.

Grateful for my amazing Angelic Daughter, I remain,

Your about-to-find comfort in a cuppa and a nap (with Hilda),

Ridiculouswoman

Grief Is A Time Machine

Grieving in a grievous world

Grief alters time, eradicating now with then. It flares up, prompted by insignificant things.

Except for the significance the insignificant things invoke.

Grief doesn’t recognize magnitude relative to other, more recent, shocking and violent horrors, affecting many more people, all at once.

Should I be ashamed of my grief? Of writing about grief, today? Is it small, selfish? When grief bursts inside my chest, brought on by a radio ad for some long forgotten music venue we visited only once, stealing my breath, and I blink and flutter and try to control my voice, is that trivial, comparatively?

It happens at the intersection I can’t avoid when driving Angelic Daughter home from her once-a-month fast-food indulgence: grabs me by the throat and transports me to the merciful end of Mike’s final fall excursion, five years ago. It was way too long a drive, longer than I thought it would be. We didn’t know about the cancer yet, but he was uncomfortable, he was angry, he just wanted to get home.

I was tense, because I knew he was on the brink of exploding, close to raging at me for choosing the wrong road, the wrong destination, that everything I had done that day was wrong, that I was crazy. He did that when he was in pain, physically or emotionally.

I drifted left too soon and bumped up over the rumble-stripped median, before the turn lane began. A jolt. A bad ending to a bad day.

There’s the place near the grocery store where he finally got pulled over, after driving on an expired license for ten years. He had failed the written test and stomped out, refusing to wait any longer for another chance. He got caught because I had forgotten to renew the sticker on the license plate. He thought I did that deliberately.

The spice jars I gave him: one of his few, final Christmas presents, to use in the new kitchen, hoping he would find them inspiring, cheering, life-extending.

I can’t seem to keep them organized the way he did. But I see him arranging them.

The long-lost chess piece from his little magnetic traveling set, deep in the bottom of a box in the closet. How?

The rugless, blank place on the living room floor where the hospital bed had been.

“Missing Dad with love. Dad can’t come back. We have to live without him because he can’t come back.”

She has stopped repeating how things went the night he died. Now it’s “Dad used to…” Used to take her there, feed her that, play.

Basketball, tag, hide and seek.

The red shed is gone now, where he kept the large riding mower he bought just days after we moved in, twenty years ago. He would put it in neutral while it was off, and push her around on it. I still see it, right there at the edge of the yard, when I look out the windows by my desk. I see the tractor and her on it, him pushing.

Summer was his time. I see him sun-browned in his tennis whites, serving, volleying, hitting passing shots, my Dad gleefully niggling his tennis buddies – Mike was his ringer.

The lamp I bought, afraid he’d hate it.

IMG_20190804_131429837.jpg

I bought it because I liked the shade, the color, and especially the shape. I thought it looked a bit like me.

He said he loved the lamp, and I loved him for that.

These things hold memories, but they don’t blindside me with intense flashbacks, like the radio ad, or the fall excursion intersection, or when I look up at the clock and find that the time reads as the date we met, or his birthday.

They don’t draw sudden tears, like the monarch butterfly that flitted by my desk windows, very close, for several seconds, just as I was writing about the bad end to the bad fall day.

She waits for me, to be as entertaining as he was.

I’m not.

I don’t cook like he did. I don’t shoot baskets or play tag. I couldn’t ride the tandem and finally sold it.

But I took her horseback riding, in a state park an hour away.

The horses were ornery, reluctant. They wanted to graze on the grass. They wanted to turn around and go home, like Mike did that fall excursion day.

But they responded when I spoke to them gently, and when we sang to them.

We saw more monarch butterflies along the trail than we have seen all summer.

She said, “Dad rode Jesse.” In Arizona, on vacation, more than ten years ago.

Then she said, “I really enjoyed going horseback riding with you, Mom.”

Anticipating our next trail ride, I remain, your time-traveling, tearful,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Now I’m A Twit With A Face

If you’ve been following the saga of my twice-disabled Facebook account, because The Empire Facebook thought I was impersonating myself, you know I’ve been questioning the value of going through this frustration just to try to pick up a few more followers and broaden my community of readers.

I said if they disabled me again I’d give up, but I’m not the type to admit defeat so easily.

This time I think I’ve got it, and I can get back to the purpose of the blog: writing.

I’m not going to tell you how I did it because I don’t want to provoke Soulless Algorithm again. I just behaved in the ways Soulless Algorithm seemed to want me to behave, and took it slow, and followed some suggestions I Google-found about what to do and what not to do.

So fingers crossed, my next post (Soulless Algorithm knows all, don’t poke it) which will be a real post that is actually about something human, should end up shared on both Twitter and Facebook. The Facebook page should be found by searching for Ridiculouswomanblogger. The Twitter account is @Ridiculouswidow.

Sheesh!

Your slowly becoming slightly less socially impaired, I hope,

Ridiculouswoman