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He Who Shall Not Be Named

Choosing a name for another living creature is a challenge. While the thought of naming a child is daunting, there are at least some parameters to guide the choice. Perhaps there is a traditional family name handed down through generations. Maybe you’ll be naming the child after a cherished family member or friend. In any event, unless you are a celebrity trying to be trendy, you’ll be choosing a human name for your child. Naming a pet is an entirely different situation. Sure, you can use human names, but you don’t have to. You can choose any word you want without fear that the other pets in the neighborhood will tease your furry child about a strange name.

On the ride to Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary, to meet a cat named Oolong, Oregano and I began discussing potential names for the soon to be newest member of our family.

“Oolong is kind of cute,” I said, “but, I think it would be a better name for a Siamese cat, not a tabby. He’s only been Oolong since he arrived at Tabby’s Place six weeks ago. I doubt he’s attached to the name.”

Oregano agreed with me and suggested Earl Grey.

“I like the idea that we’re sticking with the tea theme, but that’s not going to work. We’ll wind up calling him Earl which makes me think of a moonshine sipping, banjo strumming man sitting on his porch somewhere deep in the Appalachians.” I said.

“That was pretty specific. Do you know someone named Earl?” he asked laughing at my reasoning. “We’ll wait until he decides if he wants to adopt us. If he does, we’ll see what his personality is like and then we’ll be able to figure out a name.” He sounded confident that we’d come up with the right name.

Oolong interviewing Oregano

Oolong begins the rigorous interviewing process with Oregano

When we entered the suite where Oolong was living, he came right over to us and immediately began the interviewing process by rubbing our legs. Once we were comfortably seated on the floor, he made sure to investigate both of us thoroughly by climbing into our laps. He tested our reactions by playing with toys. When he started purring, we knew we had been adopted.

On the ride home, Oolong sat quietly in the back seat while we resumed our naming discussion.

“We already have a cat named Linus. It might be fun to use another Peanuts character and name him Schroeder, Linus’s piano playing friend,” I suggested.

“I doubt he can play the piano,” Oregano said.

“Me, too, but it’s a cute idea to have Linus and Schroeder,” I said. “Let’s give it a day and see how we like it.”

Whatever name we choose, it must be a name we won’t mind saying a hundred times a day. I like to try it out in sample sentences I’m destined to say, “Schroeder, don’t drink out of the toilet.” “Get down from the top of the refrigerator, Schroeder.” “Schroeder just had a hairball. Whose turn is it to clean it up?

It was a weird name for a cat and didn’t even last for the full 24 hours. Back to the drawing board we went. We scrolled through lists and lists of baby names on-line. That wasn’t working. His markings and charm had an undefinable quality, so undefinable in fact that we weren’t able to name him.

Oregano noticed that the cat looked like he was wearing glasses. “Maybe we can think of a literary name for him,” he suggested.

And so we began searching on-line for famous literary cats. You’d be surprised how many cats are in literature, but their names were horrible!

When friends asked for the name of our new furry family member, I didn’t have an answer for them and kept referring to him as, “He who shall not be named.” This was how the characters in the Harry Potter books referred to the evil Voldemort, but our little tabby was definitely not evil. I tried to think of a way to make the name less threatening.

I approached Oregano with a new name suggestion, “How about Mortie?” I explained how I arrived at this name. “It’s literary and sounds cute.”

Does he look like a Mortie?

Does he look like a Mortie?

“Mortie? Hmm… sounds like some old Jewish guy in Florida with white shoes and a white belt. I’m not sure I like it,” he said crinkling his nose at the name, “but, we can try it out for 24 hours and see if it suits him.”

During the 24 hours of Mortie, Oregano brainstormed names that meant calm, peaceful and easy-going to match our new kitty’s personality. He compiled an eight page list as a Word document and presented it to me.

“Manfred?! Alastair?! Paxton?! Are you serious? They’re a bit pretentious for a tabby, don’t you think?  Those are names for a butler, not a cat,” I said in disgust as I continued flipping through the sheaf of papers he had handed me.

“Finn, Brodie and Zen?  Sounds like he is destined to become a professional surfer,” I said putting the kibosh on those names.

He's definitely not a Manfred, Alastair, Brodie or Calum!

He’s definitely not a Manfred, Alastair, Brodie or Calum!

“Yeah, some of those names don’t really work for a cat. I was just brainstorming and listing all the names I came across hoping one would work,” he admitted.

“Calum?! Wasn’t that Superman’s real name?” I asked.

“No. That was Kal-El,” he shook his head and continued, “Calum means dove – a symbol of peace. He’s a calm, peaceful cat. I thought it might work.”

I didn’t agree. The brainstorming continued and we began referring to our nameless cat as new guy.

Helpful friends called each day to ask the nombre du jour and offer suggestions. After four days and three different names, we were worried our little guy was going to develop an identity crisis. Oregano suggested using a funny old man name. Back to the baby name websites we went only this time we were searching for names that were popular 100 years ago.

Oregano looked up from the screen, “What about Otis?”

“Otis? You thought Mortie was bad, but you like Otis? Are we naming him after the elevator company, the singer or the Greek word for one who hears well?” I asked.

“Greek word? What? No. None of the above,” he just looks like an Otis.

“Exactly what makes him is Otis-esque?” I asked.

“Otis-esque. That’s not even a word.” He rolled his eyes at me.

“It’s not, but you know what I mean.” I needed to be convinced about the name Otis.

Just then, the cats came tearing through the room chasing each other at full speed. We both yelled, “Otis, stop chasing Linus.”

We looked at each other, “Yep, that works. Otis it is!”

Enough with the pictures already. I'm an Otis. Now let me get some sleep.

Enough with the pictures already. I’m an Otis. Now let me get some sleep.

 

A Proud Tradition?

It’s Independence Day – America’s birthday. The Fourth of July evokes memories of fireworks, backyard barbecues and a sense of pride in America. What could make us prouder to be American than an annual hot dog eating contest?

 

I don’t know why I am fascinated by this yearly 4th of July tradition. A group of strangers in front of a crowd shoving hot dogs and buns down their gullets as fast as possible, shouldn’t pique my interest, but I get sucked in every year. I watch the contest with equal parts disgust, nausea and amazement. I’m sure it generates business for Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, but it does absolutely nothing to make me want to eat a hot dog.

To be fair, I don’t understand the concept of competitive eating. This famous contest is a glimpse into the very full underbelly of that world. Just because you can chew and swallow doesn’t mean you can compete in this contest. Competitors train for months and must qualify to participate in this televised main event.  As the competitors take their positions on the podium, their previous eating accolades are announced. I had no idea so many foods could be eaten competitively: oysters, pizza, jalapenos & chicken wings. I had no idea anyone would want to eat those foods competitively.

I’ve seen a documentary on competitive eating and training for the contests, but what I’d really like to see is a documentary that follows the winners to see what happens during the 24 hours after the contest. Sure, it’s interesting to watch someone eat 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. But, it would be more fascinating to see what happens to that person when the chewing and the fanfare stop. Part of the contest rules are that contestants must “keep the hot dogs and buns down.” How long must they stay down? How do the hot dogs and buns exit the contestant? When is that person hungry enough to eat again?

The male and female winners of the competition are always interviewed. They  look full of adrenaline and questionable meat. While it is interesting to hear about their winning strategy, what I’d really like to see are interviews with the losers. How do you feel about yourself mentally and physically after you’ve spent months training then eaten 68 hot dogs and buns and walked away a loser? Talk about the agony of defeat.

The winner of this famous competition gets a cash prize and a bejeweled belt. I sure hope it’s expandable.

the coveted winner’s belt

Good Grief

Humor is the most effective coping method I have developed to deal with stressful situations. When that situation is sad, morbid humor is sometimes all that is left at my disposal. Anyone who has lost a pet knows that there is nothing funny about it. George Carlin said it best, “When you purchase a pet, you are buying a small tragedy.” We all know this going into the relationship, but we do it anyway.

When Oregano and I rushed our beloved 15-year-old cat, Sam, to the veterinary ER in the wee hours of the morning, we knew he wouldn’t be coming back home with us. The vet prepared the injections and said, “This first syringe has a sedative.”

I looked up at her, “Do you have any extra for the humans? Sam’s really calm right now, but we could both do with a little sedation.” I was trying to lighten the somber mood. Within seconds, Sam slipped away peacefully. Well, as peacefully as he could, what with our wracking sobs disturbing every creature with ears.

Sam trying to help us pack for a trip.

Sam trying to help us pack for a trip.

As we drove home from the animal hospital, it occurred to me that veterinary emergency rooms should also staff a medical doctor. It really makes perfect sense. Most humans who find themselves in the ER with their pets are consumed with worry or fear and would certainly benefit from some pharmaceutically assisted coping methods. There are probably all sorts of legal and medical complications that prevent this from actually happening. At a bare minimum, if prescription drugs aren’t available to the humans, the veterinary ERs can apply for a liquor license and employ a 24/7 bartender. Of course, driving home from the ER distraught and tipsy is a bad idea, so they would also need to run a taxi service.

I always wonder what is going through the mind of the surviving cat when we arrive home with an empty carrier. Is he thinking, “Holy shit! What happened to the other guy that lived here? They seemed to like him. What could he have done to be banished? I better crank up the cuteness factor or I may disappear next.”  Cats are intuitive. Linus realized we could benefit from some extra attention which he was more than happy to supply in exchange for some back scratches and brushing.

Not long after we arrived home, our friends and family began using all manner of electronic and human contact to offer their sympathies. There is no more empathetic group of people than other pet owners because we all know we’re going to be in the same position one day.

Later that afternoon, Oregano was checking emails and I was trying to distract myself with the voluminous weeds in my garden. When I came in to cool off and have a glass of iced tea, I walked past Oregano at the computer and noticed he was on the Petfinder website.

Stunned, I turned to him and said, “You’re already looking at other cats? There are still tissues wet with tears in the garbage can and you’re shopping for a new pet?!”

“Why not? We know we’re going to rescue another cat. I thought it would make me feel better to look and see which kitties are available for us to love,” he said trying to convince me. “You’re going to miss Sam and be sad no matter what. You can still do all of that while we give another kitty a loving home.”

Despite how awful I felt, I knew he was right. We’d be stupid enough to sign up for this kind of heartbreak again. I just wasn’t planning on shopping online the same day.

As he scrolled through pages and pages of adorable cats with sad, hard-luck stories I asked, “We haven’t finalized our wills yet have we?”

“Huh? Where did that question come from?” he asked me looking away from the screen with a quizzical look on his face.

“Well, I know we discussed do not resuscitate provisions in our wills, but I think I’m going to have to ask the lawyer to add a clause to that section,” I replied.

“What are you talking about?” He seemed really confused.

“I think you shouldn’t be allowed to have a smartphone or any internet access if I am on life support,” I said.

“What does this have to do with Sam’s death?” he asked.

“Sam just died. If you are already on Petfinder, I’m worried you’ll apply the same philosophy when I’m dying. I fear you’ll be sitting by my death-bed with one hand on the plug while the other hand is on the computer keyboard searching JDate or eHarmony for your next beloved wife. Call me crazy, but I think it would be tacky if you showed up at my funeral with a date.”

“I would never do that to you. I’d wait at least until after you were buried to start dating again,” he said sweetly.

“Jews are supposed to be buried the next day,” I said.

“Exactly. I’m willing to wait a day or two before I start dating.”

“Isn’t that a generous, thoughtful concession to make? You could combine my obituary with a personal ad for yourself and turn sitting shivah into a new type of speed dating. I’m such a sport; I’ll even help you write the obituary/personal ad.”

Paprika died leaving behind a cute husband with a great sense of humor who is now available for dating women between the ages of 30 and 60. In lieu of flowers, please send photographs and a brief description of yourself. All prospective dates must love cats.

We both laughed out loud for the first time all day. Like I said, sometimes morbid humor is all that is left, but it’s still humor.

 

Here’s a clip from George Carlin who applied the same philosophy when it comes to losing a beloved pet.

The Art and Sport of Hammocking – A Throwback Post

**Summer is fast approaching. Boating safety week reminded me that it is important to be safe in all your summer activities.  This post is from 3 years ago when I could count the number of readers on my fingers and toes and still have some spares. I’m posting it again now as a public service announcement to all would be hammock enthusiasts.**

 

After many contemplative hours in my hammock I have realized that there is an artfulness and athleticism involved in being able to thoroughly enjoy the hammock experience. Dictionaries define a hammock as a type of hanging bed made from canvas or cords and supported at each end. I have also learned that there is a tropical hammock. When I saw signs for Curry Hammock State Park near Marathon in the Florida Keys, my mind ran wild. Could there really be a state park devoted to hammocks?  I envisioned hammock after hammock slung between palm trees overlooking the bright blue waters surrounding The Keys. Imagine my shock and disappointment when I discovered that a tropical hardwood hammock is an ecosystem comprised of certain species of trees. Even the fun of repeatedly saying the name of the odd sounding gumbo limbo tree, only offered me a modicum of comfort as we drove out of the parking lot. While dictionaries identify hammock as a noun, we now live in a world where parts of speech merely suggest a word’s usage. I believe hammock has merit to also be a verb.

 The Art

Hammocking has two predominant philosophies: au naturel and faux naturel. My personal preference is the au naturel method which is when the hammock is suspended between two trees set a certain distance apart. The distance will depend on the type of hammock you are using. The benefit of hammocking au naturel is that you will be in the shade and, since you are tied to trees, it is easier to commune with nature. If you want more flexibility than the au naturel method offers, you can use the faux naturel method and purchase a hammock stand. These stands allow you to move the hammock around your yard to sunny or shady locations. The faux naturel method is also an excellent choice for people who don’t have many trees, have immature trees that can’t withstand the weight of an adult or have trees that are too far apart. Either of these methods will allow you to enjoy hammocking.

Once you have selected a method and location, you will need some accessories to fully appreciate the hammocking experience. For comfort, a pillow is a must.  A long, rectangular pillow works best, but, in a pinch, a rolled up beach towel works quite nicely. In addition to the pillow, you might want to consider a sway mechanism. Since I don’t have the funds to employ someone who will sit next to my hammock and gently rock me while feeding me grapes, I’ve devised a method for self swaying; a sway string. You can create one by tying the end of a length of thick laundry line to a tree that is perpendicular to the hammock.  After draping the other end over the edge of the hammock you can gently tug on the string and rock like a baby in a cradle. The sway pole is another option for self swaying. I find this to be less effective than the sway string, but if you are hammocking  faux naturel, this may be your only choice. Using a large branch that has fallen from a tree as a sway pole is tempting because it is free, but I can tell you, from personal experience, the dead branch will snap leaving you with a nasty splinter that abruptly ends your tranquility. A PVC pipe or broomstick are sturdier. If you drop the sway pole, DO NOT lean over the edge of the hammock to retrieve it. This may result in an embarrassing and graceless roll to the ground.

Now that you understand  proper hammock placement and sway mechanisms, it’s time for a pre-nap safety test of the equipment. Always check the hammock’s tension. Sometimes a hammock appears  taut and ready for an afternoon of reading and napping, only to sag all the way to the ground the instant you make contact.  It is especially important to check the tension of a hammock that is unfamiliar to you like those at a beach or resort. After you have determined that it will support your weight, you are ready to commence relaxation. Keep in mind that there are some hazards inherent with hammocking. Falling out of the hammock is an ever-present danger, so be sure that you are not hanging over any rocks. Nothing spoils an afternoon of serenity more than a trip to the emergency room for a skull x-ray and CAT scan.

Animals are another hazard to be aware of. Birds and squirrels can, and will, chew through the hammock’s cords to use this booty to furnish their nests. Check for damaged cords. A hammock can function well with one string broken, but as my husband learned the hard way, two or more damaged strings will eventually break when the weight of a full-grown adult is added and you will drop like a sack of potatoes. There are additional animal related hazards associated with hammocking au naturel. Because you are lying beneath tree branches, birds sometimes unintentionally relieve themselves on you. There is little you can do to avoid the falling droppings. It doesn’t happen often, but you must be mindful of the possibility and keep your mouth closed at all times. As fall approaches, a concern more common and more painful than bird excrement is acorns. Squirrels will sit on branches directly above the hammock and pelt you with acorn shells and caps. This is irritating, and if it continues, you will be forced to abandon the hammock until the squirrel vacates the area.

The final hazards worth mentioning are food related. Reaching for food or beverages while in the hammock can cause your weight to shift suddenly resulting in you being dumped on the ground while simultaneously spilling the food or drinks. This may be injurious to your body or pride. In addition, common sense dictates that you should never swallow anything while lounging in the supine position. This is a choking hazard and removing your body from the hammock to perform the Heimlich maneuver would be difficult for your rescuers.

On days when the temperatures are sweltering you may feel that you won’t be able to partake of your hammock. That doesn’t have to be the case. With a garden hose, sprinkler or mister you can wile away the hours in your hammock in complete comfort. This makes hammocking a joy on even the hottest days. Simply put on your bathing suit, turn on the sprinkler and get into the hammock. Water will coat your skin leaving you glistening and cool as you gently sway from side to side.

Using a sway string and a water mister enhance the overall hammocking experience.

 The Sport

Getting into the hammock, balancing your weight and adjusting the pillow involve a considerable amount of athleticism. You should never flop gracelessly into a hammock. A friend once did this and instantly turned S hooks into question marks which seriously compromised the hammock’s suspension. He hit the ground in the blink of an eye. To properly enter a hammock you should stand with your back to the center, squat like you are about to sit in a chair, grab the edge and then just simply sit down. Very quickly, with one fluid movement, fling your legs toward the center of the hammock while twisting your torso and adjusting your weight to the center. The pillow will flop around as you do this. Don’t worry about its placement until you are completely stable.

This type of hammock is for relaxation purposes only. It is not a sport hammock. Entering and exiting require a modified technique.

Holding items in your hands during the entry process adds a degree of difficulty which increases based on the items you are holding; liquids are more difficult than solids, hot liquids are more difficult than cold and holding items in both hands, like a bowl of popcorn and a tumbler of iced tea, rates the highest degree of difficulty. Beginning hammockers should not attempt the entry technique with anything in their hands until they have demonstrated mastery.

Once in the hammock, you may find that as the sun moves across the sky it begins to shine into your eyes making reading a challenge. Experienced hammockers can change position or sides without exiting the hammock, but it is a risky move for even the most proficient individual. This maneuver involves kneeling in the center of the hammock, gripping the ropes and using the core muscles to balance while the hammock wobbles wildly from side to side. Be prepared! The hammock may flip over during this procedure and you’ll find yourself clinging to its underside, inches from the dirt. At this point, it is time to concede, make sure you have a safe drop zone and let go. You might think it would be easier to get out of the hammock and re-enter facing the other direction. While that is the preferred technique for a beginner, there is no sport in that for those with more advanced skills.

Eventually, the time will come when you will need to go to the bathroom or the sun will set and mosquitoes will begin feasting on your flesh. You’ll have to exit the hammock. Your dismount should be graceful. Do not swing back and forth then launch yourself hoping to land on your feet. Initially, you may land in an upright position, but momentum will cause you to pitch forward and nosedive into terra firma. To perform a proper dismount you’ll need strong quadriceps and good technique. Sit up in the middle of the hammock and swing your feet over the side. Tilt the hammock back until your feet are on the ground and then stand up as if you are getting out of a chair. Do not try to push yourself up from the hammock, especially if it is a rope hammock. Your hand will slide through one of the spaces between the ropes and you’ll become entangled. You may even need assistance untangling yourself because you’ll be laughing so hard that it will be difficult to control muscle movement. Once you have successfully dismounted the hammock feel free to throw your arms up over your head like an Olympic gymnast. I find it adds a touch of panache.

Hammocking may look lazy and inactive to some, but there is an artfulness and athleticism to a happy hammock experience. As in any other sport, when the athlete’s performance seems effortless it is because the athlete has trained diligently. In my day-to-day life I don’t exhibit grace or agility, but when it comes to hammocking, I have an innate gift. If hammocking was an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist. Perhaps I should petition the International Olympic Committee to have it added as a competitive sport. Until then, I’ll just have to keep training.

When leaves fall, hammock season is over.

A Night in a Yurt Won’t Hurt

One of the most alluring parts of travel is the opportunity to experience something new. When we make the effort to go someplace, we want it to be different. We don’t want it to feel like home with better scenery. We try to sample the local color and, when possible, prefer to stay in smaller places that give us a better sense of the area we are visiting.

Despite the fact that we were planning our trip to Alaska more than 6 months in advance, we found that many of these smaller lodging options were completely filled. While researching our options on the Kenai Peninsula, I discovered a resort that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. When I clicked over to the resort’s website I realized that the accommodations are luxury yurts. I know a yurt is a glorified tent, but I was curious about what features turn a regular yurt into a luxury yurt, so I read through the website and more glowing reviews.

That night Oregano asked how the lodging search had been going. I told him that I’d discovered lots of great options, but that availability was a problem. Jokingly, I told him about the luxury yurt resort.

yurts with an amazing view

“Yurt? What’s a yurt? I’ve never even heard that word before,” he said.

“A yurt is a round, sturdier version of a tent,” I answered.

“Cool! Let’s go for it!” he said enthusiastically.

I looked at him like he was an alien. Five minutes ago he didn’t know what a yurt was and now he’s ready to spend the night in one. We aren’t campers. We’re not exactly outdoorsy unless you count sitting in the hammock in the garden. The idea of sleeping in a tent, albeit a sturdy one, didn’t exactly appeal to me.

“Are you serious? You want to spend a night in a yurt?” I asked incredulously.

“Sure! It would be an adventure. What are the details?” he asked.

I regretted mentioning this resort, but it was too late now, so I continued. “It’s on a beautiful remote island. We’ll need to leave our car at the public dock and take a water taxi to get there. The yurt is very spacious and will have a bed and bathroom with a composting toilet. There are solar panels, but reviewers said there wasn’t much electricity. Cell service will be questionable.”

the inside of a luxury yurt – It looks cozy.

“Twenty-four unplugged hours enjoying Alaska’s natural beauty sounds like a fair trade off for electricity,” he said trying to convince me.

“When I was perusing the website I did a quick check of the pricing and it looks like it is $250 for the night.” I hoped the price would give him some pause.

“That’s more than we usually spend for a night, but it sounds great! It’s like getting a hotel and an adventure all in one.” He peeked over my shoulder at the website. “Look! They have kayaks to use during our stay.”

I was a bit alarmed by his enthusiasm.

“I’d really prefer sleeping in something with sturdy walls when there is a possibility of bears sneaking in during the night and eating us,” I said with great concern.

“The website said there aren’t any bears on that island,” he pointed out.

“Ah, yes, I saw that, but did anyone show the website to the bears? I’m pretty sure they go where they want.” His casual attitude about animals that could snack on me as an appetizer before moving on to him as the main course disturbed me.

He still wanted to know more, so I kept going. “We will have a small propane stove, but no fridge. We’ll need to bring all the food we’ll need for our stay and enough ice to keep it cool for the duration. That’s a lot to schlep down a dock with our luggage then haul onto a boat.” I was trying to discourage him.

“So, we’ll eat granola bars during our stay. If we do that, we won’t need any ice,” he offered by way of a solution.  “It will be an adventure. C’mon, let’s do it. We can kayak and just enjoy the peace and quiet. It’s only 24 hours. When are we ever going to have an opportunity like this again?”

“The weather in Alaska is unpredictable. If it rains, we won’t be able to kayak. We’ll be stuck in the yurt all day. There will be no TV, no internet.”

Unfazed by this information, he said, “It’s a good thing we enjoy each other’s company. That could get pretty boring. It’s only 24 hours, how bad could it be?” He was really giving me the hard sell.

I could conjure numerous scenarios of how bad it could be. It could rain the entire time trapping us in the yurt. The owners who ferry us out to the resort could meet with some unfortunate fate, stranding us on a remote Alaskan island without cell service. I could go on and on, but Oregano was so excited about the prospect of spending a night in a yurt. I suspect part of the appeal was that he just enjoyed saying the word yurt.

“Okay,” I acquiesced.

“Okay, what?” he asked.

“Okay. I’ll spend the night in a yurt,” I agreed reluctantly.

“Great! This is going to be a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.

“Let’s hope so,” I muttered under my breath.

“Check the availability on the website,” he said quickly hoping to book this before I could change my mind.

I pulled up the website and saw that they did have availability. Damn!

“They have several yurts available for the date we need. Let me just read through their policies and the logistics of getting there one more time before we commit.”

I carefully read through all the information and then realized I had made an error about the price.

“Hmm… I think I read this wrong. It looks like the price is $250 per person; not per night,” I said rereading the website.

“$250 per person! It’s a yurt!” he exclaimed horrified by this new bit of information.

“Yes, but it’s a luxury yurt and, as you pointed out we’ll have a kayak to use during our stay,” I said.

“$250 per person!” he sputtered. “There’s no electricity!”

“Yes, but it’s about the experience, not the electricity,” I reminded him of his previous argument.

“$500 total and that doesn’t include food!”

“No, it doesn’t include food, but it does include the water taxi ride from town,” I pointed out.

“Not only does it not include food, we have to bring it all with us and the ice to keep it cold,” he said shaking his head.

“No, we’re going on the 24 hour granola bar diet. That was your plan so that we wouldn’t have to carry ice. Don’t you remember?” I asked.

“I remember, but it still seems like a lot of money for one night with no amenities and very few necessities.” He sounded disappointed.

This was great! I had dodged a yurt shaped bullet. I get the credit for agreeing to be adventurous without actually having to be adventurous.

“So now what?” he said dejectedly. Not yet willing to give up on his dream of spending a night in a yurt, he grabbed the laptop to search on other yurt lodging in Alaska. Five minutes later he called out to me, “Hey, I found a cheap yurt we can stay in!”

I stopped what I was doing and looked at him in disbelief. “Think about what you just said,” I replied. “Really, think about the combination of words you just used: ‘cheap’ and ‘yurt’.”

“So?”

“So, those are two words that shouldn’t be together. If the luxury yurt didn’t have electricity or a refrigerator, what things are missing to make a yurt cheap?” I said completely unwilling to find out the answer to that question.

“Good point,” he conceded.

After more searching, I found us an affordable, lovely lakeside cabin with wooden walls, electricity and running water. If wanting those few luxuries makes me a princess, then so be it.

 

Snow Bored

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia may be over, but here in New Jersey, we’ve been reluctantly participating in our own version of the winter Olympics. There were no try-outs, no pre-qualifying events and no snazzy uniforms. If you live here, you’re automatically recruited for our team.

Mother Nature and Old Man Winter are having a custody battle over the Northeast. We’ve had more than double our average snowfall and the Polar Vortex has dipped into our area for extended visits bringing arctic air. The snow that has fallen can’t melt.  It’s like an unpleasant houseguest that just won’t leave.

I tried making a voodoo snowman to ward off any more snow. Ironically, the following morning, he was covered in a few inches of fresh new snow.

I tried making a voodoo snowman to ward off any more snow. Ironically, the following morning, he was covered in a few inches of fresh new snow.

In an effort to suppress the mounting snow rage and to entertain myself while trapped indoors, I’ve considered all the inconveniences the snow has brought and turned them into Olympic events.

Speed Scraping- When snow has piled up on the car, it’s important to scrape all of it off before driving.  Since we’ve had sub-freezing temperatures and wind chills that would make a polar bear put a coat on, it’s essential to scrape the car as fast as possible. Not only is the speed of scraping the car vital, but so too is the timing of the event. Waiting too long means the car will be encased in a thick coating of impenetrable ice. There is no medal for this event, but individuals with advanced skills avoid hypothermia and frostbite.

The Snow Toss – After 57 inches of snowfall this winter, finding a place to put it all has become a dilemma. The frozen mounds on the sides of our driveway and curb are almost over the top of my 59 inch body. As additional snow accumulates, we are forced to participate in this tandem event. One teammate must push the snow to the side of the driveway with the shovel then the other teammate heaves the snow onto the top of the massive piles. When that becomes too difficult, the heavy shovel full of snow must be taken for a walk down the street to find a smaller pile.To cheer each other on while working, we chant our team motto: we put the shove in shovel.The winners of this event get jumbo sized bottles of Advil and gift certificates for massages.

The Slush Jump – On those rare occasions when there was melting, the snow caused enormous puddles of slush. Being a successful jumper requires athleticism, balance and appropriate attire. Without waterproof boots, we would only be able to make it through the first round. There are no points awarded for style or technique, but to be a champion, we’ll need to fearlessly leap over mushy puddles of varying sizes and stick the landing. There is no medal, but the winner of this event gets to walk away with dry pants.

the Olympic version of skeleton – Doesn’t running on ice and belly-flopping onto a sled that will hurtle downhill at 80 mph sound fun?

Skeleton-In the real Olympics, participants in this event get a running start before flopping headfirst onto a sled that hurtles down a track of ice at 80 miles per hour. In our Olympics, we’re more rugged. We walk on patches of ice without the aid of spiked shoes, sleds or the protection of a helmet. If we fall hard enough, we’ll have the opportunity to see our skeletons on the x-rays they take in the emergency room.  The winner of this event leaves the doctor’s office without any broken bones.

The Downhill Mailbox Combined – Our driveway has a bit of a slope and when it’s covered in ice, the mundane task of retrieving the mail becomes a hazardous undertaking. In this multistep event, we carefully slide down the driveway to reach the mailbox. Once we make it to the mailbox without falling,we must carefully extract the mail without dropping any of it into the snow. With each successive storm, the pile of snow dumped in front of our mailbox by the plow has gotten wider adding to the degree of difficulty.  I am now no longer able to participate in this event without the assistance of performance enhancing barbecue tongs which I need to use to extend my reach. The winner of this event manages to collect all the mail and return to the house without winding up inadvertently participating in the Skeleton event described above.

Great care must be taken when walking under these  frozen hazards.

Great care must be taken when walking under these frozen hazards.

Icicle Dancing – This event requires all the agility and elegance of Olympic ice dancing without the music, fancy costumes and judges. With dagger-like ice stalactites dangling from gutters, it is important to have impeccable timing when entering and exiting our home. During the day, we must precisely time our moves to avoid getting a droplet of icy, cold water running down our backs. At night, when the icicles refreeze, it is important to walk without disturbing them lest they fall and impale us.  If we make it into the house without a concussion caused by falling ice, we’re winners.

Pothole Slalom –Anyone driving a car in this part of the country  is forced to participate in this event. Each day the driver must slalom through pothole pocked roadways. The goal is to make it to your destination without dropping into a pothole the size of the Grand Canyon, bending the rims of your tires or cracking your windshield. Slalom skiing in the Olympics allows only one skier to take to the course at a time. Not so with the pothole slalom, the entire field of competition participates at the same time adding to the challenge. Not only do we need to avoid potholes, but we need to avoid hitting fellow motorists when swerving to avoid those asphalt obstacles. In case you think that frequent runs on the course will breed familiarity and give a driver an advantage, there are changes to the course on a daily basis. New craters festoon the course and familiar ones grow exponentially larger. Darkness, sun glare and rain also affect the course making it virtually impossible to accurately judge the depth and width of the gaping holes. There is no prize money or luxury vehicle awarded for this event, but the winner gets to keep her own money and drive off in her own car with four fully inflated tires and unbent rims.

the Olympic version of curling

Curling –During this indoor Olympic event players shove a large granite stone down a track of ice. Teammates use modified mops to sweep in front of the stone speeding its journey to the target at the other end. Just like the real Olympics, our curling event takes place indoors. It involves us sweeping up the bits of salt we track into the house on our boots then curling up on the couch. The winner of this event gets a purring cat on their lap.

I’m hoping that spring will come soon and be the closing ceremony to these endless Winter Olympics. Until then, I’m forced to sit inside my house and be snow bored.

Why should almost 2 feet of snow pack prevent Oregano from enjoying the courtyard.

Why should almost 2 feet of snow pack prevent Oregano from enjoying the courtyard?

Cork. Screwed!

For years, Oregano and I have had a drinking problem. We’ve kept it a secret from most people because it is a bit embarrassing.

The problem is that we rarely drink wine.  It’s not that we don’t like it; we just have no idea which one to drink. Neither one of us can tell the difference between a merlot and a shiraz.  Going into a liquor store to buy wine is like visiting a foreign country without a translator. I read the wine descriptions, but they don’t help. Words like woody and full-bodied make me think of a lumberjack, not wine.

Even if we did know which wine to purchase, we’d still have a problem because we have not mastered the use of a corkscrew. We had the traditional two-pronged kind for years and I never once opened a bottle by myself. More than one of my friends has demonstrated the proper technique, but it was no use.  I blamed my inability on my lack of height, claiming I didn’t have enough leverage to properly pull the cork from the bottle. Oregano is slightly more successful with his cork removal techniques although he has resorted to using pliers on several occasions.

We never did learn how to use this…

One night, after much of our inept fumbling, our traditional corkscrew committed suicide. It could no longer tolerate living such an unfulfilled life sitting virtually unused in a kitchen drawer. It did not go in peace. Before it gave up completely, it exacted revenge by puncturing the meaty part of my thumb.

Needing a new wine bottle opener, we sought guidance from our more experienced friends, the ones who usually wind up opening the bottle for us. They suggested a different type of corkscrew and assured us it would be much easier to operate. We bought it then stashed it in the kitchen drawer where it sat unused for almost a year until the day I wanted to try a new recipe that called for wine.

Oregano volunteered to go to the liquor store, but since they don’t have a brand called “Dry White Wine,” he had to enlist the help of the sales clerk who didn’t even look old enough to drink legally. The next night, I lined up the ingredients to prepare dinner and hesitantly grabbed the bottle of wine. I didn’t have much confidence since I couldn’t remember a time when I opened a bottle of wine that didn’t end in my blood or the wine being spilled.

The first problem I encountered was the foil.  Using an assortment of sharp implements, I worked carefully. Eventually, the foil came loose and I wasn’t bleeding. That was a promising beginning!  As I began unwinding the foil from the bottle, I hoped there would be a screw top waiting for me as a reward for my effort. I looked down and much to my dismay, there sat my nemesis – a cork. Damn!

Feeling cautiously optimistic after my triumph over the foil, I rummaged through the kitchen drawers until I located our easy –to-use cork extraction contraption.  I remembered the tutorials my friends had given me and managed to get the screw into the cork without causing a puncture wound. I thought this was a good sign until I attempted to remove the cork.  I miss the days of real cork. At least I could count on eventually breaking it and having it fall into the bottle to be strained out later. No such luck, the cork in this bottle was made of some type of rubbery material. I twisted. I yanked. I pried. I cursed. I gave up.

The "easy-to-use" corkscrew that we didn't find so easy to use.

The “easy-to-use” corkscrew that we didn’t find so easy to use.

By the time Oregano arrived home, I was frustrated and hungry.

“Can you please open this bottle of wine? I tried, but decided I should stop before I did something that would end with me requiring stitches,” I said handing him the bottle.

“I’ll give it a try, but before I do this, do we really need to use the wine in this recipe?” he asked, not sounding at all confident that he would have any more luck with the cork than I did.

“I’ve never made this dish before, but it seems like it will be fairly bland without the wine,” I said.

Using his analytical mind, he surveyed the bottle and the dreaded instrument he was supposed to use.  Then he sat down like a man with a mission. As I was chopping and sautéing, I could hear grunts coming from behind me. Oregano’s battle with the bottle was not going well.  After 10 minutes of prying and pulling, his hands were aching and sweat dripped off his nose. He had managed to get about a quarter inch of the cork above the rim of the bottle. At this rate, we were going to be having this meal for breakfast the next morning.

He wiped the sweat from his brow and offered a suggestion, “I know the wine is a key ingredient. Why don’t I go to the liquor store and just buy another bottle of wine with a screw top?”

“How are you going to know the bottle has a screw top? You can’t exactly go into the liquor store and ask for a dry, white wine with an easy open bottle. You could come home with another bottle with a cork and then we’ll be no better off than we are now.”

He agreed then sat back down to continue his odious task. After another 10 minutes of shimmying (the cork, not Oregano) I heard the telltale pop.  Victoriously, Oregano held the cork above his head and passed me the bottle.

As he massaged his aching hands he said, “Too bad that’s cooking wine. We could both use a drink after all that.”

**Oregano and I didn’t think to look for this helpful (and amusing) video from the professionals at Wine Spectator BEFORE we tried to use our corkscrew.**

Click this link to enjoy the video.

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