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Newt on the Lam

My father grew up on a farm in Israel and it would seem that when he moved to suburban New Jersey, he tried to recreate that experience.  Growing up we didn’t just have pets, we had a menagerie. Our household critters represented nearly every link in the food chain: fish, newts, parakeets, a parrot, 2 cats and 2 big dogs. Every animal was a natural enemy of the other. If left to their own devices, I’m sure there would have been problems, but regular feedings, attention and love were enough to maintain the delicate balance required to avoid a massacre.

Every once in a while we had a close call. On one memorable occasion, a parakeet flew the coop when we were cleaning his cage. Thrilled with his newfound freedom, he took off flying through the house. The cats chased the bird; the dogs chased the cats; two hysterical children chased the dogs; while the zookeeper, my mother, frantically followed behind hoping to prevent a tragedy. As birds are known to do, the parakeet eventually flew into the kitchen window, knocked himself unconscious and hit the floor with a thud. Before any of the humans could intervene, the nearest cat picked him up and ran under a bed. With some coaxing, the cat released the bird which came flying out from under the bed. My mom recaptured the parakeet from a curtain rod and put him back in his cage. Order was once again restored.

After that incident, I was very aware of the fragile nature of the ecosystem we had created in our home. Sometimes it was necessary to segregate the animals while we were playing with them. This was always the case when I wanted to play with my newts: Peanut and Dottie. Peanut was black with red marks on his or her belly. (I never did know the gender of my newts.) Dottie was green with three little red dots in a line on her back. Newts are not the cuddliest creatures in the animal kingdom, but they are amusing to play with. I would borrow my mom’s biggest Pyrex bowl, fill it with water then set it down on the floor. After shooing the cats and dogs from the room, I would remove Peanut and Dottie from their tank and put them in the bowl of water where they would swim and frolic. As I watched television, I would lift each of them out of the bowl and let them crawl around on my hands and legs. When I thought they might be drying out, I’d dunk them back in the bowl and let them swim around some more.

black newt photo

I don’t actually have a photo of Peanut, but this is what he looked like. Who wouldn’t love that face?

Peanut and Dottie lived luxuriously by salamander standards. They had a large tank with all the creature comforts a newt could want. I made a styrofoam raft for them to laze around on when they weren’t busy swimming in the water or crawling around on the rocks. They had regular meals and their tank was always clean. It was an ideal life for a newt, but Peanut had an adventurous spirit. One day when I woke up, Dottie was relaxing on the raft, but Peanut was missing. I got very upset and called for my parents. A search party was organized and we began looking for Peanut. In a two story house with wall to wall carpet, it was like looking for a needle in a shag covered haystack. Peanut couldn’t survive too long without being back in the water. Add to that the other animals that would have been happy to “play” with him and his chances of survival were grim.  After a few hours, we abandoned our search and held a memorial service for my beloved newt. I tried not to think about how Peanut might have died. It was just too upsetting.

dottie

Dottie was the less adventurous of my 2 newts. 

Several months later I was with a friend in our playroom downstairs. We were setting up a farm. I was making a corral while my friend sorted through a bucket of plastic animals separating farm animals from zoo animals. She pulled one out of the container and said, “This one is really cool! It looks like an alligator.”

I looked up from the work of setting up the farm and saw my friend holding what indeed did look like a small, black alligator. My eyes opened really wide and I grabbed the animal from her hands. I flipped it over onto its back and saw red spots on its belly. “That’s Peanut!” I shouted.

Clutching the dessicated, shriveled salamander, I ran to my parents to show them. “Look! We found Peanut!” I said thrusting my hand towards them. They took Peanut from me and did a cursory autopsy looking for bite marks or other obvious signs of trauma. There were none.

“Where did you find him?” they asked completely shocked and just a bit disgusted.

“He was in the toy box in a bucket of plastic animals. Maybe he thought those were his friends,” I said by way of an explanation.

“How on Earth did he evade the dogs and cats, make it down the stairs then scale the side of your toy box?” they wondered.

“If we put him back in the water, will that bring him back to life?” I asked hopefully, but I already knew the answer.

We solemnly walked to the bathroom to put Peanut back in the water and give him the proper burial at sea that he deserved.

Things that Go Sweat in the Night

If jumping to conclusions qualified as aerobic exercise, I’d have the body of a supermodel. My personal blend of creativity and anxiety allows my mind to conjure up a myriad of possible outcomes for any given situation. While the creativity comes in handy for problem solving, the anxiety morphs those problems into some pretty far-fetched worst case scenarios. Despite what appears to be a pessimistic tendency to imagine catastrophes, I prefer to think of myself as an over-prepared optimist. I hope for the best, but prepare for calamity. If I panic ahead of time by considering so many possible outcomes, I’m happily surprised when things work out. If one of the less desirable outcomes presents itself, my anxiety has already been spent and I can focus on dealing with the dilemma. While this may not be the healthiest mental game plan, it has worked for me so far.

Oregano has seen this side of me and accepts it. He is usually even amused by it. When we were newlyweds and our first cat, Scooter, developed a large bump on his tail, I was concerned. On the way to the vet’s office, my eyes welled up and I started sniffling. Since I’m not normally a crier, Oregano looked over at me with great concern. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m worried that Scooter has tail cancer and we’re going to have to put him to sleep.” I whispered in a barely audible voice.

Oregano looked at me like I was insane. “Tail cancer?!  Is that even a thing? Why on Earth would you think that he has tail cancer?”

“I don’t know if tail cancer is a thing, but why else would he have a big lump on his tail?” I asked trying to make my absurd concern seem rational. In all fairness to my anxiety, he did ask what was bothering me. I was just telling him. He hadn’t asked me to evaluate the plausibility of my concern.

“We don’t know why he has a lump on his tail which is why we’re going to the vet. Besides, if it is tail cancer, he can always live without his tail. We won’t have to put him to sleep tonight,” he said attempting to calm my fear.

As it turned out, it wasn’t tail cancer. It was a big, old goose egg he got from running around the house sliding into the walls while chasing his toys. It’s been more than 20 years and we still don’t know if tail cancer is even a thing, but since then, Oregano has learned to find the humor in my creative anxiety.

A few weeks ago, I started waking up at 3 a.m. drenched in sweat and unable to cool myself off. This is a rarity for me. I’m always cold. During the winter, I sleep on a heated mattress pad in long pajamas and socks. Oregano is always hot, not in the smoldering sexy way, more like the human space heater way. The first night I woke up sweating, I looked over expecting to find him splayed out on top of the blanket. When I saw him sleeping soundly without any sweat beading on his forehead, I knew it was just me. Eventually I cooled off and fell back to sleep convinced it was just an isolated incident.

The morning after my fifth consecutive night of nocturnal perspiration, I woke up and announced to Oregano that I had gone into menopause, He looked at me with the same mixture of concern, disbelief and amusement he always has when my mental train goes off the rails.

“Really? Menopause? Just like that? That seems unusual. I thought it was more of a gradual thing,” he said.

“Well, I am a woman of a certain age. I didn’t think it was supposed to happen so suddenly, but I’ve never done this before, so who knows?” I replied seeming quite logical. “I guess this means the end of my youth,” I announced with dramatic flourish.

Stifling a laugh, Oregano asked, “What makes you think you’ve instantly entered menopause overnight?”

“It wasn’t overnight,” I replied defensively.  “It started on Saturday. It’s been five nights now.”

“What’s been five nights now?” he asked.

Trying to explain myself I said, “I’ve woken up at 3 a.m. sweating and unable to cool off. Look! I even had to take off my socks.” I lifted my bare feet in the air and wiggled them. “Night sweats are a symptom of menopause.”

“Oh, well, if you had to take your socks off because you were so hot, that must be menopause,” he kissed my head, chuckled and got out of bed.

As I was getting ready for work, Oregano called up from the family room. “When did you say your sudden onset menopause began?”

I yelled downstairs, “Saturday night.”

“You said it happened around 3 a.m.. Was it the same time every night?” he asked like a detective trying to solve a murder.

“It was,” I replied.

“Didn’t you think it was unusual that it happened at the same time every night?” he bellowed from the bottom of the stairs.

“No,” I said irritated by the inquisition.

“Our new furnace was installed this past Saturday. Do you think that might have something to do with your night sweats?” He was not letting this go.

“I doubt it. If it was the furnace, you would have woken up sweating, too.” I countered making what I thought was an excellent point.

“Maybe not,” he responded. “You sleep in the little heat cocoon you’ve created for yourself.”

Finally, he was quiet and I went about my morning routine.

“You can relax. It’s not menopause,” Oregano yelled up the staircase. “I just checked the programmable thermostat. It must have gotten messed up when they installed the new furnace. The heat has been coming on at 2:45 a.m. and it is set for 74 degrees.  The upstairs has been warmer than usual in the middle of the night and since you sleep like a baked potato wrapped in tinfoil, you woke up sweating, but I didn’t.”

Oregano reprogrammed the thermostat to our regular settings. That night I slept sweatless through the whole night. When we woke up, Oregano asked, “How was your menopause last night? Any better?”

Orange is the New Cat

Orange is the New Cat

Going into the pet store on a Saturday is always a risky endeavor. Rescue groups and their charges crowd the area just inside the entrance. There is no way to get to the food and supplies in the back of the store without walking past scores of adorable cats with hard luck stories and sad faces. Other than steering clear of pet stores on weekends, the only other strategy I have at my disposal is to walk quickly and avert my eyes. Sure, I’ve bumped into a few people and displays, but I’ve managed to avoid the woeful stares of the homeless pets.  As long as I don’t stop to pet anything, I can get in and out of the store without coming home with a furry family member or a guilt trip.

Oregano and I needed some pet supplies. Since it was late Saturday afternoon, the rescue groups were gone and we were able to safely maneuver through the store without having our heartstrings tugged. I grabbed cans of cat food and Oregano hoisted the 42 pound bag of litter into the cart.

“Is there anything else we need for the boys?” I asked surveying all the cat accoutrements in the aisle.

“Nope; just litter and cans of wet food. We’ve got everything else already,” he replied as he started navigating the cart to the cashier.

Our feet were not yet across the threshold of our home when Oregano exclaimed, “Crap! I forgot we needed dry food, too.”

After a brief discussion on the merits of remembering things like that prior to leaving the pet store and a calculation of how many days’ worth of dry food we had left, we decided we’d have to go back to the store the next day.

“Maybe we can get there early to avoid the rescue groups,” I suggested.

“You’ve made it through the pet store on weekends before. You can do it again,” he reminded me.

He was right. I’d been in the pet store lots of times on the weekends and I’d never come home with a cat. Maybe I had more willpower and common sense than I was giving myself credit for.

The next day we walked into a different pet store. There, in the center aisle, unavoidably placed, was a long row of crates filled with cats. A sad faced orange tabby caught my eye. I wandered over to him, scratched his forehead and read the bio taped to his crate. He was just a year old. It said he was very shy and needed a home with patient parents.

Keebler close up

Within a few minutes, a volunteer from the rescue group wandered over with a huge smile on her face. “Would you like me to open the cage so you can pet Keebler? His fur is very soft,” she said.

“Oh, no. That’s OK,” I said. “I was just reading his bio. I’m not looking to adopt a cat. We already have two cats at home. I noticed that it says he’s shy. Three years ago, we adopted one that was very shy. We named him Linus because he used to hide under blankets all the time.”

“Linus is a cute name. Is he still really shy?” she asked.

“Not anymore. He’s a total scam artist. He was just looking for the right suckers to lift up his blanket in the shelter. He looked sad and terrified, but after a few months with us, he became a lap cat who constantly craves our attention.”

“You sound like just the kind of parents Keebler needs,” she said.

Oregano saw me talking to the volunteer and walked over. “He’s another fraidy cat like Linus,” I said.

The volunteer opened the door to the crate. Without even realizing what I was doing, I reached in and began scratching Keebler’s back. He started to purr and arched his back into the air giving us the “elevator butt” salute.

The volunteer looked surprised. “He has never had that reaction with anyone else during these adoption days. He usually just cowers in his crate.”

“I’m sure you say that to all the prospective parents.”

She smiled, “I’m serious. He’s never reacted like this to anyone else.” She glanced at the other volunteer. “We believe the cats choose their parents.”

“I agree with you about that, but I’ve already been chosen twice. I’m not currently on the market,” I replied while still petting Keebler’s arched back.

Oregano chimed in, “He is an orange tabby. You’ve always wanted an orange tabby.” He wasn’t helping the situation.

“Really?!” said the volunteer sensing that she had two suckers on the hook.

“Today is Mother’s Day. He needs a mom.” She was really working this sales pitch.

“Wow! What do you do when you aren’t volunteering with the rescue group, sell used cars?” I asked.

She laughed, “No. I’ve made it my mission to find him a home. He’s been at the shelter for 8 months. Because he isn’t outgoing, he gets overlooked. He needs just the right home with patient parents who will give him time to come out of his shell. You two sound like you’d be the perfect family for him.”

“He’s cute, but we already have two cats. We don’t want to upset them by bringing in another cat,” I said, shutting the door to Keebler’s crate. “I have a rule that the cats shouldn’t outnumber the humans in a home. If they had thumbs and our credit cards, they’d stage a coup and lock us out of the house.”

Oregano had started petting Keebler through the crate. I saw the look on his face. The volunteer saw the look on his face. Then he spoke, “There’s really no reason why we couldn’t have three though. We have enough room. We helped Linus come out of his shell. We know what to do for Keebler.”

I glanced to my right, I think I saw the volunteer jumping up and down, but maybe that was my imagination.

I glared at Oregano. “Just because we helped Linus, doesn’t mean the same things will work for Keebler. We are not cat whisperers. We can talk about this while we get the dry food you forgot about yesterday.”

We thanked the volunteer, said goodbye to Keebler and walked away.

“We could totally do this,” said Oregano trying to convince me.

“No we can’t!” I said emphatically.“I’ve never had three cats. I don’t even know what the dynamic would be like. Who knows if they’ll even all get along? It’s always risky introducing a new cat,”

My resolve was weakening. I could feel logic, common sense and reasoning evaporate. Why did I stop and pet him? I know the rules. I looked at Oregano, “Let me text my friends who have three cats and see what they say about the logistics and dynamics when they brought their third cat home.”

My friends replied quickly. After reading their responses, I realized these were the wrong people to ask for guidance. When I looked up from my phone, Oregano was gone. I found him in the next aisle looking at litter boxes.

“What are you doing? We already have two perfectly good litter boxes.” I asked.

“We do, but we’re going to have three cats. We’ll need one more while Keebler gets adjusted to his new home,” he said sheepishly.

I stared at him in disbelief.

“What advice did your friends have?” he asked.

“They were not the least bit helpful. They wanted me to text them a picture and asked when they could come over to meet him,” I replied.

That did it. Oregano picked up the new litter box and started walking back to Keebler’s cage. “We haven’t made a decision yet. Where are you going?” I called after him.

“Yes, we have,” he responded over his shoulder as he kept walking. “I’ve wanted a third cat for years, but you’ve always said no. This is the first time you are even considering it, so I’m jumping on this opportunity before you change your mind.”

When we reached Keebler’s cage the volunteer we had spoken to earlier was jumping up and down and clapping. “I was really hoping you’d come back,” she practically squealed.

“We’re seriously thinking about it. Can I pet him again?” I asked.

She opened his crate and once again Keebler let me pet him and arched his back. I glanced across the top of the crate and saw the look on Oregano’s face.

“OK.” I conceded quietly. “It looks like he’s adopting us.”

At this point, both volunteers were ecstatic. They scurried around gathering applications, medical records and other papers. I sat down to fill out the application fully expecting that they would need to contact our vet and references. I was asking what day during the week we’d be able to come back and pick him up. The volunteers stopped moving around and looked at me. “You can take him home with you today,” they practically said in unison.

“Today?! We don’t have a carrier with us and he’s too big to fit in my purse. We can’t take him home today! We need to prepare the room for him.” I was starting to panic. I am not an impulsive shopper and definitely not when it comes to something that is a 15 year commitment.

“You don’t take credit cards. I don’t think we have enough cash for the adoption fee.” I was grabbing at straws.

Oregano stood there amused by my panicking as he reached into his pocket. “Actually, I happen to have enough cash with me, so that’s not an issue,” he said gleefully.

Holy crap! Were we really going to leave this pet store with a new family member? How did this happen? My heart was racing and I felt like I was going to throw up.

“You can borrow the carrier we brought him in today. Just bring it back to us. We’re here every weekend,” offered the volunteer.

“Oh, I see how you people operate,” I said. “Next week I bring back the empty carrier, fall in love with another furry orphan and wind up with a fourth cat. It’s a vicious circle.”

Oregano and the volunteers were laughing at me. “If you’re that worried about your newly developed lack of self-control, I’ll bring the carrier back next weekend without you.”

I pulled him aside, “Are we really doing this? We’re going home with a new cat?! Don’t you think we need to go home and beat this idea to death, overanalyze it for a few months, you know, like we usually do?”

“Yes. We’re really doing this.” He kissed my cheek and walked off to pay for the cat food and the new litter box.

When he returned we posed for a commemorative photo for the rescue group’s website then walked out to the car carrying Keebler in his borrowed traveling crate. On the drive home I glanced in the mirror and saw him curled up looking terrified. I’m pretty sure I looked terrified, too.

playing with my big brother

Linus immediately recognized a fellow fraidy cat and  welcomed his new, nervous brother.

A few days later, we took Keebler to the vet for a wellness exam. When our vet walked into the exam room and saw a cat that looked nothing like our other cats, she laughed, “What did you do?”

“Well, we went into the pet store to buy cat food and came home with a cat,” I explained.

She smiled, “That happens a lot more than you’d think.”

I looked over at Oregano and said, “Just to be on the safe side, we’d better order our cat food online from now on.”

Keebler seems happy and relaxed in his new home.

Keebler seems happy and relaxed in his new home.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Apple pie and baseball are American traditions. I’d rather have a brownie than a slice of apple pie and I hate baseball. If that makes me un-American, so be it. Baseball is tedious and about as entertaining as watching the grass in the outfield grow.  I’ve been told it is more exciting when you’re at a game, but people at the games drink a lot of beer. I don’t trust them to give me accurate information.

All that standing around and just a few minutes of actual excitement.

All that standing around and just a few minutes of actual excitement.

Strike 1

When Oregano and I were dating for a few weeks, he called me unexpectedly on a Friday afternoon.

“My dad just got tickets to tonight’s Yankees game. Can you get to my house by 5:00?” he asked.

“Um,” I stalled. I wanted to spend time with Oregano, but sitting through an entire baseball game would be a mind-numbing way to spend the evening no matter who I was with. Before I said no to his offer, I had an idea. “Would it be okay if I brought a book to the game?” I asked tentatively.

“A book?! Why would you bring a book to a professional baseball game?” He was perplexed by my question.

“I think baseball is boring. You don’t know me that well yet, but I tend to get a bit snarky when I’m bored. I could probably hold it together for about 3 innings, but after that all bets are off.  If I have a book to read, I’ll be able to keep myself amused making me a much more pleasant companion,”  I admitted, wondering how he’d react.  It was way too early in the relationship to let my smart-ass show.

“The seats are on the third baseline behind the dugout. You probably shouldn’t sit there reading,” he explained.

At the risk of squelching our budding romance I said, “Thanks for asking me. Those are great seats. You should really bring someone who appreciates that fact and who will enjoy the game.”

Oregano agreed and took a friend. Thankfully, my disdain for baseball wasn’t a deal breaker for our relationship.

Strike 2

Several years later we encountered another baseball related conundrum. Our friend was having a birthday party at a minor league baseball game. I wanted to be there to celebrate with him, but the thought of sitting through a game was daunting.

“It will be fun. Some of our friends will be in the stands with us. We’ll be in a separate section so you can move around and talk to everyone,” Oregano said trying to convince me as we left the house.

When we arrived at the game, we ate and mingled with our friends while the players went about their business on the field. There was a lull in our conversation so I glanced at the score board. It was already the 7th inning. I looked at my watch.

“Hey, you were right. This isn’t so bad! It’s been about a half hour and we’re already in the 7th inning,” I said enthusiastically to Oregano.

“I don’t know how to break this to you, but that is the 7th inning of the first game. They weren’t able to finish last night’s game. They had to stop in the 5th inning. They’re finishing that game before they start the one scheduled for this afternoon. It’s kind of a double header.”

I became apoplectic. “What are you saying?” I was trying to process this new information. “Do you mean to tell me that there are two more innings in this game PLUS another 9 innings?” I sputtered.

Once the initial shock subsided, I turned to Oregano, “OK. Here’s the deal. I agreed to attend a baseball game. That’s a total of 9 consecutive innings.”

“Unless it goes into extra innings,” he interrupted.

I gave him the look and continued. “I don’t care how you divvy those innings up, but after 9, I’m leaving. I’ll come back and get you if you want to stay, but I can’t keep the snarky beast contained for 16 innings.”

Oregano agreed to my conditions. As it turned out, he wasn’t thrilled with staying at a minor league game for that long either.

Strike 3

A few more years passed before baseball became a topic of conversation again. This time we were on vacation in Colorado Springs. Oregano mentioned that the Mets were playing the Rockies in Denver. I know the Mets are his favorite team. Maybe it was the lack of oxygen in the thin air clouding my judgment, but I heard myself say, “Denver isn’t that far away. Go online and see if there are any tickets left for tonight’s game.”

Oregano stared at me in disbelief. “Your voice sounds like my wife’s, but those are never words I would have expected to hear coming out of her mouth. Do you realize what you just said?”

“Yes. I know what I said. If I were you, I’d jump on this opportunity. Who knows how long it will be until I make this offer again?”

Oregano quickly purchased 2 tickets to the game. When we got in the car to drive to Denver we noticed that the thermometer read 98 degrees. I have a heat activated bitch switch and I volunteered to sit in this kind of heat to watch a baseball game; clearly I underestimated the effect the high altitude had on my reasoning skills.

By the time we walked from the car to the stadium, we were both drenched in sweat. Oregano looked at my pink cheeks and glistening brow and offered these comforting words, “I’m sure it will cool off once the sun goes down.”

We arrived at our seats in left field. Holy crap! It was hot! What little breeze we’d had walking to our seats disappeared once we crammed ourselves in among the other sweaty spectators. I leaned back in my seat with a vat of lemonade. I had just gotten as comfortable as I was going to get when I heard a loud cracking sound. Everyone around me jumped up to try to catch the home run ball whizzing in our direction.  I assumed the crash position hoping I wouldn’t be hit by the ball or the people clambering to try to catch the ball.

Some lucky fan plucked the ball from the air and the crowd began to sit down. Oregano turned to talk to me and noticed that I was all hunched over. “What are you doing down there?” he asked as he settled back into his seat.

“Just staying safe,” I answered casually with my voice muffled by the arms covering my head.

“You do realize that it’s customary and fun to try to catch a home run ball,” he chuckled.

“I’ve heard that, but I’m fine down here protecting my head from the hard, high-speed projectile hurtling our way,” I replied.

When we exhausted our supply of lemonade and the sun dipped below the horizon cooling things off to a chilly 95 degrees, Oregano volunteered to go get us more liquid so we didn’t instantly burst into flames.

While he was gone, the game continued. The pitcher pitched. He scratched his crotch. He pitched again. He spit. He scratched his crotch. As sweat rolled down my spine and pooled in my underwear, I couldn’t imagine why people paid money to sit in this heat to watch this. Just then I heard the crack of the ball on the bat. Players started running and the crowd was cheering.

Oregano returned, his arms laden with liquids. “What happened? What did I miss?” he asked excitedly.

“Someone hit the ball. Someone caught the ball. Someone threw the ball and now someone is out.” I was proud that I was able to relay such a thorough retelling of the events that had transpired.

The man seated in front of us started laughing and turned around. He looked at Oregano and said, “It was a 6 to 3 play. Grounder to short stop and he threw the guy out at first.” Then he turned to me and smiled, “Not a fan of the game, huh?”

“Is it that obvious?” I asked. “In my defense, I accurately recounted the events. I was just missing some inconsequential details.”

We sweated through the rest of the game. I couldn’t tell you who won or what the score was, but the evening wasn’t a total waste of time. With that much sweating I was sure I had lost a few pounds. When we walked out of the stadium at 11pm, the temperature on the sign read 90 degrees. “See, I told you it would cool off once the sun went down,” Oregano said wringing the sweat out of his t-shirt.

“That was a memorable outing. Be sure you remember it because I am NOT doing that again,” I said cheerfully.

Oregano enjoying the one and only time I'll ever be at a major league baseball game.

Oregano enjoying the one and only time I’ll ever be at a major league baseball game.

 

Those experiences have done nothing to change my feelings towards baseball. If anything, they have solidified my opinion. Every October when television is inundated with playoff and World Series games, I am irritated that shows I want to watch have been preempted.

During this year’s playoffs, Oregano made an announcement. “I have a surprise for you. I know how much you dislike baseball, but they have found a way to make it even more torturous for you.”

“Really? How could they make it worse?” I was curious.

“There is something called sabermetrics. It’s a detailed mathematical and statistical analysis of baseball records. They are showing tonight’s game with all kinds of statistics on the screen while the game plays in the background. They’ve managed to combine your two least favorite things: baseball AND math,” he chuckled.

“I didn’t think it was possible to make baseball more boring, but they’ve managed to do it. That’s impressive!” I said walking out of the room as he turned on the game.

 

 

 

**And now a word from our sponsor**

My story “Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth” is in Scary Mommy’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays. I’m thrilled to be included in a book with so many talented writers and to be contributing to the Scary Mommy Thanksgiving Project. You can learn more about the project, order the e-book or donate to this worthy cause by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

All the Colors of the Rainbow… and Then Some

Fall has arrived. That means Mother Nature has one last blast of color in store for us before the winter whitewash begins. The same can be said for our clothing. Spring, summer and fall clothing are as colorful as the world around us, but winter clothing tends to be drab. As I’ve thumbed through catalogs filled with fall and winter clothing, I noticed that some of the descriptions of the colors of those clothes can be helpful and some are utterly useless. Sure, I can see the color on the page of the catalog or on the website, but I want to know if the red is more like a cherry or a cranberry. Is the purple more like a plum or an eggplant? That’s when I look to the name of the color to help me narrow down the exact hue.

Anyone familiar with buying paint or cosmetics knows that there are some wacky names for colors. Descriptions of clothing used to be more straightforward. Over the past year, I’ve taken note of some of the unusual color names I’ve come across for clothing.

The colors of a rainbow can be so limiting.

The colors of a rainbow can be so limiting.

The Culinary Collection

The grocery store is clearly an inspiration for the people selecting names for many colors. There is a smorgasbord of food names used to describe the color of clothing. Of all the color names I came across, these seemed to be the most helpful in trying to determine an exact shade of a color. Most of the names in this collection fall into one of these 5 sub-categories: fruits and vegetables, condiments, grains, ice cream and beverages. You can wake up in the morning and dress yourself in oatmeal, raisin and coffee. Not getting enough vegetables in your diet; wear pumpkin, beet and okra. You can don a shiraz shirt and head to happy hour. Have a craving for something sweet? No problem. Just wear pistachio cream or butterscotch.

The Natural Collection

These colors inspired by the world around us are descriptive, but ambiguous. Fresh air and sea breeze are seemingly similar in concept, yet vastly different in color. Other than brown smog, air doesn’t really have a color. If you feel like you need a vacation, dress yourself with a destination in mind. If you’ve planned your wardrobe well, there’s no need to ever leave your closet. You can spend a day at the beach by wearing sand, palm and Caribbean colored clothing. If you prefer a walk in a garden, dress yourself in hydrangea, rose and bark. (I’m pretty sure they meant tree – not dog.)

The Insult Collection

Feeling blue? Maybe it’s the color you’re wearing that is affecting your mood. The names of these colors don’t do much to improve the wearer’s self-esteem.

Lush – Clothing items with this name were wine colored, not the lush green of a jungle. This makes me believe that the marketers were hoping to appeal to heavy drinkers. Go ahead; spill your red wine on this shirt. It will blend right in.

Drab – Hopefully this appeals to a person who prefers a subdued color palette, not a description of their overall personality.

Traffic cone – When I’m stuck in traffic, I have plenty of time to contemplate how lovely I would look wearing something the same shade of neon orange as the cones obstructing my lane.

Elephant –Who wouldn’t feel like a million bucks when they’re  wearing clothing that reminds them of a huge, wrinkled creature? Elephants are intelligent and graceful for their size, but they can pull off the gray wrinkles much better than humans can.

The Logophile Collection

These color names are helpful descriptors, if you can decipher them. This collection appeals to those with a sense of fashion and a big vocabulary. Colors like cerulean, vermillion, ochre and jonquil all fall into this category. The most challenging color I came across was vicuña. I had no idea what that was.  Thanks to Google, I now know that a vicuña is a South American animal similar to a llama. I guess if you’re willing to wear elephant, why not wear vicuña?

The WTF Collection

Clearly, the marketing people who selected these color names were absolutely out of ideas or high on something. These words do nothing to suggest a particular color.

Flag –This isn’t helpful. Which country’s flag are they referring to? This leaves too much room for interpretation.

Horizon – What time of day should I look at the horizon to get an idea of the color of the clothing?

Heritage – I don’t even know where to begin with how useless this word is as a description for a color.

Pebble – Why stop with pebble? Why not gravel, dust, dirt, grout?  The possibilities for this generic color are endless.

Nomad – Tan is such a bland color. Calling it nomad is so much more exotic.

Midnight affair – This shade of teal must be the official color of adulterers.

Plum kitten – I’ve had cats in my life since I was 3 years old. Never once have I seen a plum kitten. Purple is my favorite color. Believe me, if cats came in that color, I’d have gotten one.

 

Not getting a clear description of the clothing I’d like to buy has me seeing red. Well, maybe it’s not red, maybe it’s cranberry or ketchup or summer sunset.

 

What strange color names have you come across?

 

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.

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