We’ve lived in this house, built in 1876, for 20 years. When we moved in, we were astounded by the number of lady bugs occupying the bedrooms. Well, we thought they were lady bugs. Turns out, they were not. They are a cousin known as Japanese lady beetles.

I didn’t mind since I realized WE were the intruders since the home had been vacant for five years prior to our possession.

That is, I didn’t mind until one crawled down the straw of my water bottle and I almost ingested it. Almost because, Boy! Those things are terrible tasting.

They don’t return every year as winter approaches, but a lot of them.

The next stranger came a few years later when I opened the door to the basement and starred at an opossum staring back at me from the landing. It hissed. I slammed the door. I have no idea how it got in (the foundation of the house is stone with gapes) but it must have found its way out. That was a one time observation.

Mice have been a problem some winters. We are a no kill household (except for flies, mosquitos and, in my case, earwigs) so we would catch them and take them close to the river to let them find a new home. We did have one for close to two years we dubbed “Elvis” because he left the… room (not the building) as I pointed him out to Husband. Last winter we found one baby that was quickly caught.

Two summers ago, I ducked as a bat flew around the living and dining rooms while waiting for Husband to get home from work and capture it. I knew he could do it since he had for a neighbor on the west side. He evicted the bat. I went up to bed and found a baby in the bedroom. For the second time that evening, I ducked. Husband caught.

The neighbor on the east side doesn’t like snakes. We’ve told him will come and get them if he finds any. Husband has rescued a few. Brownie has also left us carcasses hanging from the chain link fence separating our properties.

This week, I was proud of myself when Son came into the bedroom where I hole up once we get to air conditioning season since we only have window units. With a grin, he announced that he found a garter snake in the silverware drawer. He didn’t catch it. I slithered under the refrigerator where he couldn’t see it.

I have to admit given the choice among all the critters who have tested our hospitality, the garter snake would probably be the least objectionable to me. I guess I’d be a snake charmer.

 

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So,

I have been a member of a book discussion at my local library for a number of years. We meet on the third Tuesday of the month. The discussion meeting time is 7 o’clock. I get off work at 7 o’clock. I just move out of the work library a little faster to get to the local library across town in order to miss as little discussion as possible.
I started this month’s selection, Where’d you go, Bernadette, on Saturday. Husband was working. Son was working. It should have bee a good day to make a decent dent in the number of pages (about 325). I knew it was supposed to be funny and figured parsing it over the four days would keep the book fresh in my mind for discussion.
Well, Saturday, something interrupted reading time, but I still got a little more than 50 pages read.
Sunday, another “emergency” but I still got up to about 125 pages. Almost halfway.
Errands took a chunk out of Monday but I still got up to almost page 200. Fortunately, the book is that enticing to me and I am that invested in it.
Today, Tuesday, I had a doctor’s appointment and lunch with a friend afterwards. Still I got up to page 235.
I had 45 minutes between getting home and going to work. Got to page 260.
I went to work thinking, “Maybe I’ll just read Bernadette at work.” But I couldn’t – I wouldn’t let myself and I did actual library work. I got off at 7 p.m., the same time the Book Discussion is supposed to start with still having 60 pages to read.
“I still don’t know where the book’s going, how it’s going to end. I hope there isn’t a major spoiler that comes out during the discussion.”
I drove  directly to the library where at first I thought, “Wow, lots of people here.” then I noticed half of the parking lot had been resurfaced so that helped the illusion of lots of cars.
I walked into the library, looking to my right to see who’s in the community room and whether they’ve started the discussion but the door was closed and I could not see any light coming from under the door. It was then I refigured.
Tomorrow is my sister’s birthday. The fifteenth. “Wait! That’s the earliest date the third Tuesday book discussion could be – the fifteenth. I’m a week early!”
So instead of going to a discussion having not finished the book, I’ll be able to finish the book tonight.
I love those kind of surprises.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find out where Bernadette went.

A friend called this afternoon to ask me if I would drive her to the emergency room. I told her that I would be right there. I pulled into her drive, she got into the car and looked at me and said, “Did you bring something to read?”

I looked back at her and said, “Who do you think you’re asking?”
Then she laughed and said, “Of course you would.”
The book I’m reading is for my book discussion on Tuesday night. To her, I didn’t seem to be very far along (about 50 pages). I told her that I had read that last night before I went to sleep.
She was taken into the doctoring section while I found a quiet spot (without blaring TV) and read until I heard my name called. My friend wanted me in the room with her. She asked how much I had gotten read. I had better than doubled my count.
For the next 4-1/2 hours, my friend talked almost nonstop. I learned much about her life – stories about her late husband, her sister, our church, and people in the community I might have known. The only breaks were when she went to the restroom and when she had an x-ray taken.
It was decided she would spend the night in the hospital. Before she was taken up to her room for the night, she asked again, “How far are you now, Linda?”
I laughed and said “You’ve talked all afternoon! I haven’t been able to read much since I came back here!”
She laughed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a tough decision to make – read my book or watch the Tony’s. (Thank goodness for commercials.)

The university where I work has exchange students. Many of them are from China.

Since I started working in the school’s library, I’ve tried to make anyone walking into the library welcomed. I greet everyone who walks into the building, even those with head phones who don’t always hear me.

I prefer to call people by their given name. I was taken aback the first time I asked one of the Chinese students her name and she replied, “My American name is Peggy.” I didn’t want an “American” name. I wanted her name. I wanted her to feel welcome and didn’t think calling her a name she had newly learned was the way to do it.

Last Monday was the Chinese New Year – the year of the monkey. I decided there was another way to make the Chinese students feel welcome. Somewhere, in the back of my brain, were the words to wish them “Happy New Year!”

What were they? What were they? Ah, ha! Gung hey fah choy.

Okay, okay. how many years of dust had I just removed. I was ready.

A Chinese female came into the library. I said, “Hello,” followed quickly by “Gong hey fat choy.”

She looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language, which of course I was, but it was foreign to her, too.

In English, I tried to explain what I was attempting to wish her a Happy New Year. Our lack of a common tongue plus the unconventional circumstances proved unsolvable. (If we had been talking about school topics, I believe we would have communicated well enough to understand each other.)

She went into the wing to study. I turned to my computer. I asked Google for the Chinese words for “Happy New Year.”

Two options were presented. “Gong xi fa cai’ was Mandarin but “Gong hey fat choy” is Cantonese. Next to the English pronunciation were the Chinese characters to write. I printed the page and went to see the student whom I had puzzled.

I showed her the characters and she smiled with recognition before explaining that what I had tried to say was not “Happy New Year” but something like “I wish money come to you.” I’m not sure she got my humor when I replied, “That works.”

About a half hour later another exchange student came in who I knew better (and longer) than the first.

I explained the confusion I had caused earlier saying, “Gung hey fah choy.” Dan Dan looked puzzled. She asked, “Where did I learn that?”

I quickly dispelled any thought of explaining Stan Freburg, LaChoy (un)Chinese Chop Suey or a TV commercial. That would not be sublime, or ridiculous.

I turned my computer screen so that Dan Dan could see what I had found through Google.

For the second time that evening, I heard the translation of “wishing money comes to you.” This time we both agreed that that could be a good wish for a new year.

Dan Dan did teach me the proper way to express my good wishes, “Cing nyen kwai le.”

I practiced several times so Dan Dan could correct me if necessary. I wrote the phrase down so I would have it for next year.

My plan is to properly greet the year of the rooster in 2017. If I get it right, I promise not to crow.

When did cooking become audible? I don’t just mean repeating to myself an ingredient that I’m searching for in overstuffed cupboards.

For a several reasons, I don’t cook often. My husband has done most of the cooking for a long time. Occasionally, a recipe or an event will prod me into action. Lately, I have been trying to replicate macaroni and cheese like I used to eat in high school.

Lunch in high school cost $1.50 and consisted of an entree, three sides and a beverage. On Fridays the menu included a creamy macaroni and cheese that I heartily endorsed by asking for an entree portion accompanied by three sides of the delectable pasta dish. If my milk could have been replaced by my favorite food, I’m sure that I would have done that, too.

I hadn’t thought about this ritual until I recently met a friend at Tim Horton’s and decided to try, what has become for me, of late, an unusual side dish. Macaroni and cheese.

I was in lust again. It seemed the perfect clone for what I’d had half a century ago during my much thinner days.

Since that fateful stop, I’ve been perusing cookbooks and the internet to find a plausible clone for the elusive recipe.

A few weeks ago, I found a candidate in a usually reliable source, a new America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.

Some of the ingredients had to be purchased fresh from the grocery, others were already found on my cupboard shelves.

Fortunately, the largest saucepan was not buried in the unending corner cupboard. I easily pulled it out, filled it with water, reached above the stove for salt, sprinkled some into the pan’s water, replaced the salt and turned on the stove.

Step two, getting a casserole dish large enough for all the macaroni. “Large enough” in our kitchen means that it is under a stack of like, but smaller, vessels. “Unh!” was audible as I thought, “When did these get so heavy?” taking a pile of casseroles out of a lower cupboard onto a stool then separating those I didn’t need to return them to the low shelf.

Step three, reaching the food processor on top of the upper cupboards. Fortunately, the device was placed up there so that it hung over the edge. It still was a stretch to balance it down. The bread-ends I needed to pulse were on the third shelf of the frig, at the back. The perfect spot to torment my back. Before I found all the slices I needed, my back said, “Enough!”  resulting in a very loud moaning from my mouth, Uh, uh, uh!” This was the first sound that resulted in an, “Are you okay, Mom?” from Son in the dining room. I assured him that I was.

It is time for a pause to let the reader know, the kitchen is very closed off from the rest of the house, only a single door opening into the dining room. Usually the person (Husband) in the kitchen talking to others in the house — Son in dining room and me in living room —cannot be understood. So it was notable that my predicaments were obvious.

The fourth step was easy, developing the roux into a creamy cheese sauce. No audibles here.

The penultimate step required Panko crumbs which were on the highest shelf over a counter. “I didn’t used to have trouble reaching that shelf. Am I shrinking?” came out as a very loud, “Unh” as I stretched to tipple the bottom of the can in my direction. Again, from the dining room, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, hon. I was just trying to reach the bread crumbs.”

“Did you get them?”

“Yes. I did. Thanks.” Although I noticed he didn’t get up from his computer to check.

The layout of the kitchen is wanting (one of the reasons I don’t cook in there.). One of the things it “wants” is space. Especially in front of the oven. One can not stand in front of the oven and open the oven door. Well, if one is paper thin, it could be done, but no one in our household meets that requirement.

This means dishes put in the oven are done so from the left side. To eliminate any more audio clues, I calmly called, “Help.”

Husband answered, “What do you need?” I could tell that he was walking towards the kitchen.

He put the macaroni and cheese in the oven and returned to remove it 20 minutes later.

The result was a creamy but anemic looking (pale yellow vs vibrant) dish. We all were disappointed with the results. The disappointment was not just because of the taste. It was also because of the quantity.

We’re going to be eating the leftovers for weeks.

“Unh!”

There is nothing as reliable as my Aunt Pat. Nothing.

She has known me, obviously, for my entire life. Both she and her sister Nancy have, more than once, written or stated, “I remember the night you were born…” It was during a really bad snow storm about two weeks before Christmas, so I think it was as much the weather as the birth of the first of my generation on both sides of my family.

I have become conditioned over 65 years to expect a card from Pat whenever I have a momentous occasion. I still have the holy card she sent me for my First Holy Communion in 1958. She signed and dated the back.

A few weeks ago, I did not get a birthday card from Aunt Pat. I didn’t know how to handle this. I was worried.

The lack of birthday card may not be noticed by many. I’ll bet those people were not born in December. People born in December are often short changed in the birthday department, so any observance of our entrance into the world is greatly appreciated and remembered.

Pat is an octogenarian – maybe she decided enough. Maybe she was sick. Was she getting forgetful? Pinching pennies and given up on what might be considered an extravagance – after all I was the first of 25 cousins who have given to another generation who has started the next generation. How long could she keep cards coming for so many.

Adding to my concern was the fact that she also had not commented about the past blog or two that I had sent her. I could always count on an e-mail comment once she’d read my latest.

Pat, a nun, has a very close friend, Noreen. Pre-Vatican Two, the nuns always traveled in pairs. Noreen was the one who usually traveled with Pat, to the point we consider Noreen part of our family. (I’d be willing to bet that Pat has a second family in Noreen’s.)

Noreen did respond to one of my blogs so I took the opportunity to respond to her response: “Is Pat okay?”

Within a few minutes her succinct response, “Of course.”

No questioning why I would ask. Hmmm. Should wouldn’t tell me a story. I should relax, but I was still curious.

All my concerns were calmed on Christmas Eve. I opened the mail finding a Christmas card from Aunt Pat and inside the Christmas card was a piece of mail stamped, addressed to me but with a notification at the bottom, “Return to Sender – undeliverable as addressed.”

I examined it. The address had the correct number and street but was missing the direction. There is a duplicate for our address on the west side of town. In the 20 years we have lived here, we have often gotten mail addressed for West or with no direction at all.

In fact, the week before, we had gotten mail that said WEST but used our 9-digit zip code. The opposite side of town would have a completely different 9-digit zip.

Pat’s address had the entire 9-digit zip.

I was flabbergasted. In a town of under 12,000 people, where I lived in the same house for 20 years, the post office couldn’t make two attempts to attempt delivery? If they followed the 9-digit zip code they would have gotten it correct the first time.

I ended up calling Pat on the phone to let her know how I had been worried about her, but that having received the mail that day, I now knew all was right with the world again.

(I also told her I was going to use this situation as blog fodder.)

Since I talked, to Pat, I visited with cousins and before relating this story asked, “Each year, who do you KNOW you’re going to get a birthday card from?”

No one had to think for very long – “Aunt Pat.”

So, now, Pat, the pressure is really on. We are all expecting your cards.

Have you noticed? We’re being invaded.

Originally I thought it might have had to do with the seemingly inexhaustible hot air generated by too many political candidates. But that couldn’t be true because the invaders disappear during the daylight, reappearing after dark while the presidential candidates blow hard twenty-four hours a day.

If I search during the day, I find are puddles of material on front lawns where an identifiable shape existed the night before. The misshapen forms rarely are solo. They seem to travel in groups. There must be comfort in numbers.

A flashlight is not needed to locate marauders after sunset. As if  a traveling theater company, the evening’s skirmishers know how to spotlight their conflicts.

Even without snow, the red of their uniform fails to camouflage. Perhaps they are Martians (from the Red Planet) where the hue would conceal.

This army is nondiscriminating. The troops display a variety of skin colors: white, brown, green and flesh colors. No height requirements can be observed, although the taller, seems to be the better.

They also are presenting themselves in identifiable shapes – Mickey Mouse, the Grinch, snowmen, Santa Claus, Snoopy.

We did discover a vulnerability. They all turned into limp shapes on lawns with yesterday high winds and tornado warnings. But they are back in full force today.

I’ve also just realized they are keeping their distance. They are not advancing. They are always in the same yards.

Maybe they are here to enforce peace and goodwill to humans.

It should would be wonderful if someone (or thing) could.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.