Prairie Dwelling with what Preys

fuzzy mantis

Yesterday, I communed with nature,
I meant to whack nature down with the tractor, not make peace, but along came a preying mantis to perch upon my hood.
I took the picture without cutting the mower because, hey, I was working. All that vibration and the mantis is fuzzy, yes, but look how crisp the grass appears? Splotchy, browned by August heat, but green thanks to weird rains.
I digress.
We rode the acreage, and the bug made me miss my pups, the two who usually rode the plain atop my lap when I mowed. They are gone. One rode no matter what, ears flapping, toothless, tongue drying in the wind, there for the duration. The other rode until he couldn’t, at which point he clawed my denim leg seeking a point for launch. Brake. Set the pup free. Mow on, while he plodded along behind until the mower quit.
If Fitbit had counted his steps, he would have set records.
Now on a fine Sunday afternoon, a storm to the north sending cool breezes my way while I watch the clouds for lightning, Pup-less, I’m riding with a bug, his oversized eyes upon the changing horizon, my human-sized eyes torn between the sky and the insect. We are happy.
Around the sixtieth left turn, Mantis grew bored. With a pivot I did not see he set upon a path straight up the orange hood of the mower while my subconscious screamed, “They jump!”
Just as danger green-leg stilted in my direction, as soon as his antennae honed into my location, and as his back legs crouched further, tensed to pounce, I may have jerked the wheel to the left.
His tiny form flew past, front legs reaching to nab me.
Whatever he found wanting in the ride, I don’t know. But these days, I travel alone.
An hour later a juvenile rattlesnake sprang from beneath my favorite Vitex bush, and a cicada riding a weeded tree limb cried “foul!” from beneath the oversized plastic lid of the world’s most gigantic municipality-provided trash can.
I told them all to suck it and hit the shower.
All in all, a good day on the farm.

Empty Fortune

I didn’t take this as a clue, a premonition, insight from a cookie I cracked open in January at the end of a festive Asian meal celebrating the turning of a page.
At the time, I naively saw it as only interesting before snapping a photo-journalistic statement for the next 6-plus months:
2020: anomalous.

I didn’t even eat the cookie.
Cheated, twice.

Backman Overdrive

Do I wish I was a prepper, now that store shelves are depleted? Yes, a little, but I still contend that I don’t have storage for superfluous food.
Ask me in a week, when the chocolate donut gems are a memory and Bubs is seeking yet another bag of baked Lays potato chips.
THEN I’ll fervently wish I was more of a prepper, and ALSO that I had more pantries.
But for NOW, while Social Distancing, in a county newly besieged by a lone despicable case of COVID-19, I CLEAN.
And I don’t just spot-clean like I’ve done all my life, nope, not today.
Today, I BACKMAN clean.
My favorite author wrote somewhere that he cleans a bathroom like a rabid tornado — not just a REGULAR tornado, a RABID one — and though I may have altered things a bit, in my head I see a gloved, snarling, middle-aged, blondish man armed with Lysol-equivalent spray bottles, wringing a soapy sponge, gutturally snorting and diving into the bowels of the most disgusting room in any home.
I channeled the vision and did the same. I CLEANED, people, I ATTACKED, with a fervor never seen in my fifty years. The tub GLOWS, the toilet GLEAMS, the floors are unwrapped from their coating of don’t-ask-just-remove accumulated over these many moons.
I cleaned so hard that the walls look MORE beige, THAT’S how vicious I was with the scrubbing brush, the anti-septic wipes, the numerous sponges that now reside in the big blue trash can outside.
I went all BACKMAN on it, then I did it AGAIN…because there are two bathrooms…and now I’m frenzied, hopped up on fumes and redolent sounds of blaring heavy metal reverberating around one-chick army of clean.
I’m slightly deafened…perhaps the sound could have been lower.
I’m exhausted…attacking filth is hard work.
My dermis is alligator-like, dry, hardened, moisture-depleted from so very many chemicals.
And I’m discouraged…because Bubs has finally risen, disappeared into the belly of the spotless restroom, and I’m going in there….never. It’s officially dead space to me.
So THAT’S good news. No more cleaning THAT area of the house.
But the I caught a glimpse of the feet of the stove. Have you ever seen the feet of YOUR stove? I’m going to need a nap before Going Backman on THAT.

So Glad to See You, March

Three Things:
1. I hate February.
2. Kismet brings the best dogs to me.
3. I’ve been on a search for mindfulness.
Last Monday, I talked myself into heading to the gym after taking Bubs to school. As is usual, our Pekingese, Mr. Pugglesworth III, rode along for Bubs’ delivery to said school.
Because it was Monday. Pugsy knows that every Monday, after I leave the gym, I drive through the McDonald’s line for a medium hot mocha for me — because “medium” is a size at McDonald’s, bless them — and a yogurt parfait for him.
Last Monday, the road to the gym was doubled time-wise, as construction vehicles had set upon the planet and removed huge chunks of my route, forcing traffic to crawl in a lane we usually at least toddled. It’s never been a quick route, no doubt, but to double the time, on a morning I didn’t wish to travel that route in the first place, increased my resentment of my mission to Get Fit, Get Strong, Fight Aging.
But after the arduous journey, I parked the vehicle, strode into the gym, scanned my ID so I would get credit for having made the epic quest, used the restroom, and accomplished one plank before thinking, “I want to be with my dog,” and leaving the establishment.
To be clear: forty minutes on the road, ten minutes at the gym, including the walking time into and out of the building from the space where I parked.
Free, I drove my pup jubilantly toward the McDonald’s where I ordered the appropriate food stuffs and Pugsy was appropriately coo-ed upon before leaving the drive-through and heading home to drink coffee and eat yogurt. (I eat the berries; they’re virtually frozen and delicious.)
The next day, I returned home after work to find my Mr. Pugglesworth dying beneath a tree after crawling over an acre, away from the dog fight of his life, to burrow under the evergreen’s limbs and wait for darkness.
Long, long story shorter, my Pugs is alive.
He walks, he tries too hard, he weakens quickly and exhausts even faster; he is still compelled to bring mulch into the house, he hates to be left alone, he barks on occasion, and he lists to the right when he walks.
Number 4: my son suffers from anxiety issues, and Number 5, he had an enormously important task for school this week, one that would affect his grade, and Number 6, this was the worst week for something tragic to happen.
Number 7: I prayed a lot this week, for miracles, for guidance, for patience, for Bubs and Pugs equally.
It was a solid week of waves of affirmations and positive thoughts treading water with reality and prayers to not be beached.
But at last — remember Number 1? — yesterday my son, after all that we’d endured, all the prayers, all the sobbing and gasping and tortured days, my son said on a sunny, seventy-five degree Sunday, “Hey, Mom?”
“Yes, my baby.”
“It’s March 1st.”
1. We survived February.
2. This dog is our perfect companion.
3. Screw mindfulness. I had enough awareness of every moment this last week that I need to coast a while.

Ironic Aging

Age brings intolerant complacence.
I have examples.
The other day my hair dryer died. Just stopped. Without missing a beat, with my hair damp on the right, dripping on the left, I simply unplugged the beast and with a quick lean to the left, dropped the useless junk into the bathroom trash can.
Turned out to be a hat day.
Later, my electric toothbrush crapped out.
As did a space heater.
Three losses in one morning.
Technology mounted up and over the edge of the trashcan before I stopped to consider that perhaps it wasn’t the appliances so much as a blown fuse.
Five minutes later I retrieved misjudged electrically-fine paraphernalia from the bowels of waste and removed my ballcap.
With the accoutrements rehoused, only then did I consider my blasé attitude.
Shouldn’t I have been angry? frustrated? put out? Everything crapped out, I thought, yet it bothered me not at all.
Because I didn’t care? Because I didn’t want to worry about frizzy hair ever again, because I have a huge hat collection?
Maybe because Amazon delivers replacements nearly as quickly as a trip to the city and its claustrophobic forays up and down retail aisles.
Nah. It’s because I’m aging.
And I don’t have time to care about small stuff.
Another example: the next day, I determined I was sick to death of oozing toothpaste, it’s weirdly squeezed housing quietly exuding gelatinous white paste from a seemingly closed, half crusted-over opening. And the backup tube, the non-leaky one, well, it had been clamped in the middle so many times it resembled an ocean floor sea creature, weirdly shaped, deformed, and innocuous.
And I was sick of it.
So both tubes went straight into the space recently evacuated by misunderstood electronic items.
Again, because I’m aging, it’s out with the old.
Ironic.
No anger, no bitterness, just get rid of the stuff that bugs. Complacently.
Because I’m intolerant.

Ironic?

Teens Learning to Clean

At twelve years old, I needed to learn to take care of myself, including cleaning places I’d been.
I was sufficient at making my bed — no change could be bounced from the mattress I assure you, but it passed maternal inspection.
I kept my room tidy, mostly because of the onset of slight OCD. I didn’t share that tidbit; I took full credit for conscientious behavior and order following, as I did love allowance.
I vacuumed occasionally, emptied the dishwasher, dusted, all upon request. I mean, come on, a pre-teen can find one million things more fun to do than home maintenance. At last one normal Saturday afternoon my father declared it necessary that I learn to clean a toilet. The thought made me gag, but gagging in front of the paternal figure would result in a withering gaze — literally, withering; my head bowed, my shoulders rolled forward and down, all involuntary movements — so I soldiered forward into the Listening portion of the lesson.
Dad crouched in front of the porcelain throne with a sponge and a squirt bottle of undefined liquid.
“Now,” he started, lifting the lid and seat together to expose the bowl. “All you do is squirt…” Here he squirted, misting the white toilet edges as well as forming clouds of droplets that fell to the carpet and beaded. “Don’t forget to get under the lip of the bowl, that’s where a lot of dirt hides.”
And hide it did. I had never before considered any such “lip,” or noticed that water sprayed from beneath that ridge, who knew? Who cared?
I was fascinated.
“Now,” he said again, drawing in a breath. He held the sponge, a three inch rectangle of orange foam far too large for such a small space, but I didn’t know that then. “You stick your hand in and scrub the surface.” He began to demonstrate, thrusting the sponge into the water of the toilet and sloshing so much that the bedewed carpet suffered under a tide of chemical water, an onslaught from above, and my internal dialogue began with, Oh, you did NOT just stick your bare hand into the poo water!
That was the day I realized I am unable to hide emotions, whether they be elation or disgust. On this particular day it was the latter and Dad showed that his face, too, cannot hide emotion.
“It’s just water!” he thundered, his frown enormous, his displeasure scarring his face into permanent frown. “Go to your room,” he finished, at which I retreated thankfully, aware I would suffer a lecture later, and that was just fine, because EW!
Today I needed to clean the toilet and that lesson crossed my memory. I felt revulsed anew; I felt dad’s anger pelting me from the past. And I laughed aloud.
Today I didn’t have an overly large sponge, or carpet to worry about. I had a wand, and tile.
I didn’t need my bare hands to plunge into a field of bacteria and only God knows what else; I had a plastic distance to keep me safe.
Though the task is not fun, it’s certainly less life-threatening than back in the days when antibacterial soap wasn’t an item on any store shelf, but a bar of Ivory, costing 35 cents, was the norm and regularly shared by however many hands, dwelling in a soap dish, when those were a thing, until it dwindled into a rind of leftover scum, filling the dish’s ridges, nearly impossible to remove before replacement with a fresh bar.
Immune systems were titanium back then.
Bubs has learned about cleaning the toilet but not the way I did. I haven’t told him of my lessons with it because he would never forget it, as I haven’t, and there’s no need for such a disgusting visual.
I expanded his lessons to include laundry. I’m appalled at what teenagers consider dirty, and what they do not, because Bubs’ scale is the polar opposite of my own. He doesn’t worry with a smell test, he simply picks up an item of clothing and determines its cleanliness by how either the weight of the cloth feels, or how he feels; it’s a fascinating lesson in animal survival: is this adequate to either eat or wear?
“Feels fine to me.”
Is Mom still looking? “Must be dirty.”
Do I want to mess with this any more? “Wear it.”
Do I want to mess with this any more and is Mom looking? “Throw it in the hamper.” One night, Bubs changed from sleep pants into a pair of freshly laundered jeans, straight from the closet where I’d hung them the day before long enough to walk to the truck to retrieve whatever in the world he needed from the truck.
Besides the jeans, he wore a pair of once white socks, this being probably day 3, but my mind won’t let me think more than day 2.
Once back into the house, he changed from the jeans into the comfortable cotton sleep pants, and promptly housed the jeans within his clothes hamper.
If I hadn’t witnessed it, I would refuse to believe it. Turns out, this is common practice with my particular brand of teen. The socks are worn once but thoroughly, and so badly blackened that one wearing is all they get, but jeans worn for less than three minutes need fumigation.
Such strange logic.
And I cannot be alone in being the only laundress regularly washing wrappers: cookies, granola bar, purloined M&Ms; wrappers galore rotate through the wash and rinse along with everything else. If I counted the calories my boy ate discreetly, I’d be astonished he isn’t ready for heavyweight wrestling.
He’s learning to do his own laundry, but his timeframe for such duties is vastly different than my own. I like to always have fresh clothes around, he prefers to walk into the laundry room carrying bundles of fabric so rank that I Febreze the room once his clothes are safely contained within their bath of water and Gain and the wash cycle has begun.
I take no chances.
Toxic clouds are invisible and I refuse to succumb.

Orange Scones

Aunt Lou was a horror. Mean as a rabid badger, stingy as Scrooge, but without the change of heart in the end, and forgetful, that she was evil and that she had breakfast an hour ago.
Each morning at 7:30, she wanted breakfast, from somewhere out in the world. I didn’t want to cook and she I agreed that didn’t want to eat anything I made, so out into the world we went.
My grandfather joined us, out of kindness for me, I shall always believe. He was a delightful buffer: kind, generous, and he laughed at my jokes. But when it came to the first meal of the day, Lou held sway.
She chose from her two restaurant options — I had no say, leaving my morning mantra to be, “McDonald’s or Panera, Lou?”
She would mull the options while I backed the van out of the garage and winded our way through her closely built neighborhood, then turned right onto a main road that took us to the crossroads: left if she said McDonald’s, right if she said Panera.
One sunny Thursday, she chose the bakery, and right we went.
At the restaurant parking lot, getting out of the van was an easy task. She had full faculty, only needing a cane for stability, and Grandpa was independent. Though they were mobile, they were slow, especially Lou. I watched the order entry line grow as we turtle stepped our way toward the end. And as always I glanced into the display case, its wares on full display.
Scones were running low, particularly the orange flavor, and those were my favorite.
I counted in my head. As long as only one other person ordered a scone, I would be good.
How could I point the ambivalent toward cinnamon or chocolate chip instead of the delightfully glazed orange beauty solely displayed in the middle of a silver baking tray?
“What are you going to get, Lou?” I asked her, trying for small talk.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, per usual.
“Grandpa, how about you?”
“Just a coffee,” he answered, his standard breakfast.
Piping in because she demanded attention, Lou said, “I want that orange scone.”
What?
My hopes were dashed by the very person I’d trucked into this establishment, and now I was required to sit and watch her munch my breakfast between her four natural teeth? And it never failed, she always left half of her breakfast on her plate, so the insult continued. I wouldn’t get my choice, plus I’d have to leave a delicious half of it behind.
It wasn’t fair.
“I don’t know,” I said. “That cinnamon roll looks pretty good.”
Lou glared at me before inspecting the case. “Hmm, I don’t know.”
“Remember how good it was yesterday?”
“Hmm. Yeah, I guess,” she muttered, though I knew she didn’t remember at all.
Finally it was our turn in line and the cashier asked for my order.
Grandpa stepped up to order his coffee, then it was my turn to order for myself and Lou. Fortunately, Lou pointed a knotted finger toward the bakery case and said, “I want that cinnamon roll. And a hot coffee, black.”
The baker retrieved Lou’s selection before turning to me.
“Oh, I’ll take that orange scone, I think.” I tried to sound complacent, insouciant. I nearly drooled just watching the pastry being scooped onto a plate.
And then I nearly passed out when the lady pulled a radiant, brand new tray of gorgeous, glistening orange scones from beneath the counter.
Grandpa laughed outright. He knew my ploy and knew I’d been bested.
It’s been 9 years since Lou died, and my grandfather reminds me of the orange scone story at every opportunity. The man has a steel trap for a brain.
And every time he mentions it, which seems to be every time I visit with him, I blush.

Remodeling During the Middle Ages

A book club friend discussed remodelling her kitchen. She’s tried three times for the perfect green tint for her kitchen island.
“Will you try again?” I asked her, to which she replied, “Eh, it’s good enough.”
Pause.
“Twenty years ago would you have gone after the elusive perfect tint? Would you have tried again?”
“It’s such an odd color,” she thought out loud. “It’s the perfect color in the hallway, it makes me so happy, but in the light of the kitchen, it isn’t quite there.”
“Close the windows in your kitchen. Maybe try some blackout curtains,” I teased.
She laughed, preceding a discussion of window blinds and how infuriating they could be. So difficult to clean, never to be white again, certainly.
“I clean them in the tub,” remarked the third of us.
“Me, too!” exclaimed the fourth. “I use a Clorox bath and wipe each slat.”
I died inside, thinking the tedium of that task would bore me to tears.
“How do you dry them?” someone asked. “I hang them, let them dry.”
How quickly conversation devolves when you age. Our topics of conversation are now domestic, never discussed during book club before. Usually we talk about kids and how fun it is to be away from them for a while — how we love them, love them so, but boy, a tiny bit of alone time is a beautiful thing. Racy jokes; smutty books; silly indulgences when the kids are asleep. Where do we eat next? We’re foodies, I tell you. And if the restaurant includes a bakery, well, let’s go there two months in a row.
I returned the conversation to the original topic, this observation of aging ladies. “So, would you paint the island again, if you were younger?”
To which she paused. “Maybe,” she said after consideration. “Probably,” she affirmed a moment later. “But now, the current color will work. I’m not worried about it.”
“But will you peruse the color swatches next time you head to Lowe’s, just in case?” She considered the question. Her brow lifted, her eyes cast downward while she thought. “Yeah, probably,” she conceded, sadness in her tone. She’s had an ongoing project, adding two closets to the interior of her home. She used dead space to create storage, a brilliant solution. But with the construction came the decorating, with paint, lots of paint.
“I try to do the walls, for the feeling of achievement, but then there’s the trim.”
We groaned. The trim, ugh. Talk about tedium.
“I listened to seven audio books while I worked,” she added, her eyes wide, disbelieving. “Seven!”
Because one can’t read when painting, they must have it read. A great arrangement, if one enjoys the reader. Usually the kiss of death is an author reading their own work; authors are writers, not actors, an important distinction. “But no, not this time,” she assured me. “He’s really good.”
Giving in on projects was certainly an aspect of aging I had not considered until my onset of ripening. I didn’t know my arm skin would fall to sweep the floor, either, though I had visual cues all my life; my grandmother’s arms, when bare, were a spectacular harbinger that perhaps a few chair dips wouldn’t harm my triceps.
Did I do those dips? Heck no, those are work. They require things like moving a chair, clearing a space, doing the dip. Moving a chair exposes dirt; clearing the space requires a dust mop at least, a warm sudsy bucket of Pine-Sol Rain is preferred; doing a dip means sweat, which means a shower, taking more of my precious middle-age-lady time when I have this singular day away from the job each week to play out the rest of my life, the house stuff, the teenager and all of his stuff, bills, pets, and the ever expanding pile of laundry tames and beaten into submission.
Sometimes Tuesdays can’t come soon enough because Mondays leave me exhausted. Then I do it again seven days later.
Seems I am truly gerbil-like.

Still Focusing on Focusing; It’s Tough

This morning after a workout at the gym that I pay but hardly visit, I felt fractured by tasks for the day. I have one day off for the week and it’s full. Grocery, car wash, laundry, book club meeting, pick up the boy and his friend after school, take them into town for minor errands they don’t want to make but hey, if they’re together, it will ease my pain — misery loves company, especially from the video game department, so if Bubs is happy, I’m happy in my solitude, perusing store shelves and indulging the impulse buyer within.
On my way to the truck, I realized I was too scattered to think straight. I needed a new mindset in order to focus.
Cue the meditation app I seldom open. It was a day of unique experiences, I guess.
So in the truck, on the road, I’m listening to a silky British voice floating from my phone to help me focus: breathe, let calm reign, settle the disquiet; it’s a full blown 20 day course, it seems.
“Focus,” he coaxes, but I’m mulling my list: grocery, carwash, school, et cetera. Mindfulness is helping only in that I realize I’m not mindful.
Therefore, I pushed Replay on the app and swore to focus, on his words, his instructions; his focus was solely my focus. Oh, except I was driving.
Still, I refused to turn the app off entirely, because, British accent.
I took deep breaths as instructed, mindful of my breathing and his voice; thus I was calmed. And focused. On breathing, and listening, so though my mind was still separated into bits, it was mainly only two bits, floating over the slightly subconscious To Do list. Oh, and driving.
Later, back at home, I sat at my desk to finish a report, finish an episode of The Crown, and design my latest drawing. All at once.
Laptop warming, waiting for instruction to go to Google docs.
TV warming, ready to queue into the next Crown episode, and me, staring at blank Bristol board, placing figures in my mind to draw later.
Scattered. Fractured. Again. But still breathing, though unconsciously.
After the enlightenment, for the rest of the day, I’ve tried to work one task at a time. So while I type, I have one ear open for Bubs as he plays his video game — moms know to listen at all times, even if only halfway. Netflix is on Pause, scrolling advertisements for new shows I need to watch; Netflix says so. Occasionally I peer toward the monitor. And I type, halfway, with lots of typos, because I’m attempting to finish. The quicker I type, the quicker I get back to the Crown and her realm of fascinating shenanigans.
So, still scattered, still fractured, but taking deep breaths now, because I’m focusing on at least one thing if it kills me, though, ironically, it keeps me alive. This is the gerbil wheel my mind rides every day. It’s exhausting. Yet I don’t sleep well, because though my gerbil tries so hard to rest, the wheel turns, distracting the rodent enough to, if not hop back on, then at least watch it spin.
I’m off to my meditation app, for the sleeping lesson. Forty-five minutes of sounds from a laundromat, that’s all I need to focus upon.

Bucking the New Year Resolutions

I decided to get the New Year Resolution — eat less, exercise more, blah blah blah — out of the way before 2020. It’s December; why ruin a perfectly good January with self-loathing and guilt?
So I went to the gym two days after Christmas, stepped on a treadmill, started running at a good 4.6 mile clip, got distracted, and was thrown four feet backward by my own feet and automated machinery.
Yes, the treadmill bucked me.
I’ve seen the videos on America’s Funniest, and on YouTube — I think there’s an entire section set aside for just such inanity, and I’ve now spoken to one other person in the flesh who’s also been tossed aside. His empathy did not add salve to my bruised ego, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one in the Yukon Isle to have been bested by technology.
Interesting: after a thorough inspection and a good but slow walking couple of turns around the gym to show people that ignominy will not set me scampering towards the car to nurse wounds — “Can’t stop me, I got no pride left, I’m not hurt; ignore the whimpering” — I realized I made a seven-point landing in my escapade.
Seven.
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t counted the giant bump, contusions, and road rash myself. Seven. Must be a record.
Plus, I broke three fingernails.
When I make a resolution, folks, I do it big.
Now I’m done with this pesky Take Care of Myself nonsense, and I’m on to the Don’t Wound Myself Further Until I Get Better Insurance portion of the year.
Aaaaaah, 2020…gonna be a slow, safe, steady kind of year.