Wednesday, December 30, 2009

All I Wanted Was a Houseplant

Before Christmas I purchased myself a BARGAIN houseplant.  I paid just under $8 for it.  (Then I spent $34 on the pot for it, but it was still a good deal, right?)  You can see it in the photo...behind the white oscillating fan..and to the left of the dancing elf.  (She was singing and dancing to Jingle Bells sung by my dancing poinsettias, but that's another story.)  Although it was cool outside, it was imperative to have a fan going.   (When a 3-year-old visits there is NONSTOP activity which can cause women of a certain age to SWEAT.)

Although my houseplant and I got off to a shaky start due to a tree frog hiding in the watering can, I am now enjoying the newest addition to my living room.  I believe the palm tree is happy with its new home as it is filling out, sprouting new leaves, and not developing any brown areas.  It adds a bright spot of color to that corner by my front door and I just enjoy looking at it.  Everything would be perfect...except...except for ...

the *FLB.

Yes.  Him!  He spends a lot of time staring at the tree.  Up close and personal.  He will walk up to it, sniff around it, stick his stinkin' little nose in the dirt and sniff...


Then he will startle... and stare ... at SOMETHING he sees or thinks he sees in the tree.  He will back off and sit and stare.  Move closer.  Stare some more.  Eventually he forgets what he's doing and wanders away. He is driving me crazy.

I picked up that tree and plunked it in my shopping cart and hefted it into the back seat of my car and lugged it into my home.  If there was something IN the tree wouldn't it have jumped out and gotten me then?  Wouldn't it?

Today I remembered a story carried in the St. Augustine Record last July.  I looked it up and here is the headline:  "Garden Shop Reopens After Rattler Bites Shopper".  I am not kidding.  A man was shopping in the fern section of the St. Augustine Wal-Mart Garden Shop when his girlfriend's child dropped or threw a baby bottle onto the floor.  Said customer "reached under a plastic shelf" whereupon HE WAS BITTEN BY A PYGMY RATTLESNAKE!  He survived - after he was hospitalized.

The garden shop was closed so a wildlife professional could be called in and "assess the area".  Here's my favorite quote, "What is not known is whether the rattlesnake got into the garden center from nearby woods or if it came in on plants delivered to the store." 


Since 2006 three incidents were reported of snakes attacking customers in Wal-Mart Garden Shops around Florida.  In the almost-requisite "What to watch for" part of the article appeared my 2nd favorite quote: "The ornery pygmy rattlesnake is a 'sit-and-wait' predator that sits coiled in one spot, waiting for its prey to approach." 


So I'm sitting here wondering what the heck my dog is sniffing and staring at in my palm tree.  I bought it at Home Depot, not Wal-Mart.  Thank heavens.  I'm not going to DO anything with the palm tree like pick it up and move it - not anymore.

And I keep my eyes WIDE OPEN when I'm watering it - after I have checked out the watering can thoroughly.

Damn.  Just damn.

*Freakin' little bastard

Sunday, December 27, 2009


For some reason I wanted to watch TV very much this week.  I wanted the noise and the "company" that TV could provide, especially yesterday and today.  It was like a craving - no reasoning to it - just WANTED it. 

I knew that the TV would be full of AFTER CHRISTMAS SALES & LIQUIDATIONS commercials.  I reminded myself how annoying those would be. Still wanted TV.  I tried to analyze this craving:  did I associate TV with Christmas?  I was unable to dredge up any memories of TV and Christmas - no parades or events that I would miss. Still wanted TV.

I finally decided I was tired.  I had hosted dinner for my family Christmas Day and, even though we all had a great time, I was beat.  TV would be so EASY...just sit there and click click click my way into numbness.  Nothing (besides sleep) is as EASY and as MIND-NUMBING as watching TV.  And when I say "watching TV" I was not thinking of any particular show.  I still like certain TV shows and look forward to watching them in the future.  When I craved "watching TV" I craved sitting in my big chair with the remote and staring at the TV and tuning out.    

Instead of watching TV I cuddled up in my big chair with my new Sue Grafton mystery, and read.  What a pleasure to read something as well-written and intriguing as U is for Undertow.  Unlike so many writers today who take a formula and just basically "fill in the blanks" as they crank out book after book after book (can anyone say James Patterson?), Sue Grafton crafts each and every book the same way an artist creates a painting or a sculpture.  She experiments with point of view, she is attentive to detail, she creates living, breathing characters who you care about - even if they end up being the "bad guy".  

I start a new Grafton mystery by allowing myself a chapter or two at a time, but I always end up devouring the final chapters as the suspense builds to a surprising climax.  I finished this book last night.  I was sad for a few minutes - sad and satisfied - and then decided it was time to read the series from beginning to end again.  The series is so good that you can read and reread the books and enjoy them over and over again.

I've been reading a huge collection of Flannery O'Connor stories and I'm ready to be finished. What a tremendous talent!  I've learned a lot about writing, but I'm ready for something ... sunnier.  Not a lot of laughs in Ms. O'Connor's stories.  Same for Eudora Welty...another Southern writer with a very twisted way of looking at things.  I have The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass waiting for me at the library.  I may release my hold on that one - again, not a happy funny novel - and start rereading A is for Alibi.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


"Back in the day" when I used to watch TV I would use it to lull myself to sleep, or to pass the time when I couldn't sleep.  My ex and I divorced in 1992 and the following August I bought a house in Lake Capri, a quiet community of mostly older folks who had moved there in the 1970's and 1980's to retire.  Atlanta suburban sprawl had caught up to this part of Rockdale County and now it was just another suburban neighborhood.  I loved the area with its spring-fed lakes and walking trails, and I liked the house.

My older daughter, a senior in high school, moved in with her father, and my younger daughter stayed with me.  Our house had two bedrooms upstairs that shared a large bathroom and, on the weekends when my older daughter came to stay, the girls could have all the privacy up there they wanted.  The master bedroom was downstairs and I could also have all the privacy I wanted and needed at that time.  The house had a large fenced yard and the girls' two dogs lived back there.  Snoopy and Jodi were two mutts that the girls adopted at the pound when both dogs were just puppies.  Snoopy was a black chow-mix and Jodi was a huge hairy collie-shephard-and-something-else mix.  The dogs were my responsibility (problem) now as they were older and the girls had moved on to bigger and better things.

One winter night I could not sleep and I was channel-surfing, clicking from one station to another, looking for something, anything to watch.  I had put the dogs into our large utility shed because it was going to be below freezing that night.  Melissa was asleep upstairs (or so I thought) and Mary Lee was at her dad's.  I was in the divorcee's typical sexy nighttime outfit - an over-sized tee-shirt and panties.  Click.  Click.  SCREAM.  I jumped and clicked.  One of the channels must have had on a horror movie and I clicked on it just as some poor victim let out a bloodcurdling scream.  It gave me shivers and I made a note to skip that channel if I surfed near it again.  Click.  Click.  What's that?  Boring.  Click.  Click.

Let's change the point of view.  My daughter Melissa, who was 13 or 14 at the time, was upstairs just dozing off when a bloodcurdling scream woke her.  She froze in her bed as the scream was cut off!  MOM!?!  She listened and heard nothing.  O MY GOD!  Had something happened to Mom?  She reached for her phone and pulled it under the covers with her.  9-1-1.  She told the operator that she had heard her mother scream downstairs and she thought someone was in the house.  The operator immediately dispatched two deputies to the address and kept Melissa on the phone.  Was there any way she could get out of the house?  No, the stairs and front door were by her mother's room.  Was her bedroom door locked?  No, yes, maybe, sometimes it didn't lock all the way.  Did she want to check?  No!  She was too scared to even get out of bed.  For all she knew her Mom was dead and someone was coming up the stairs to get her!  The operator tried to calm her and kept her on the phone while the police hurried to our address.

Point of view shift:  Mom is watching some stupid movie or program downstairs totally unaware of what is going on in her daughter's room.  All of a sudden she sees lights dancing on the wall outside of her bedroom door.  Mom rubs her eyes; the lights are still there.  It looks like someone is shining a flashlight through her living room windows.  Holy crap!  Someone is trying to break in!  Mom is terrified!  She mutes the TV and slowly climbs out of bed looking for a weapon.  Nothing!  She tiptoes to her bedroom door and peers around the wall into the living room.  There are two people standing at her front door shining flashlights through the window!  One of them raps on the door and says, "Ma'am!  Police!  Can you come to the door?"


"Just a minute!" she says.  She stumbles to the door and slides back the latch.  She hears her daughter's bedroom door slam open and her daughter stampedes down the stairs saying, "I'm sorry!  I'm sorry! Mom, I'm so sorry!"

Mom opens the door to the police who are relieved that we are both all right, but supremely aggravated that,  in checking out the house before approaching the front door, they had heard noises around back and opened the utility door.  The two excited dogs had bounded out, jumped all over them, and had run away.  My daughter apologized for calling 9-1-1 and they were very kind to her and told her she did the right thing.  I was mortified to be standing there in an over-sized tee-shirt, wild hair, and clueless.  They apologized for releasing the dogs, and made a halfhearted attempt at rounding them up before they gave up and drove away.  Melissa ran back upstairs and fell asleep.  I put on some sweatpants and a jacket and retrieved the dogs.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Something caught my eye as I eased up my driveway.  The afternoon was bright and sunny, but with the long shadows of approaching winter.  I turned my head and peered through my windshield and what I saw caused me to slam on the brakes.  A large bird - I think it was mostly brown both on its body and its wings, and I could only see it from the neck down and from below - swooped over my car and then rose over the back fence and the house behind.  A snake dangled from its beak!  (At this point I'm still fairly sure it was its beak and not its talons, but I was in awe and my memory is imperfect.)

The snake was colorless in the strong sunlight.  It was about one and a half times as long as the bird and I believe it was still writhing in protest.  Of course, it could have been swinging but I think it was moving.  The bird flapped its wings and soared over my neighbor's house, then descended out of my sight.  I wondered at the time if it was going to land in my neighbor's front yard and finish off the snake.  I sat in my car for several moments just letting the feelings wash over me.  Amazement.  Wonder.  Creepiness (afterall, it was a SNAKE).  The awe that nature inspires. 

My part in the small drama was over.  I started my car and pulled into my parking spot.  As I walked to my backdoor I kept turning around and looking for another glimpse of the bird and its prey.  I wondered what kind of bird it was.  What kind of bird hunts snakes?  I opened the storm door, unlocked and opened the back door.  The *FLB stuck his nose out in greeting and I invited him to come out and relieve himself.  I watched him as I thought about the bird.  Was it an osprey?  An eagle?  Some kind of hawk?  Harley decided to run off as I stood there.

Twenty minutes later I caught him five buildings east of mine.  Unlike a large dog who will galumph around a neighborhood in the joy of being FREE FREE FREE to run, the FLB is like a nosy neighbor who takes the opportunity to check up on everyone.  He trots up to all the doors and sniffs with great gusto.  He snuffles the various pet scents and he checks out other wilder scents:  armadillos, possums, whatever floats his dastardly little boat.

I didn't call for him.  I knew it was a waste of time and, besides, I was embarrassed.  I knew better than to let him out of the house without a leash.  He didn't even have his halter with his ID tag on it and I was just a tiny bit afraid I would lose him for good.  That would be my punishment for being careless.  I spotted him bouncing up the sidewalk of a pale yellow triplex and kept my eye on him as I approached.  When I was even with him I called out his name in a voice like you would use when you run into an old friend.

He looked up from his snuffling and actually looked happy to see me.  He took a few steps in my direction and stopped.

"Harley, come!"  I said in a more serious tone.

At that point he decided to give in, but he wouldn't do it without a small win on his side.  He cowered.  He crawled to me on his belly looking like the most beaten, pathetic, abused animal you have ever seen.  I tried not to look around to see if anyone was watching; that would make me look even guiltier.  I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and looped the leash around him in a slip knot.  As soon as the FLB realized he was caught and was not going to be kicked and beaten (at least in public), he jumped up and headed for home, pulling on the leash, wagging his tail, and holding his head high.

When we got home I filled his water bowl and he drank all of it.  Running away is thirsty work.  Then he laid down to rest.  I will never never never let him out again without his leash.  (Famous last words.)  I should have known when I saw the bird and the snake that something bad was going to happen.

I looked up birds of prey last night, and  I've decided it must have been some kind of hawk.  The osprey is primarily a hunter of fish and, though it could have been a juvenile eagle, odds are it was one of the seven species of hawk that either live here or migrate here in the winter.

Postscript:  I have a new palm tree in my living room that I purchased on clearance at Home Depot last week for only $7.00.  I needed to water it this morning, so I retrieved my cheap plastic watering "can" from the back patio where I leave it for my granddaughter Kinsey to use to water Grenah's outdoor plants.  I filled it and when I tipped it to pour onto the palm, the water gurgled and only trickled out.  What?  I guessed that some kind of outside gunk had gotten into the spout.  I carried the plastic can back to the kitchen sink.  I fished a bamboo skewer out of my kitchen supplies and was just sticking it into the spout when something caught my eye.

A tree frog looked up at me from the watery depths of the watering can!!!

My blood ran cold, my bowels turned to water, and I nearly fainted.

I grabbed the watering can and carried it carefully to the back door.  The frog swam frantically from side to side while keeping at least one of its bulging eyes on me.  I fumbled with the door knob.  Oh crap, it was locked!  Was the frog getting ready to jump?  Keeping one bulging eye on the tree frog, I flipped the lock, pulled the door open, pushed the storm door open, set the watering can down on the patio, and backed away.  Then I ran back inside and slammed and locked the back door.

The palm tree will have to wait.

*FLB=Freakin' Little Bastard

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Things I do to torture Harley:
  1. I play the CD Songs of the Humpback Whale.  The CD contains no instrumentation or vocals - just the whales.   Sometimes the whales even sound a  I was deciding whether or not to keep the CD, and noticed Harley cocking his head back and forth.  Oh, he would try to ignore it!  How he would try!  Then when he couldn't stand it anymore he'd run over to the speakers and stare at them, cocking his head.  Sometimes he'd utter a sharp bark.  It's so easy to get my jollies....
  2. I go outside without him.  I don't do this to torture him or punish him.  The fact that it bothers him is a side benefit.  He will stare mournfully out the storm door at me or run into my bedroom, jump onto MY bed, and bark out the window at me.  
Oh, come on!  When I first adopted Harley I let him outside to do his business and he would come right back.  "What a well-trained dog!",  I thought.  Boy, was I stupid.  One night he didn't come back.  In fact, as soon as I opened the door to let him out, he bolted into the dark and never looked back.  Of course, I chased him.  It's human nature.  He never looked back.  I took a flashlight and walked my street calling for him feeling like an idiot.  It is not fun to yell "Harley" throughout your neighborhood.  And, deep down, where I didn't want to admit it, I was terrified I'd lost him for good.

When I got back to the house my phone was ringing.  A woman who lived on the street behind me had found him.  The day before this runaway episode I had put a tag on his collar with a web address, so if someone found him they could put in his code number (also on the tag) into this web site.  The web site had my name, address, and phone number.  Oh, he had his county tag on, but I think we all know how well those work.  Besides, my real fear was that he would get hit by a car because he has no street smarts.

So I drove over to the nice woman's house and listened to her tale of the little wet dog that greeted her when she arrived home from church.  He must have crawled through a hole in the old fence that surrounded a retention pond, mucked around in the surrounding grasses, then crawled under a broken piece of fencing on her side.  (That fence around the retention pond has since been replaced!)   She said he jumped all around her and was just so happy to see her.  She took him inside and toweled him off and fed him cheese.  Her husband (a very smart man) jumped on the Internet and looked up his tag information and made her call me.  I think she would have kept him, but her husband must have sensed T*R*O*U*B*L*E.  I thanked her and almost cried with relief.  I then pulled and dragged the *FLB into my car.  He didn't want to leave the nice lady with the cheese, you see.  A month or so later she dropped in on me so she could visit Harley.  She brought him pieces of cheese and brought me several issues of the Watchtower.  Harley is the gift that keeps on giving.

I only take Harley out on a leash and I find I can't do quick chores with him tethered to my wrist.  I also will tie him to one of my Adirondack chairs but once he starts hunting lizards he gets tangled.  I tied him to the fence near my car once, thinking that there was nothing on which to get tangled.  He ended up crawling under my car then whining because he didn't think he could get out.  sigh.

Who's torturing whom?
*FLB=Freakin' Little Bastard

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009


    My darling cousin Melanie  Sherman writes a great blog about her life in the Northwest.  I recommend it.  The address is  She is also a writer of fiction and has completed a historical fiction about a young American girl who is mistaken for a boy, kidnapped off the streets along with her two male cousins, and pressed into service on a British ship.  She's doing the final edits now and soon soon soon will be signing that publishing contract.

    Her most recent blog - "Stuck with the Stapler" - struck a chord with me as I love the little funnies in life.  Like the fact that I purchase the office supplies at work and I love buying staples from Staples!  It is just so - KARMA-like - that you can have a box of staples in a red box labelled STAPLES in big black letters.  That line of thinking led me to an incident that happened a few years ago.

    When I started working at the Inn there already was another employee named Karen.  My boss thought it would be too confusing to have two Karens, so asked if I'd mind going by a nickname.  I have to admit my first thought was, "What?"  I mean, I managed to get through school and other jobs that also had other Karens and it didn't cause problems, but it was my first day at work and I didn't want to start trouble on my very first day.  I always wait for the second or third day, you know.  So I said, "No problem, how about Max?  That's what kids called me in 8th grade."

    Actually kids called me Maxwell Smart in 8th grade because the TV show Maxwell Smart was running at the time (oh, quit doing the math, I'm 55!) and...I was very smart!  So being called Max at work seemed to be no big deal.

    Being Max has caused quite a bit of confusion.  When I answer the phone people almost always ask me to repeat my name.  "Max?" they ask.  Then it starts.  "As in Maxine?"  And sometimes, Lord help me, I just say, "Yes!" so I can get on with my day.  The real fun happens when I'm making a business call to the cable TV company or phone company and they ask for my name.  "Max," I say.  "And your last name?" they ask.  Ooops.  Didn't know you were going to ask for that.  "Maxwell," I say.  There is ALWAYS a pause.  "Your name is Max Maxwell?"  And then I have to explain.  To people who really don't care and just want to fill in their blanks correctly.  

    One of my coworkers thought it was quite funny that I was the OFFICE manager and that my name was MAX, so he started calling me OFFICE MAX.  I liked it.  In fact, I liked it so much that the next time I was buying supplies in our local Office Max store I looked for some Office Max mugs or other such items.  I didn't find any, so when I was checking out I decided to ask about it.

    "Do you carry any mugs or other items that have your Office Max logo printed on them?" I asked politely.

    At that time the clerks in Office Max all looked like high school dropouts with multiple piercings and dull, glassy expressions on their faces. 

    "What?" the clerk asked.

    I repeated my request.

    "Nah," she answered.

    "See, my nickname at work is Office Max and I thought it would be fun to have a mug or something with your logo on it - get it?  Office Max?"  I said.

    The young lady picked at one of her (do you call them earrings if they are in your eyebrow?) piercings and just looked at me.  I stood there for a minute and decided that, yes, I felt silly now and I could leave.  I picked up my stuff and left.

    I still think it was a good idea.

    Friday, December 4, 2009


    Head colds are so stupid.  They make you feel soooo sick, but then, it's "just a cold".  My latest cold virus hit me last night and kept me tossing and turning most of the night.  I often heard Harley, my little mixed terrier,  sighing from his bed in the corner; I guess I kept him awake.  Around 4:30am I got up, took some ibuprofen, emailed my boss that I was not coming in, and went back to bed listening to a CD-book.  I also remembered to turn off my cell phone and my alarm.

    At 6:30am I awoke with a start when someone or something jumped on my bed.  Going to sleep with a Stephen King story being read can make your mind go funny places.  It took me just a few seconds to realize it was Harley and for my heart to retreat from my throat.  I closed my eyes again and tried to go back to sleep.  Harley wanted me to wake up and stuck his nose in my face.  He pawed at my exposed hand.  I put my hand back under the covers.  He barked.  I managed to croak a stern, "Quiet!" and he laid down on my bed and stared at me.  I didn't open my eyes to confirm he was staring at me; if he saw my eyes open he would take that for me being awake and would start the pawing and barking again.  I felt his gaze on my face, though, felt it like a hot nasty dog breath on my face even though he was at the foot of the bed.  'Way too much Stephen King.  I tossed and turned some more which made him finally jump off the bed, and I finally fell into a deep sleep.

    When I woke later he was ready to go out and I took him out first thing.  He had been "good" and not had an accident (like anything he has done has EVER been an "accident"..) and I fed him his breakfast and gave him 2 OK release commands as a gift.  (He's still jerking me around with that OK release command.)  He laid next to my chair as I snuggled with a blanket and box of Puffs tissues.  Every time I got up - to move a trash can next to my chair for all those Puffs, or to get a glass of water, or to make a cup of tea - he got up and followed me.  He even looked concerned.  I was touched.

    I made myself some homemade chicken noodle soup and set it on the dining room table.  Harley was sitting on the arm of the sofa looking back and forth from me to the window.  I felt a tug on my heart and decided to give him a treat; I also decided to take his halter off.  I called him over and removed the halter and hung it in the laundry room.  When I returned - talking out loud about getting him a treat - he was jumping off the dining room chair.


    I don't know if he stuck his nasty conniving nose into my soup or not.  I ate it anyway.  And I did NOT give him a treat.


    Don't worry.  He's fine.  I just told him to go to his bed in the living room.  I wanted to put my slippered foot up his butt....but....butt....but....I didn't.
    =*freakin' little bastard