Monday, December 28, 2009

THE WORLD'S BRIEFEST LIGHT DISPLAY

I wasn't going to decorate for Christmas this year, mainly because I couldn't find my Christmas decorations. They're packed away in one of the 750 boxes I brought down to the basement when I emptied our storage units.

I'll probably have to rent a decoration-sniffing dog if I ever want to see them again.

However, while I was searching through a few of the boxes for something else (my festive holiday placemats, also among the long missing), I happened to discover a sealed box that contained six new packages of solar Christmas lights.

The package said to string them up outside just like regular lights, aim their solar panels toward the sun, and then every night, watch them automatically pop on for eight hours. No extensions cords, no electric bills, no batteries. Sounded good to me. So I decided to add a bit of festivity to the house and wrap the porch posts with the lights.

Unfortunately, I made this decision at one o'clock in the morning when it was only 18 degrees out.

First of all, I thought I'd better test each string of lights. Years of having icicles hanging from my nostrils while spending hours putting up lights that turned out to look like Morse code when I lit them had taught me to be prepared.

I held a strong flashlight beam against each solar panel, then shoved the lights into a dark room. To my delight, all of them worked, if only for a few seconds, twinkling in even brighter colors than I'd anticipated.

I grabbed my stepstool and a string of lights and headed out to the porch…where I spent the next two hours wrapping and untangling lights, wrapping and untangling lights, and making mad dashes back into the house to run my hands under warm water to thaw them out.

I could hardly wait for the next night to see all of my hard work come to life at dusk.

Sure enough, right on schedule, all of the posts lit up. I was thrilled.

"You have to come see the lights I put up!" I said to my husband. "They look really sharp!"

I could tell he was as excited about seeing the lights as he was about getting his flu shot, but he unfolded himself from his recliner and walked to the front door.

The porch was in total darkness.

"Yep, they're really sharp," he said. "What color lights did you buy? Black?"

"But they were all lit a minute ago!" I said, confused. "They barely lasted 10 minutes."

"That's because you put them in the shade," he said. "All of the sunlight is at the back of the house. You should have put the lights on the back porch."

"The back porch faces eight acres of woods. Who's going to see the lights? Squirrels?"

"Well," he said, "your only other option is to swap them for electric lights."

I reminded him that I couldn't find the electric ones…and that I wasn't about to go buy new ones, not when I had some perfectly good ones packed away somewhere in one of the 750 boxes in the basement.

So I kept the solar lights on the posts. And every day, the minute the sun went down, I'd run outside and admire them for the entire 8 minutes they stayed lit.

I can't even begin to imagine what the neighbors must have thought.

Monday, December 21, 2009

WAITING FOR A MOOSE AND A CARDINAL

One of the first things I wanted to do when we moved into our new house was hang up a bird feeder. With eight acres of woods surrounding the house, I figured the feeder would attract a lot of colorful and exciting birds…and maybe even a cardinal.

I have waited a lifetime to see a live cardinal. I think I've actually seen one, but that's still up for debate. I mean, the sun was in my eyes at the time and just about everything looked red.

I've also waited a lifetime to see a live moose. My husband and I once spent an entire day driving up and down Moose Alley up north, but the only thing we saw that even came close to a moose was a statue of one.

While I don't expect to see a moose at my feeder, a cardinal still might be a possibility.

The first feeder I bought was a round one with glass panels. The tree I selected to hang it on stood all by itself in a clearing and was directly in line with the kitchen window, so I figured I could be entertained watching the birds' antics while I stood at the sink and washed dishes.

The tree had no low branches, so I bought a wrought-iron arm-type plant hanger and figured I'd just screw it into the tree and then hang the feeder on it.

Little did I know that the tree I'd selected was a hardwood tree. And it wasn't just hard, it bordered on petrified. A jackhammer couldn't have penetrated that thing.

I bent so many nails trying to get the wrought-iron arm to stay on the tree, the ground soon was littered with a heap of twisted metal. The fact that I was using my dainty little flowered hammer probably didn't help the situation. So I picked up a rock and started banging the nails with that. Still, they did nothing but bend.

Screws weren't much better. After 450 turns of the screwdriver, with the screw sinking barely a hair into the tree, I was ready turn the tree into firewood.

Finally, by hammering the nails until they bent over the edge of the wrought iron enough to hold it onto the tree, I hung the feeder. I then filled it with shelled sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts, plain popcorn, some raisins and cracked corn. I figured it was a gourmet meal by any bird's standards.

The next morning, I watched a squirrel do a swan dive from a high branch and land on the feeder. The feeder swung back and forth like a carnival ride until it and the wrought-iron holder went crashing to the ground, spewing the contents everywhere. The squirrel then hungrily attacked his bounty.

He soon was joined by three huge black birds that looked like crows on steroids. All three of them started squawking at once, which eventually ticked off the squirrel. Every time the birds came near him or his food, he charged at them like a bull until they backed off.

Five minutes later, blue jays started to arrive, also squawking. The yard sounded like an orchestra of really bad musicians tuning up for a concert.

I decided to buy another bird feeder. This one was solid wood and shaped like a little house. It had a plastic panel on the front that slid up and down for easy filling.

Once again, I bent a bunch of nails, even though I used the biggest nails and heaviest hammer I could find in my husband's toolbox…which probably hadn't been opened since 1981.

The next morning I saw the squirrel perched on the feeder, stuffing his furry little face. The crumbs he dropped were being attacked by a bunch of blue jays waiting below.

Things pretty much went on that way for a few days. An occasional chickadee showed up to break the monotony, and the big black birds returned, making enough noise to wake the dead (a.k.a. my snoring husband).

I hated to admit it, but my feeder was a bore. I mean, I had a bunch of run-of-the-mill noisy birds and a cranky squirrel. No colorful finches, no pretty songbirds, and most of all, no cardinals.

One night, I didn't put out any food for the birds. It was too cold and windy out there and I was too warm and cozy inside.

The next morning, I looked out the window and saw my feeder hanging upside down on the tree. I went out to make a closer inspection. It was covered with teeth marks and a whole corner had been gnawed off. Obviously cranky Mr. Squirrel had not been pleased to miss his free meal.

Rather than risk the safety of my fingers in a futile effort to pound more nails into the tree, I decided just to forget the feeder idea and toss the seeds and nuts directly onto the ground.

The critters seemed to like the new arrangement. The birds returned and the squirrel brought his wife and kids. The big black birds and the blue jays feasted and squawked. And some small red-headed black-and-white striped bird that could run vertically up and down the tree joined them.

I still haven't seen a cardinal, but just yesterday morning I saw huge tracks in the snow not far from the broken feeder. I looked them up on the Internet and they most closely resembled moose tracks…about 1200 pounds of moose, according to my calculations.

Even though I've always wanted to see a moose, I'm pretty sure I don't want to come face to face with a 1200-pounder.

Although, I'm pretty sure the squirrel with the anger-management problem might scare him away.

Monday, December 14, 2009

TALK TO ME, TEDDY!

I've always been a kid at heart, and the other day I proved that I'm an even bigger kid than I thought I was.

I was hanging around in Rite Aid, waiting for one of my husband's 9,000 prescriptions to be filled, when I wandered into the stuffed-animal aisle. A big "50% off" sign caught my eye.

There was a stuffed rottweiler, which I immediately was attracted to, mainly because I have two real ones. There was a puppy that wagged and barked, which was cute. And then there was another animal that sang songs. I stood there playing with each one, probably annoying the poor clerk at the nearby counter. I was certain she'd been subjected to a chorus of those animals singing, barking and talking a zillion times a day and was ready to stuff them into the trunk of her car and drive them over a cliff somewhere.

Suddenly this furry little teddy bear caught my eye. His tag said to squeeze his paw and then talk to him and he'd answer you because he actually could hear what you were saying.

I was intrigued. I also was a bit hesitant to stand in a crowded store and talk to a teddy bear. I mean, people already think I'm weird enough. I didn't need to add fuel to the fire.

But my curiosity finally got the better of me. I squeezed the teddy bear's paw. Immediately he said, "Oh, yeah!"

The instructions on his tag then said to greet him with, "Hello, Teddy." I did.

"What's up?" he answered, in a loud teddy-like voice.

There were 10 questions on his list that it said he answered, so I picked one at random. "Are you hungry?" I asked him.

"I'm starving!" he said. "When do we eat around here?"

I couldn't conceal my surprise. I searched for another question.

"Can you burp?" I asked.

By then, people were beginning to stare at me.

"Uuurrrrrrp!" came the reply from the teddy bear. "Now you try it!" he said.
I decided to forego the burping contest, even though I knew I could have outdone him.

"Sing for me!" I said. I was so fascinated at that point, I didn't care who was staring at me.

The teddy bear cleared his throat. " Mi, mi, mi (cough!) – maybe later."

"Sing for me!" I repeated.

"My throat is sore!" he shot back.

Teddy then burst into a chorus of "Old MacDonald."

That did it. I was hooked. I had to have him. With his talent, however, I figured he'd probably cost the national debt of a small country. I brought him up to the register.

"How much is he?" I asked the clerk, my expression as hopeful as a child's on Christmas morning.

She scanned his tag. "He's on sale for $9.99."

I couldn't believe my ears. I whipped out a $10 bill.

"Wait till you see the great toy I bought!" I fairly gushed to my husband the minute I got home.

When I pulled an ordinary-looking teddy bear out of the bag, he gave me a look that clearly said, "have you finally gone off the deep end?"

But then I put Teddy through his paces.

"I love you," I said to Teddy.

"Don't get all mushy on me!" Teddy answered.

"I love you!" I repeated.

"I love you, too," Teddy said.

My husband's eyebrows rose.

Unfortunately, so did both of my dogs'.

The look of total surprise on the pups' faces made me start to laugh.

"What's so funny?" Teddy suddenly asked.

My husband and I just stared at each other, wide-eyed. Teddy's comment wasn't even on the list! I was beginning to get the feeling that the toy really could hear us.

Sabre, my older rottweiler, decided she wanted Teddy…and she wanted him bad.

No place I tried to hide the bear worked. Sabre sniffed him out and whined at the cabinet door, closet door, bureau drawer – wherever he was, she was there...whining.

"Maybe she senses something about him that we don't," my husband said.

Several episodes of Twilight Zone about dolls and toys coming to life and attacking people immediately came to mind.

Teddy's on the top shelf of the guest-room closet right now. If I look for him tomorrow morning and he's not there, I'm calling an exorcist.

Monday, December 7, 2009

DON'T FENCE ME IN


Although we're enjoying living in our new house, we still own the old one, and it's not easy keeping track of – or paying for – two places.

So last Saturday morning when I received a call from one of our former neighbors, telling me the wind had blown down a tree that landed in our yard, I immediately felt a sense of panic.

"Did it hit the roof?" I asked.

"I don't think so," she said.

That answer didn't calm my fears. I immediately headed over there.

I don't know why, but I thought I'd find just a big branch lying on the ground. Instead, what I found was a huge tree with a trunk about the diameter of a trash-can lid, lying across the entire yard and extending pretty far into my neighbor's yard.

And beneath the massive trunk and broken branches lay the twisted remains of what once was my fairly new chain-link fence…and my fairly old aluminum umbrella-type clothesline.

I stood there with my hands on my hips and stared at the giant redwood covering my yard. My first thought was that if we still lived there and the dogs had been out in the yard playing as usual, they would have been turned into furry pancakes. And if I had been out in the yard playing ball with them, I'd have ended up with my nose stuck in the dirt.

My second thought was how on earth I was going to get rid of the tree. Spending a lot of money for a professional to cut it up and haul it away was out of the question – that is, unless the guy didn't mind being paid in pennies from my piggy bank.

I had visions of myself with an old-fashioned saw (my body parts have specifically requested that I stay away from power tools), spending the next three or four years just trying to saw through the massive trunk.

I wasn't certain if my homeowner's insurance covered flattened fences, but just in case, I grabbed my camera and started snapping photos. I remembered someone once telling me (the last time a tree fell on our place), "Be sure to take a photo of the base of the tree to show that it's broken off and not cut smoothly, so they won't think you cut it down yourself."

That made sense. I mean, if I were, for some unknown reason, to cut down a tree in my yard, odds are it would land on someone or something not even remotely close to where I'd intended it to fall.

A few minutes later, the neighbor whose yard was underneath the top part of my tree, pulled into his driveway.

"Jeez," he said, when he got out of his truck, "When Al (another neighbor) called to tell me a big branch had fallen in my yard, I didn't realize there was still a whole tree attached to it!"

"I guess I should feel lucky," I said, sighing. "A couple feet more to the left and my roof would have had a new skylight."

As we stood talking, a guy with a chainsaw suddenly appeared, like a superhero from out of the blue. I half expected to see his cape flapping in the wind.

Within seconds, he was slicing through the tree as easily as if it were made of butter. Then another guy in a truck pulled up and said he could use the wood. He jumped out of the truck and started flinging tree chunks into the back of it.

In less than a half-hour, there was nothing left in my yard but a pile of sawdust and a fence that looked as if elephants had been playing leapfrog over it and missed.

That Monday, I called my insurance company and asked if my policy covered fence mutilation.

"Yes," the woman said. "How many linear feet of fence were destroyed?"

"I don't know," I said, "I didn't measure it."

"How long was the tree?" she asked.

"I don't know. I didn't measure it."

"How big around was the diameter?"

"I don't know. I didn't measure it. But I took pictures!"

"That's OK," she said.

I was pretty sure an adjustor would be sent over to verify the tree incident, but no one came.

So I called a fence company for an estimate for repairs. An installer arrived and measured everything. The damages came to $750.

Once I pay the deductible, I figure I'll probably end up with only about $25 to spend for repairs.

I wonder how much chicken wire I can buy for that amount.