Friday, February 20, 2015


I own two winter coats. One is the one I wear when I’m going to a public place, like the mall or a restaurant. The other is a hooded  jacket I wear when I walk the dogs. Needless to say, the walking-the-dogs jacket has a lot less style and lot more warmth. When I wear it, I look about as shapely as the Michelin Man…but it keeps me toasty.

The other day, as I was about to walk the dogs, I put on my warm jacket and shoved my usual must-haves into the pockets: cell phone, keys, pepper spray, dog treats, tissues, a mini flashlight…and one by one, they landed on the floor. I took off the jacket and checked the pockets. When I stuck my hand into the left one, my fingers came out through the hem.

I wasn’t surprised. Over the past 10 years, I’d been noticing the shreds in the jacket’s lining, the holes in the pockets, and the zipper that got stuck more often than it zipped (due to the aforementioned shredded lining getting caught in it). But I tried to ignore the signs of impending doom. I was hoping the jacket somehow would miraculously heal itself, kind of like a wounded animal.

Considering the fact I can’t even thread a needle, I decided the time had come to buy a new warm winter jacket – one with pockets that actually were still attached to it. So I reluctantly went shopping.

Too soon I discovered that February really isn’t a good time to shop for warm clothing. Even though the outdoor temperature was cold enough to give a polar bear a bad case of the goosebumps, the clothing displays in most of the stores featured Bermuda shorts, halter tops and lightweight spring jackets. Any winter coats still available were clumped together on “sale” racks and looked as if they had been Christmas returns – probably because, judging from most of the styles, the people who’d received them as gifts had been too embarrassed to be seen wearing them in public.

And when I finally did find a jacket that met my criteria – long, past the hips, with a warm lining and a detachable hood – it was size XS, which meant that even if I could manage to squeeze any of my body parts into it, the length of the sleeves would end up somewhere around my elbows.

Discouraged, I came home and seriously tried to repair my old jacket. The results were so crooked, bunched up and hideous looking, the only place I’d ever wear the jacket would be in the middle of woods…after dark.  Even then, nocturnal wild animals probably would point at it and laugh.

Anyway, the other day my dogs and I took a ride to K-Mart because I wanted to buy an insulated cookie sheet. My oven has this bad habit of burning the bottoms of cookies to charcoal stage after only five minutes, while the tops of the cookies are still raw. But if I use an insulated sheet, the cookies come out golden on both the tops and the bottoms. I’d bought one earlier at K-Mart and liked it so much, I decided to buy another one.

When I entered the store, I happened to see a couple racks of ladies’ winter coats up ahead to the right, so for the heck of it, I checked them out.

There, among the seemingly endless leather jackets and unlined woolen coats, I spotted the perfect jacket. It was long, thick, soft, and was lined with a black, fleecy material. Even the hood and sleeves were fully lined for extra warmth. I tried on the jacket without even checking the size. To my disbelief, it fit perfectly.

I finally looked at the tag. The jacket was from the Jaclyn Smith (the former Charlie’s Angel) collection and was described as being “faux shearling.”  It also was $129.99.  That immediately kicked it up to a “going out to dinner” jacket, not a “walk the drooling and fur-shedding dogs” one.  It didn’t matter anyway. At that price, I couldn’t even afford the hood.

That’s when I noticed a big “SALE” sign on the rack.  I took off the jacket and rushed over to a clerk for a price check.

It was only $48. I nearly did a happy dance in the aisle.

Clutching the bag with my newly purchased jacket in it, I headed out to the car. I climbed in and set down the bag on the front seat.

Almost immediately, the dogs went crazy. Raven stuck her head between the seats and attacked the bag, grabbing it and trying to drag into the back seat. I had to tear it away from her.

When I got home, I checked the jacket’s materials listed on the label. I thought maybe the dogs had attacked it because it might contain real shearling instead of the “faux” variety – or maybe some kind of recycled animal fur.

The label listed only one material for the coat. And as far as I know, there is no animal called “100 percent polyester.”

Out of curiosity, I held up the jacket to see what the dogs would do once it was out of the bag. They growled at it.

So now I have a nice warm, new jacket…but I’m afraid to wear it. I have the feeling it may end up shredded with the pockets ripped off, just like my old jacket…only this time it won’t be from natural causes

But if I ever have to buy another winter coat, I figure July might be a good month to go shopping for one.
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Friday, February 6, 2015


When I moved out to the middle of the woods, I knew I would have to share my nearly eight acres of land with critters of all shapes and sizes. Thus far, I have done my best to get along with them, but there are a few that seem determined to force me, the intruder on their turf, to move back to the city.

The first resident I met was a deer. One minute, I was hanging a “no hunting” sign on a tree at the edge of my driveway, and the next, I was lying on the ground with my face in the dirt. A deer had come running out of the woods as if she were being chased by the devil himself…and I didn’t have time to jump out of her way. I was tempted to take down the “no hunting” sign and burn it. Since then, however, the deer (I named her “Deerdra”) and I have become good friends. She hangs around my yard all the time (if you are hunter who lives in my neighborhood, please ignore what I just wrote).

Then there was the coyote that fell in love with my dog, Raven. He started coming around when he was young, and would sit by the fence and stare with lovesick eyes at Raven. And at night, when Raven was in the house, he would sit by the fence and howl. I named him “Cody the Coyote.”  Well, Cody grew bigger and bigger – bigger than any coyote I’d ever seen. I finally took a photo of him and showed it to a wildlife expert.

“He’s part wolf,” the expert said. “That’s why he’s so large. But, believe it or not, that also makes him more docile.”

That probably would explain why several times when I went out to feed the birds, Cody was just sitting there watching me, not the least bit spooked by me (probably because he was picturing me smothered in gravy).

One critter I still feel bad about was a little red squirrel that had no tail. I called him “Piglet” because without his tail, he looked just like a guinea pig. Piglet came to my bird feeder every morning without fail, and I enjoyed watching his antics.

But then came the day when a big hawk also took interest in Piglet’s antics and swooped down on him. In a flash, Piglet was gone.  I still miss the little guy.

Over the years, I have seen turkeys, deer, a bear, foxes, a bobcat, porcupines, raccoons, fishers, squirrels, chipmunks and skunks on my land, and I’ve managed to get along well with all of them…well, with the exception of the bobcat.

But there are certain critters that have cost me a lot of money and given me plenty of headaches over the years.

There were the mice that built a nest in my central air-conditioning unit and then lined it with wires they’d chewed from its innards. It cost me a small fortune to get the unit rewired.

But the constant problem I’ve had every year involves my furnace. It has a low-to-the-ground vent at the back of the house. The vent is wide open, not protected in any way, which I’ve always thought was strange – and an invitation for trouble. But three different heating technicians have told me that putting screening over the vent would cause the flow of air to be affected.

So every year, my furnace has conked out and the cause has been (in order of appearance) a hornets’ nest, a wasps’ nest, a nest of mice, and another hornets’ nest inside the air vent, clogging up the works. And every year I’ve had to hire a repairman to come clean out the offending intruders.

The other night, a little after midnight, I started to feel chilly, so I turned up the heat. Nothing happened. Two hours later, the temperature indoors had dropped to 60 degrees. My first thought was, “Great. I wonder what’s living in the furnace vent this time?”

But something was different this time. I could smell a faint odor of propane. I grabbed the phone and called the gas company.

“Try not to light anything, like your kitchen stove, until we get there,” I was advised. “And don’t do anything that might cause a spark. Someone will be right over.”

I understood those words to mean, “Don’t even breathe!  Any move you make could cause you and your house to be blown into orbit!”

Well, “someone will be right over” turned out to be about five hours later. By then, I could see my breath in the living room. And I’d been so afraid to cause a static-electricity spark, I’d sat like a statue on the sofa for the five hours. I was pretty sure I’d never be able to move again, due to either hypothermia or atrophied muscles.

The technician immediately checked for gas leaks and carbon monoxide in the house. He said everything seemed fine. He then concentrated on my furnace.

“There doesn’t seem to be any air getting into it, so it’s not lighting,” he said, as if he were telling me something I hadn’t heard at least once a year for the past four years.

“Check the outside vent,” I told him “There’s probably a family of wolverines living in it.”

He gave me a puzzled look, then headed outside to the back of the house.

Within a few minutes, he was back. “There was something clogging it,” he informed me.

I rolled my eyes. “What was it this time?”

“A giant ball of spider webs.”

I hadn’t been prepared for that answer. Immediately, every hideous radiation-mutated giant spider from the horror movies I’d seen as a kid came to mind.

“Did you find the spider or spiders that built it?” I was afraid to ask.

He shook his head. “Nope. Just the webs.”

The good news was I immediately had heat in the house again. The bad news was whatever built that ball of spider webs still was lurking somewhere in my heating system.

“Can’t I put something over that vent that will prevent anything else from crawling in there?” I asked the guy, even though I already knew what he was going to say. “I feel as if I have a motel sign hanging out there for every creature within a 10-mile radius.”

“No, you can’t put anything over it,” he said. “But, if you want, you can install two PVC pipes in place of the vent and screen the ends on those. It won’t look too pretty, though.”

I envisioned my house looking like a giant hot rod, with two exhaust pipes sticking out of the rear of it.

So, once again I had to spend money to get rid of unwanted residents.

But on the bright side, maybe from now on, the giant mutant spider will eat anything else that tries to move in.
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