GOING BUGGY

We have bugs.

They’re all over the place. A grasshopper in the kitchen. A beetle in the living room. A fly in the playroom. Even a moth in the freezer.

It does not please me that we have so many, but I want my daughter to get a good education. Her grade on her Science project depends on it, so we have bugs—temporarily.

And we are actively recruiting more bugs, preferably ones we’ve never seen before. The bigger the better. She’s hoping to find one of those giant cockroaches that hisses. If she does, I’m calling our realtor. I can have the house packed in 48 hours.

Each time she finds a new bug, she catches it in an empty peanut butter jar. She observes it for a few minutes then hastens its demise by adding a cotton ball soaked with a few drops of acetone to the jar. It doesn’t take long. She likes to do play-by-play of the dying process for me, usually while I’m around food. Her favorite part is when the bug is lying on its back, signaling with one leg that the end is near with periodic twitches.

My husband and son have gotten into the act as well. They help her find and catch creepy-crawly things, watch them die with her, and threaten to send me into a bona-fide mental breakdown by tossing the creatures onto my lap. It would only take one.

I hate bugs. That’s why I keep the sugar in a canister with an air-tight seal and don’t allow candy stashes in the bedrooms. That’s why I was especially upset the other night when my husband presented my daughter with a prize he’d caught while she was at school.

“Cool!” she said, turning the jar to get a better look. “Where’d you get it?”

My husband smiled, obviously pleased with himself. “It’s one of those bugs that lives in the basement.”

My head whipped around. “What do you mean by ‘lives in the basement?’”

He cocked his head as if my question were a silly one. “That’s one of those bugs that lives in the basement,” he repeated.

“I wasn’t aware we had any bugs living in the basement.”

“Everyone has bugs in their basement.”

This was news to me. News I haven’t gotten over. And now, not only am I aware of the phantom bugs I’ve never seen that I’m told live and breed in our basement, but every day I’m confronted with the assortment of dead bugs we have on display in peanut butter jars all over the house.

Creepy. I’d prefer a good book report any day.

SORE PAW MY FOOT!

The other day we took our cat, Pete, to the vet. Overnight, he’d gone from limping on his front right leg to hopping on three legs. Pitiful.

We expected he’d stepped on something sharp or had been injured roughhousing with our other cat. We were concerned he might have an abscess. Poor baby.

Our attempts to examine the paw resulted in him hissing at us and threatening to bite. Obviously, he was in terrible pain.

Suddenly I felt bad for refusing to share my strawberry yogurt with Pete that morning. It’s his favorite treat. The guilt was overwhelming.

I called the vet and fortunately they had an immediate opening. We coaxed him into the pet carrier and whisked him away to receive the medical care he deserved. We prayed we weren’t too late.

After the doctor examined the patient, he confirmed our cat had a sore paw. He assured us it would probably be fine in a few days and gave us a syringe filled with medicine. Just squirt it in the cat’s mouth, he said. Or on top of his favorite food. He sent us and the cat home to take a nap.

When we got home, I scooped a spoonful of strawberry yogurt into a pretty little bowl and mixed in the medicine. I sat the bowl on the floor and called kitty-kitty. Pete hobbled over to the bowl like a dead man walking and sniffed. I held my breath. When he began to lap up the yogurt I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe he’d make it after all.

The moment he finished the yogurt, he licked his lips and scampered off into the living room. He found his favorite ball and had himself a rousing game of “Pounce the Ping Pong” – a game that requires four fully-functioning paws. It’s a fast-paced game, violent at times, and he played until he wore himself out. Then he jumped up on the couch for a bath and a nap.

Amazed that he’d made such a quick recovery, I googled the name of Pete’s medication. I had to know more about this miracle drug.

The more I read, the more I realized we’d been scammed. Turned out, the clear liquid in the syringe was nothing more than a kitty aspirin. It hadn’t even had time to kick in before Pete began romping around like a three-year-old on a sugar high.

I still don’t know whether to be mad or impressed that Pete is that smart. All I know is it cost me $56.00 and Pete got the yogurt he wanted. All I can say is this:  Don’t mess with me, cat. I’m on to you…

TIRED OF TIRES

My husband gave me a little job to do while he’s out of town. He handed me a piece of paper with some numbers on it and asked me to buy new tires for his car. Four of them. Fortunately, this is not the first time I’ve been sent to buy something I know nothing about.

 When I was in high school, my mother sent me to a sporting goods store to buy my older brother a cup for football. My younger brother heard us talking and said he needed one, too. I didn’t ask why one needed to be medium and one needed to be large. And I didn’t understand the difference between an athletic supporter and a cup until I got to the store and learned the latter is not something to drink out of. On stormy nights I still have flashbacks of the clerk’s explanation. I think he must have gone a year or two to medical school. 

Ever since that harrowing experience, I’ve insisted on full disclosure before I agree to go shopping for someone else to buy something I know nothing about. I make them write down exactly what they want. Size, color, inseam, diameter, tensile strength, thread count, octane content, length, height, width, square inches, decaf or regular, with or without deodorant and for crying out loud make it legible. The model number is good, too. I’ll take the SKU number if you’ve got it.

 As is turns out, this is an especially good rule when it comes to tires because—and I’m not trying to be funny here—they all look alike. Round. Black. Rubbery. So I was a little annoyed when I discovered my husband ignored my policy. 

I handed the impatient clerk the paper with the information my husband wrote down. He clicked on his computer for a minute, swung the screen around to face me and began speaking in sales-ese. He droned on and on about the virtues of the models he recommended—any one of which, he asserted, would be an exceptional choice. He bragged about tread depth and treadwear expectancy. With one brand we’d save fuel because new technology resulted in a tire that rolled more easily. Really? It’s round. It’s a tire. What else would it do but roll? 

He claimed another tire offered exceptional traction on icy and slick roads. Oh? I may not know much about buying tires, but I know enough to not expect exceptional traction when driving on ice. 

He wrapped up his pitch by showing me samples, spinning each in a full 360 for my inspection and encouraging me to touch the tread. Then he looked at me expectantly, waiting for my decision.

 Buying  a cup for my brothers so they could play football without risking their future procreative privileges was a breeze compared to shopping for tires. I tried to choose. I really did. But my head was spinning like a flat tire on an icy road. I gave up, came home and put my feet up. 

Sorry, Honey. You’re going to have to buy your own tires. But if you ever decide to go out for football, I’m your girl.

MY NEW TOY

Well, I did it. I finally joined the twenty-first century and gave in to the e-book revolution. I fought it as long as I could. But when I kept seeing e-books I wanted to buy on Amazon for $.99—or better yet free—I cracked.

I’d already been introduced to the ease of downloading books when I learned a few months ago that Amazon had an app to read Kindle books on my PC. It felt like a step forward, but portability was a problem. If I wanted to take an e-book with me to read while I waited for the dental hygienist to clean my kids’ teeth, it was too much trouble. So I ended up thumbing through old issues of Highlights and Golf Digest instead.

Then one day at Office Max, when we’d stopped in to by my son a new spiral notebook to doodle in, the Kindle display caught my eye. My daughter turned it on, pushed a few buttons and suddenly text filled the screen. It reminded me of the old days when having my own portable black and white TV seemed like a dream. The compact size would fit easily in my purse or a tote bag. And this one device could hold more books than I had in my entire house. Amazing!

A few days later I saw a refurbished Kindle Touch for sale for $74.00 on Amazon, a $25.00 savings. It came with the same warranty as if I’d paid full price. I read through a list of its features. When I learned I could transfer my personal documents to the Kindle to read on the go, I was hooked. I counted the bills in my mad-money envelope. As if by providence the two matched up. I pushed the “Buy now with 1-click” button before I could change my mind. And I’m glad I did.

I love my Kindle. I downloaded the ESV Bible for free and only paid $1.99 for the KJV Bible. I picked up a newly-released book by a favorite author for only $3.99. It even has Sudoku! And I’m just getting started.

There is one little problem, though. My daughter likes my Kindle, too. She’s already finished one book on it, and she’s half-way through another. I can already see the need to buy her a Kindle of her own. Or maybe I’ll just give her mine and I’ll get a new one. Have you seen the Kindle Fire? It has color!

IT’S IN THE BAG

I think I’m turning into a bag lady. 

It started when I went to a writer’s conference. Each attendee was given a tote bag with the American Christian Fiction Writers logo on it. It turned out to be pretty handy to carry around the hotel. I loaded it with pens, a notepad, the workshop schedule, free books and bookmarks I picked up, business cards, my book proposal, coin purse, lipstick and other personal items. When I got home I kept all my writing-relating stuff in it for when I wanted to, say, go to Panera and spend a couple of hours writing away from dusty bookshelves and the crumbs on the kitchen floor. 

Then when we went on vacation it became my fun-stuff-to-do-in-the-car bag. I tossed in a couple of novels, a book of Sudoku puzzles, magazines, 3×5 cards for jotting down interesting recipes, Pez and a bag of wintergreen Life Savers (my secret indulgences), and a couple of audio books I rented from the library in case the two monkeys in the back seat got restless or starting bickering. In a gift shop I found another cute bag with a brightly colored geometric design to carry all our souvenirs. 

When we came home from our trip the washing machine broke down before I finished the first load of laundry. I loaded three baskets of sweaty t-shirts, muddy jeans, dirty socks and underwear into the car and headed for the nearest laundromat. I packed my new tote bag to take along. Instead of watching sudsy clothes go round-and-round, I started a new novel, worked three Sudoku puzzles and finished the bag of mints. 

Eventually, I got tired of using the same two bags each time I wanted to take a bag somewhere. I started buying cute bags whenever I saw one. Soon I had five or six. I hit every thrift store and garage sale in a twenty mile radius. My collection grew to eight or ten. My family threatened to intervene. 

This time of year, I can hardly walk through Target without feeling the pull. Who can’t use a cute new candy-striped or polka-dot bag to take to the pool? On every family outing I’m expected to take along a box of granola bars and a couple of bottles of water. What am I supposed to carry them in? I’m not about to use a crumpled brown paper bag when I can sling the snacks over my shoulder in style, encased in an insulated lime green bag with little white starfish. Am I right? 

If you ever hear a rumor that I’ve been captured and carted off to rehab it won’t be because of drugs or alcohol. Oh, no. It’ll be the bags.

POSSIBILITIES!

I got two pieces of good news recently. First, I’m a semi-finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s annual Genesis Contest in the Contemporary Romance category. Second, a magazine editor that I sent a short story to emailed me to say she “loved my story”, but she said she has a backlog of fiction. She asked permission to hang on to my story for a while. I’m not stupid, so I said yes.

Despite these bits of good news, things are still in limbo. I’m waiting. Will my contest entry make it to the finals? I won’t know until the end of May. Will the magazine editor decide to publish my short story? I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see.

I’m tempted to hope and dream and pray about what I wish will happen—and I do—but not during every waking hour. I can’t spend that much energy on it and still be productive. I have to keep working on and submitting new ideas because I love having possibilities out there. Knowing that any day I could get a phone call or an email with good news. So yesterday, I submitted a  short story to another magazine and I finished a second story to send to the editor who loved the first story I sent her. I’ll submit it next week. Then I’ll have even more possibilities out there. Meanwhile, my agent is trying to sell my first novel which is another possibility out there.

It’s hard to wait. I don’t like it. But I have found that the more possibilities I have headed toward an editor’s desk, the easier it is to wait because all my hope isn’t wrapped up in one project. One rejection won’t cause my world to crumble because I have other possibilities out there. My hope remains alive and it’s easier to shrug off one failed attempt because the optimist in me keeps waiting for the good news I know is coming sooner or later.

So I stay busy finishing a new book, writing a new story, submitting my work, because every now and then, instead of a rejection, I get a letter or email that says, “Congratulations!” And that is so worth the wait.

The one who stays on the job has food on the table; the witless chase whims and fancies.
Proverbs 12:11 The Message

What are you waiting for?

KITTENS!

We’ve had a little miracle here at the Allen house. Actually, five little miracles. After weeks of waiting and anticipation, and praying that the kids would get to witness the birth, Honey had her kittens on April 1.

Tension hung in the air on that Sunday morning when she began having contractions. They weren’t regular or hard enough to produce kittens, so we made the decision to go on to church. My daughter sketched Honey and her prediction of five kittens during the sermon. I have to admit my mind wandered as well, and I hoped more than once we weren’t missing the big event. After the service, we skipped the coffee and muffins and raced home, the same question on all our minds. We found Honey as we’d left her, perched on top of an old microwave cart, looking out the window. We were happy and a little disappointed at the same time.

That afternoon, around 4:30, I was sitting with her, dozing off and on, when I noticed a significant contraction. Five minutes later she had another one. Five minutes after that she had a stronger one. I knew it was time.

My son sat nearby at the computer, working on a book report. I told him the big event was about to take place and he’d better go notify his father and sister. Soon the whole family gathered around Honey, staring at her undulating midsection. I’ll spare you the gory details, but about an hour later the first kitten was born. My kids, 14 and 11, sat in amazement as they watched the birth. Their smiles told the story – I didn’t have to ask what they thought.

In order of appearance, we have one calico, three grey kittens (the third of which has a tan mask just above his eyes) and one mixture of white and orange tabby. All healthy. All beautiful.

The miracle of new life has brought a few changes to our routine. Before school, the kids take turns scooping litter, giving Honey food and fresh water, changing the pillowcase in the bottom of the laundry basket. But mostly, they sit and watch Honey care for her kittens.

Besides enjoying the baby-stage of the kittens, I hope they’ll learn something more important. When they watch the kittens nursing from their purring mother, falling asleep as she snuggles close to protect them, receiving momma’s kisses as she keeps them clean, I hope they will understand that Honey’s selfless devotion to her offspring—a 24/7 endeavor—is motivated by a mother’s love. I hope my kids will imagine that when they were infants they were cared for in the same tender manner. Adored. Beloved. Cherished. Because they were.

MEET HONEY

We recently took in a pregnant stray cat. On purpose. Temporarily. 

Kim, an acquaintance of mine, works with a local cat rescue group. These kindhearted folks track down abandoned pets and feral cats around apartment complexes, businesses and neighborhoods. They find foster homes, like ours, where the animals are cared for and loved on until they can find a good home for them. They also rescue cats from shelters to prevent them from being euthanized when their time runs out.

Honey is one of the cats they rescued.

My daughter, Sarah, and I have talked about fostering a pregnant cat for a couple of years now. At age 11, she loves all things soft and furry, especially things that sit on your lap and purr. So do I.

The cat arrived two weeks ago. Kim said we could name her. For a week, we observed her behavior, got to know her personality. Sarah posted a list on the refrigerator with all the suggested names. Over dinner last week, we had a vigorous debate over the possible names. It rivaled the upcoming presidential election in terms of loyalty to individual candidates. After a vote, “Honey” emerged as the winner. We all agreed that because of her color, and because she is so sweet, we’d made a fitting choice.

The plan is that once the kittens are weaned, Honey will go to another foster home. After her milk dries up she’ll be spayed and then, after she recovers from surgery, she’ll be put up for adoption.

Now, don’t tell my husband, but I’d like to be the first in line.

I know…I know. We made it clear to the kids that we couldn’t keep any of the kittens, no matter how cute they were. We already have two cats. They understood. So I shouldn’t even think about it, but…she is the sweetest little thing.

When the time comes, I sure am going to miss her. But at least I’ll have the peace of knowing that we made a home for her during her time of need. And in this ever-darker world we live in, we will have done one small thing to combat the notion that life—any life—is dispensable, rather than a precious gift from God, worthy of love.

THE INFERNAL EQUINOX

It’s starting…

Trees budding. Robins hopping around the back yard. Ants in the kitchen. All sure signs of spring around my house, and it couldn’t be more welcome. Today, the weatherman is predicting highs in the low 70’s with a guaranteed bad hair day due to windy conditions. Last week we had snow. I’ve lived in Missouri long enough to know this is a normal weather pattern this time of year.

Even as Mother Nature’s pendulum swings between snowflakes and sunshine, people like me, who get spring fever on the day after Christmas, will not have our optimism deterred. Spring is coming, and we don’t want to hear anything different.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, spring in the Northern Hemisphere begins this year on March 20 at precisely 1:14 am EDT, at the time of the vernal equinox. (Equinox is a fancy Latin word meaning equal night.) On that day, “the sun rises exactly due east and sets exactly due west. The day and night are each approximately 12 hours long.”

Approximately?

Reading further, I discover that on March 16th there will be 11:59 hours of daylight and on the 17th there will be 12:02 hours of daylight. So why are we waiting until March 20th to declare spring? By then, we’ll be soaking up a glorious 12:11 hours of daylight. I thought this was science.

Every time I mention planting flowers or pulling my capri pants out of the closet, my daughter, the more literal of my two offspring, reminds me that spring doesn’t officially start until the calendar says it starts on March 20. That may be true – technically.

But I don’t need my daughter, or the calendar, or the Farmer’s Almanac to tell me when spring starts. I can feel it in my bones.

HOODIE-HOO DAY

One of my favorite holidays is coming up. It’s even better than Ground Hog Day. If you’re like me, and you start getting spring fever on the first day of winter, you’ll love this holiday, too.

Monday, February 20 is Northern Hemisphere Hoodie-Hoo Day. There are no presents to buy. No decorating to do. No baking to be done. No work involved at all. To celebrate, put on springy clothes, grab your sunglasses, a handkerchief or something similar, and go outside at 11:55 am. Look for the sun. Think about all the things you love about spring:  warmer weather, flowers, thunderstorms, warmer weather, short sleeves, iced tea, warmer weather, etc. At high noon (local time) face the sun, wave your handkerchief, and call out, “Hoodie-Hoo! Hoodie-Hoo!” Yes! Out LOUD! This is no time for timidity. Just like when we were kids and our intense hand-clapping saved Tinkerbelle’s life, our collective cries of “Hoodie-Hoo!” will chase away winter and usher in spring. So put your heart into it. Who cares if the neighbors stare and point over the fence? It’s fun. And besides, they’ll thank us soon enough.

Then get ready. Order that seed catalog. Sharpen your mower blades. Buy a new jar for sun tea. Spring is on its way. Target already has swimsuits in stock. They know it won’t be long now before we’ll all be spreading GrubEx and grass seed and listening for the ding-ding-ding of the ice cream truck. I can almost taste that cherry Bomb Pop now…

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For more information on Northern Hemisphere Hoodie-Hoo Day, and to see a few photos of past celebrations, visit http://www.wellcat.com/february/northern_hemisphere_hoodie.htm.

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