Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Of mice and closets

I cleaned out the bedroom closet last week. On the surface, this sounds like a mundane domestic chore but like so many things in life—including this post—it had the potential to be more complicated than it needed to be. But when you live in a century-old house with limited storage, it doesn't pay to let things get out of hand.

 There is only one closet on the first floor of our house and I think its design owes more to accident than intention. The guy who built our house did a great job with the woodwork and built-ins but not so much with the closets. The one in question was made by walling off the space under the stairs to the second floor.


Our house was built in 1919 by a guy named Pete Maas. Peat Moss. Get it? Gardener humor. Never mind.


Anyway, I am pretty sure Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs was bigger than this closet. It has about twenty square feet of usable space. Unfortunately, it’s all vertical. There’s room for a few clothes bars in the middle, then each end tapers down to the floor, rendering the space usable only by people who like to crawl around on their knees. For the record, I am not one of those people. It resembles Harry’s cupboard in a lot of ways, although there aren’t any spiders. There are occasionally mice.


When Phoenix was alive, one of his greatest gifts was telling me when there was a mouse in the mousetrap. I don’t know about the rest of you, but of all the things that need to get done in the course of the day, checking mousetraps doesn’t always make my top 10.


It should. 


If you have a mousetrap set anywhere in your house, it is in your best interests to check it regularly. 


If you do not, one day you will open your closet and the nauseating waves of dead mouse stink that come rolling out will knock you into next week. It will take every ounce of fortitude you possess to venture into the closet, one arm clenching a flashlight and one hand clamped firmly over your mouth and nose because if you inhale you might barf and there is no way on God’s earth you want to spend any more time in this confined space with this tiny dead thing that stinks like a freaking week-dead 1,200 pound steer laying in the sun at high noon in Iowa in July. (Brief aside – I DO know what that smells like, thanks to the derecho of 1998. But I digress.)


Mice do not go gentle into that good night. In the process, they drag the trap about two feet from where you set it, usually behind or under something. And this is where they will proceed to get a stink on.


Phoenix always told me before that happened. For almost 11 wonderful years, I did not have to check the bedroom closet mousetrap because Phoenix would tell me when there was a mouse in it. He would bounce up and down in front of the door, an expression of absolute delight on his face, like he’d just done the most wonderful ever in the existence of wonderful things.


Banner does not share the same enthusiasm for rodent patrol unless the trap is in plain sight. If he and I get a visual at the same time, it’s game on and a mad rush to see who can get there first. It’s winner, winner, mouse for dinner if he beats me.


But traps behind a closet door? Meh.


As a result I occasionally find myself getting knocked on my butt when I open the closet and get a reminder that A) this house is over 100 years old B) the foundation is not mouse-tight and C) for the love of God, check the damned mousetrap. Meanwhile, Banner looks at me like, “Ewww, gross, that stinks. Can I eat it?”


And now I’m out of time for this week. See what I mean? A closet-cleaning post shouldn’t be complicated but here I’ve written one and the whole thing was about dogs and dead mice. I’ll try to finish it next week. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Towels and tribulations

When the Farmer and I got married, we got towels as wedding gifts. A. Lot. Of. Towels. I’d registered for household furnishings at a local department store (this was before bridal registries at Target and Walmart were a thing, if that tells you how absolutely antiquated I am), but many thrifty friends and family members bought less expensive towelery (that’s a word – don’t argue) at the big box stores instead. 

 I’m totally not complaining. Towels are wonderful, useful, practical gifts with many applications beyond post-bath drying. Subduing cats for medical treatment and preventing in-house floods when plumbing malfunctions are just two of them.

But eventually the vintage 1991 towels wore out and I was forced to replace them. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have stockpiled towels like people stockpiled toilet paper a year ago. There would be boxes and boxes of brand-new towels stashed in our house, waiting to be pressed into duty when their predecessors expired. 

But I didn’t. And life went on. And now the inevitable has happened. Another 15 years have passed and the circa 2006 towels have worn out. I’m amazed they lasted as long as they did, especially since 2007 marked the arrival of Phoenix in my life and he was obsessed with destroying - among other things - towels. One of his great joys in life was to shove into the bathroom after I showered and attack the towel. I was usually done with it by the time he got his teeth on it. Sometimes I wasn’t. The result was every towel in our house had a series of puncture wounds. 

Even today, there are still a few Phoenix towels in the people cupboard and even more in the dog drawer, where I use them to dry a dog with no interest in attacking bathroom linens. I can hold them up and see light through the holes and they make me smile. 

Buying new towels has been one of those things that was simple in concept but difficult in execution. Towels have gotten complicated. They have evolved from simple pieces of terry cloth used to dry wet skin after a bath to elaborate, plush fabrics whose main purpose seems to be being put on display to show off how luxurious one’s bathroom is. Our bathroom is strictly farmhouse utilitarian - it's not campaigning for a photo spread in a home decorating magazine. 

Then there is something called a bath sheet. I am unclear on why anyone would want one of these since they are the approximate size and weight of a sleeping bag. Did I miss something in the last 30 years? Has there been a shift to wearing towels as garments? I’ve never enjoyed a lifestyle where lounging about, swathed shoulder to ankle in a towel, has been a normal practice. Towels are part of the journey, not the destination. 

Most of us have a designated towel cupboard in our bathrooms. It holds a certain number of towels and they have to be folded in a specific manner (bi-fold or tri-fold). If you don’t fold them the right way, you can’t get the door shut. Between the bath sheets and the ultra-plush luxury fabrics, we were going to need to build an addition onto the house just to hold the new towels. 

My initial forays into new towel purchasing were not successful. Even though I avoided the voluminous bath sheets, I bought what I thought was the standard-issue bath towel, only to find it was larger than its thin and frayed colleagues. It interrupted the tidy arrangement of the towel cupboard. 

After several more towels purchased at different stores did not fit either, I resorted to the ultimate in OCD: I measured my old towels and found out manufacturers have moved forward with a “More is better!” approach. 

No. More is not better. More does not fit. More irritates my need for things in cupboards to line up neatly. I was ready to pull the old, raggedy towels out of the designated dog towel drawer (where things also line up neatly) and press them back into service for the humans, but then I’d be faced with the “Is this a dog towel or people towel?” conundrum. Don’t laugh. The struggle is real.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Because. Cake.

I’m not one of those trendy food bloggers who thinks everyone has time to hear them wax poetic about their culinary skills and the merits of a recipe that will save civilization before getting down to business, so here you go.
SINGLE SERVING CHOCOLATE CAKE 1/2 C. flour 2 T. granulated sugar 2 T. cocoa 1/4 tsp. baking soda 1/8 tsp. salt 1/4 C. plus 1 T. milk 2 T. vegetable oil Blend until smooth and pour into cereal bowl. Bake in microwave 90 to 100 seconds on high or until most of the surface looks dry. Let stand briefly (like, really briefly, because if you can be in the same room with a hot, fresh miniature chocolate cake for more than a minute without grabbing a fork and digging in, there's something wrong with you) then frost. Or not. In my world frosting is never optional but it's a personal choice.
There are probably a thousand cake-in-a-mug recipes and I’ve made it my life’s work to test them all. I quit when I got to #347 because A) there are only so many ways to reinvent the wheel and B) this one, as Goldilocks said, is just right.
You will notice two things about the above photo. 1) I am not a food stylist. I do not have the time or patience to create lusciously dreamy food porn photos. You’re lucky I managed to stop eating long enough to snap this shot with my phone. I had the phone in my left hand and the fork in my right. I’m not kidding. 2) My mug cake is not in a mug. Apparently I do not have the proper size of mugs or the proper wattage microwave to make cake-in-a-mug recipes successful. Previous attempts came out with the texture of a dishwashing sponge while the center was still unbaked. This is a genuine vintage 1988 Corelle cereal bowl. It’s also being baked in a genuine vintage 1988 Amana Radarange. It’s the microwave I bought when I moved into my first apartment after graduating from college. There is nothing sleek or modern about it. It’s the size of a small doghouse but ya know what? It still radars like champ. It pops a full bag of popcorn without burning and bakes these delicious cakes. My life is complete.
Baking is therapeutic. Chocolate is therapeutic. This recipe is damn near a prescription for a mood-altering drug. Glad I could hook you up. This recipe just might save civilization. Make cake, not war. In light of full disclosure, this recipe could probably be two servings. It’s almost-but-not-quite too much for one person at one time. The key word here is almost. If you want to share it with your sweetie, you are a nicer person than me. I’ll make a second one to share. I’m not totally selfish.
A final note: the Blogger interface has changed since I last used it and not for the better. Until I figure out how to put actual paragraphs in the text, please bear with me. It's making me crazy(er) that the recipe is in paragraph form but I've spent 20 minutes trying to get it into a list and honest to God, I do have a life I need to get on with. The cake will taste just as good, I promise.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The return of the prodigal Gypsy

Several people (you know who you are and this is all your fault) asked me recently where the Gypsy had disappeared to. Honestly, the last time I saw her, she’d packed her dog and her laptop and took off in search of a happy place where she could train and write and escape from the cluster f*ck known as 2020.

My sweet little get away house-on-wheels.
The fact the guy driving looks remotely like Lucas Till is purely coincidental.

Be careful what you wish for—I’m back. A little older and grumpier and not a whole lot wiser but happy to be moving forward toward a brighter year.


Here, in no particular order, are some observations from the last year:


I’ve lived through (or am in the process of living through, with plans to successfully complete this detour) a global pandemic. The joker who said "May you live in interesting times" sure had a twisted sense of humor.

On the bright side, every introvert in the world had been practicing for this their whole life.


I’ve lived through two derechos. Can’t say I liked the second one (Aug. 10, 2020) any better than the first one (June 29, 1998).

This isn't my photo. But this is what eastern Iowa looked like the evening of Aug. 10. 


On a lighter note (well, sort of) I learned when I left the lid off the bird seed bin because “Banner would never eat that,” he will, indeed, eat that and he will eat it with the enthusiasm of a starving draft horse. Judging from what happened an hour later, he must have eaten about six cups of the stuff. Who eats six cups of bird seed if you’re not a bird? That dog ain’t right in the head.


I learned if you have four cats eating happily out of one pan and add one new cat now you have five cats eating out of three pans because suddenly two cats are thugs, two cats are terrified, peace-loving Quakers and one cat just wonders WTF is going on. 


My husband is not amused at this when I leave for a dog show and ask him to feed the cats. Don’t blame him. It’s like walking into a den of disgruntled yowling, hissing miniature lions when I go out to feed in the morning.


In happier news, I discovered a dandy recipe for a single serving chocolate cake you mix in a cereal bowl and cook for 90 seconds in the microwave.

This conveys the absolute decadence of having a cake in a bowl and not sharing.
Well. You could share. But you don't have to.

I learned this cake is excellent for breakfast—although cake is excellent for breakfast in general, so that’s not a monumental discovery.

I learned Banner will paw through a bag filled with a laptop, wallet, water bottle, jacket and other odds and ends to find a banana. He will then eat the banana. All. Of. The. Banana. Including the peel. 

He ate the whole enchilada. Or banana. Whatever.
If there had been an enchilada in the bag, he would have eaten that, too.


Until next time, hope 2021 brings you wonderful discoveries.