Thursday, June 29, 2006

Our visitors from Romania

Early yesterday evening I was watching "Jeopardy" (yes, I know, I'm a square) when there came a knock at the door. I was expecting the usual visitor asking to sign a petition or to dump chemicals on my lawn "because your neighbors all do it and (sneering askance at our scraggly-ass grass), well, damn."

However, it turned out to be a short, dark-haired, middle-aged woman with a young child in tow and a babushka'ed babushka a few paces behind.

"Sorry to bother you," she said in heavily-accented English, "but you have some flowers in your yard and we wondered if you could tell us what they are. We are from Romania and we use the flowers to help stomach aches. We have not seen them anywhere else."

I explained that I'm not much of a gardener, as one could tell by looking at our scraggly-ass grass, 'cause, well, damn. But I went out with her to the phalanx of flowers that our house's previous owners had planted around the front edge of our lawn. She pointed out some flowers that bore yellow blossoms about the size of a quarter:

I told her she was welcome to take as many as she wanted and show them to somebody who knew at least SOMETHING about flowers. The woman translated this for the babushka, whose broad smile revealed a number of metal covered teeth that glinted in the afternoon sun. She began gathering the plants and flowers as her (I guess) daughter explained how one can dry the greens in the sun and then make tea out of them. "Very good for stomach," she explained.

An aside: I had a total "Curb Your Enthusiasm moment" as the elderly woman straight from "Babushka Central Casting" pulled up more than half of the flowers. I am ashamed to admit that I felt like yelling, "Hey! Hey! I didn't say you could take ALL of them!" even though it was obvious that tending the foliage was not a top priority for me.

Anyway, my money is on my sister, Tavia, for the first to identify the flowers in the photo. Dr. Lizardo may come in a close second. I just hope the flowers aren't some lethal mutant variety that have killed all our Romanian neighbors by now.

"Ah yes," the forensic botanist will explain as they haul me off to jail, "this isn't dandygold. This is 'fool's dandygold,' better known as 'deadly creeping yellow gut claw.' It's a common mistake."

Oviparous cats

What kitties would look like if they hatched from eggs:

Monday, June 26, 2006

100 degrees in the shade

...actually, 102 degrees as of 3:20 this afternoon, as you can see from this shot of my handy weather station.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to call an air conditioning tech dude to come and give our AC system a tune up last week. But even working at peak efficiency, the system can only keep it around 80 degrees in the house. But with the low humidity, it's not so bad.

Apparently this is the first time the temperature has reached triple digits in June in Portland. Ever. Makes you wonder what August is going to be like. As bad as Argotnaut's allergies have been, she's been cracking wise about moving to the desert. But with summers becoming hotter, maybe Antarctica would be a better choice. Fewer allergens, and in 50 years it'll be beach front property!

So how do the critters (including Argotnaut) adapt to the heat? By doing as little as possible. Here, A. enjoys the first homemade ice mocha of the season:

Buster plays "possum"

Buddy hordes all the chewies he's stolen from other dogs' yards on our walks.

Me, I'm finally getting around to all the inside projects I've been procrastinating about, like putting the closet doors on the closet in A's office, and installing our shower water recycler. One good thing about hot weather: it makes cooking easy because neither of us wants a hot meal. So it's ploughman's or perhaps some cold pesto fettuccine.

Folks can complain about the hot weather (and believe me, around here they do) but I still think it's better than this:

Monday, June 19, 2006


June is bustin' out all over here in Portland, as evidenced by the encroachment of various forms of wildlife. Darn critters! Don't they know they should just let us steal the green spaces where they used to live and find someplace else to go?

The most exciting encounter we had was a real shocker. Last Thursday, Argotnaut was getting ready to head to her last final exam and went into her office to grab something out of her backpack. At first she thought one of Buddy's furry dog toys was under it, but then the toy moved! Turns out, it was a juvenile opossum! The little guy was about 6" long (without the tail) and just wanted to wedge itself under one of A.'s many bags. He looked a bit like this:

I fetched one of the cat carriers from the garage and managed to deposit him into that. Fortunately I did that while A. was still at home so she didn't have to worry about the little dude whilst taking her exam, which I know she would have if she wasn't sure Mr Possum was safe.

After a bit of Internet research, I called a local critter control service and they confirmed what I'd found...if the opossum is more than 6" long without the tail, it should be able to fend for itself. We had seen Mommy Possum scurry under our next door neighbor's deck during the last couple of weeks, so I was advised to put the carrier near there after sundown and leave the carrier's door open. In the meantime, I put a shallow jar lid of water and another shallow jar lid of moistened dry cat food in, which Mr P scarfed down at some point during the day. That night, I put the carrier facing the chain link fence that separates us from our neighbor. The chain link was more that wide enough for him to scoot through, and by morning, he was on his merry way.

The only thing we couldn't figure out is how he got in. As one can see from the pictures in the "For the love of dog!" post below, there's no direct access to the cat door for any critter which can't jump, which opossums can't. Also, once in the house, how did he avoid the three alpha predators that live with us, especially Buddy, a terrier bred to murtilate little furrballs.

My theory is that Cookie must have caught him out in the cat coop and he played "dead." Cookie then brought him inside to give us as a prize, a disgusting habit cats have, although it's a sign of affection...I guess.

Fortunately for this hummingbird, he was flying around the other side of the house and nowhere near Cookie's inescapable maw:

Of course, Cookie might not have noticed him, being preoccupied with his fight against literacy:

That's okay, Cookie. I don't want to read about George W anyway.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Thoughts inspired by fresh salsa

For dinner tonight I'm making one of Argotnaut's favorites: bean and cheese quesadillas with spicy fresh salsa. As I was putting in one of the key ingredients -- two fresh jalapeno peppers with all the seeds -- I thought of a German movie A. and I watched not long ago, Schultze Gets the Blues.

In the film, a German miner retires and has to figure out what to do with his life now that work doesn't dominate it. An accordion player, he one night listens to a musical radio show and hears zydeco music, and the rollicking free spirit of the music inspires him to try some new things, among them a cajun recipe. He makes it for some friends he has over for dinner, and the spiciness of the dish somewhat overwhelms them. (Not hard to do, as anything beyond yellow mustard is too hot for most Germans).

Schultze is the kind of movie that Americans find hard to make, and if they do, not many Americans find enjoyable to watch. It's a slow-moving film and deals with a subject not many movies dare to tackle: what do you do when you retire and find yourself at loose ends? For the last four decades or so, mainstream Hollywood films have been dominated by Baby Boomer demographics. In the 70s, movies about rebelling against authority were the hip thing (from "Serpico" to "Easy Rider" and all points in between), in the 80s, it was yuppie greed and temptation ("Wall Street" to "Basic Instinct" and all points in between). As the Boomers started to have families, the 90s and the 00s have been awash with moppetploitation movies from the "Home Alone" series to the "Family vacation" series to the "Cheaper by the Dozen" -type spectacles where a passel of cute kids are jammed into the smallest possible space and fill said space with the greatest amount of noise Noise NOISE NOISE!!!,slime and gas.

Now we have the dawn of the retired Boomer movie. But where Schultze deals with the subject with the reflection, insight and melancholia it deserves, Hollywood deals with it with films like "Something's Gotta Give," a slick production featuring attractive actors meeting cute and breezing to a predictable conclusion.

While I don't have a lot of faith in Hollywood's ability to deal honestly with the problems posed by one's retirement years, the Indies might be up to it. My money's on Jim Jarmusch (see "Broken Flowers").

I'm sure most people feel as incited by this topic as Buster is:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

For the love of dog!

I woke up this mornin' (Dit DAA-dit dit dit -- insert blues lick here) and, like many mornings past, realized I was crowded into a 1x4 foot space in the bed. This is all my fault, for two reasons. One, I allow the dog to sleep at the foot of the bed, and he takes up the space at Argotnaut's feet, forcing her to sleep diagonally if she wants to stretch out. Reason two is my accursed irresistibility, which prompts A. to gravitate to my side. As you can see below, this leaves me precious little room.

I'm not really complaining, but sometimes I think I let my loved ones get away with a little TOO much.

However, spoiling them does have its advantages. The cats LOVE the cat coop, especially now that I've installed some large platforms that allow them crouch and stand guard like little furry gargoyles.

I've mounted a pet door in our bedroom window that allows them to come and go at will. The door came with two fairly heavy plastic flaps with magnetic strips at the bottom, which afford a degree of weatherproofness. But the cats balked at that initially, so I temporarily replaced the flaps with sheets of heavy vinyl weighted with pencils that enable the kitties to push through more easily. When the monsoon comes, I hope they'll be familiar enough with the process that they'll push through the heavy flaps when I reattach them. By that time, I hope to have more than the two platforms outside the portal that allow Cookie and Buster to coexist more or less peacefully.

In fact, the cat coop will probably be a kittycat playground by then, with slides, trapezes, "Habitrail"-type tunnels, and a hanging garden of faux rodents and birds. OK, I admit that spoiling can be fun.

Friday, June 09, 2006

It's a silly world after all

It's nice to know that the American Super Bowl halftime show doesn't have a monopoly on outlandish silliness! Check out this snippet describing the World Cup opening ceremony:

"Germany put on a great show before the game started. The opening ceremonies featured goatherds with whips, opera singers with big hair, 15-pound cowbells and break dancers bursting from haystacks."

Hey! The Germans know how to party too, you know!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

God told me to kick you in the nuts

Sometimes I have the perfect retort to someone's comment. But sometimes it's also best not to use it.

The other day, Argotnaut and I were downtown, being all lovey and walking hand in hand and shee-it. We stopped at a traffic light and, while waiting for the walk signal (or "Ampelmann," a term which still makes Argotnaut weepy-eyed in its evocations of Heidelberg), we were accosted by one of those raving street preacher types. I'm assuming they have a few of these guys in every larger city, even though I've only run across them in Chicago, Milwaukee and Portland. So I will only provide a short description: haggard, gaunt, lanky, bearded, baseball-capped, grimy windbreakered. As A and I waited, his continuous spiel about the wrath of God and the coming Judgment and the word of God in the Bible and so forth shifted to us. "Yeah, you're smilin' now," he intoned/croaked, "but soon you'll meet face to face with God! And you won't be smilin' then, no sirree, you'll be terrified and you won't be smilin' then..."

At that point, I was prepared to turn to him and say, "Actually, I spoke to God this morning. He said that I'd meet you on the street today. And he told me I should kick you in the nuts. Not my thing, usually, but, you know, God's will be done and all."

Of course, I didn't say this. Nor did I "roshambo" him. But lo, I was sorely tempted Lord, I was sorely tempted.

Comes the Cat Coop!!

Hee hee. I can't resist a cheesy Stan Lee headline!! With exclamation points!!!

Much excitement around here today, for the workmen came for a good old-fashioned cat coop raising! An outdoor enclosure for the cats is something that me and Argotnaut have talked about for, oh, about a decade now. And Buster's insistent peeing beside every open window when the weather was nice strengthened our resolve to the point of writing a check just to get the damn thing done. It was either that or, as my beloved Dad would say, turn to the "10 cent solution" -- 10 cents being the price of a .22 caliber bullet.

We prefer this solution. And it was actually fairly easy because the previous owners of the house had a dog run installed alongside. So it was basically a matter of sealing the top and a few other areas with chicken wire. They knocked the job off in about three hours, and then it was the kitties turn to investigate the new digs. As you can see in the first picture below, we have installed a pet door in our bedroom window so the kitties can come and go as they please. For now, I've placed a TV tray outside the window to make it easier for them to jump up and down. This will be replaced by a permanent platform in the next day or two. The coop actually is bigger than my first studio apartment, I think. How did those kitties get so spoiled? Beats me.

Argotnaut liked the airy nature of the coop so much that she dragged her chaise longue out for some studying and cat surveying. Buster acts as her study mate:

It will be interesting to see how much the kitties use the coop after the novelty has worn off. But if we install a few platforms for them to climb up onto, I don't expect to see them much until the monsoon comes.