Friday, May 29, 2009

Flush. Repeat. Flush. Repeat.

The highlight of my day so far:

Feeling a lovely breeze on my bare backside while trying to finish my business as MayDay flushed the toilet over and over and over again. Did you know you get a breeze with every flush? Yeah. It's awesome.

When I was little, my (older) cousins Richard and Robert told me all kinds of awful things: a witch lived behind the furnace in my grandparents' house (I still run up ANY basement steps); an old man lived in the toilet and every time I flushed, the doorway through which he could escape and capture me was open (I still refuse to flush while I'm still sitting, although after today I may reconsider, and I usually flush and run); nocturnal snakes lived under my bed and if I got out of bed in the dark, they would wrap around my ankles and suck me underneath to become a part of their scary, snaky realm (I still sleep with my sheets tucked in so tightly that my 6'5" husband's toes curl backwards if he sleeps on his back). They would also convince me and their mother, my favorite aunt Linda, to watch a scary movie, then hide in the woods between my parents' house and my grandparents' and laugh like hyenas when they "Booed" one or both of us into peeing like a toddler in the middle of the driveway.

Those were the good old days. Yes, my tender psyche may have been deeply and unalterably affected by their abominable stories, but we always had a great time. Because we would also take my grandfather's hand-carved walking sticks and use them as guns to hunt for Bigfoot through the rhododendron thicket in front of their house. We would go fishing in the pond with their dad, my favorite uncle Robert. We would hike, and play, and run, and eat strawberries and watermelon in my grandmother's kitchen. We would run all over the mountain playing and chasing the dogs and pretending all manner of things. Great fun.

And to think I stumbled upon all these memories because my son flushed the toilet while I was still sitting on it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lines

First things first: I have been a neglectful blog steward. Sorry. Lots going on, including some traveling. But I'm back now.

I finished a book last night about a 19th-century Mohawk medicine woman working amongst the American prisoners of war across the British-Canadian border during the War of 1812. She is summoned to the quarters of the commanding officer, and does not know what to expect of the meeting. She knows the British do not see value in her work, and cannot imagine that his motives or intentions are either in her favor, or that of the prisoners she tends.

As she walks through the garrison on her way to the lion's den, she recites her lineage, which, amongst the Mohawk, is matrilineal. She lists the women who were her progenitors, her mother, stepmother, grandmother, and so on. She tells herself that they can take away everything, but they cannot take who she is: the product of generations of women who lived their lives in a way that brought honor even to those offspring they would never meet.

Her connections define her identity -- and her connections comprise her most prized possessions.

I have an ancestor named Mary Keaton. I didn't know her -- I have never even met anyone who met her, because she lived many generations ago. She is my father's 4th great-grandmother.

My dad grew up on a tobacco farm in central North Carolina. It was very rural, and they were very poor. His parents were both God-fearing, Christian people. His mother, my grandmother, attended a primitive Baptist congregation where she was known for her benevolent spirit, charitable nature, and beautiful singing voice. My grandfather did not attend services, but he read his Bible every day. They raised 13 intelligent, hardworking children who all survived to adulthood, a miracle unto itself.

Before my baby brother left on his mission, my entire family (mom, dad, four children and the three so-far spouses) attended the temple. After Little Bro's endowment session, we gathered together in a sealing room to do some family file work. My husband and I had the privilege to proxy for my grandparents so my dad and could be sealed to them. It was truly a choice experience.

My parents proxied for the sealing of Mary Keaton to her husband. I can scarcely describe the spirit that existed in that tiny room as we participated in uniting another generation of our family for eternity. Even the sealer was affected.

"I don't know who she was," he said, "but she was really special."

We all felt it, and I had the clear impression that the reason my dad was prepared to accept the Gospel when he heard it generations later was because of the habits that Mary Keaton instilled in her children so many years ago . . . who passed on the same values to their children, and their grandchildren, on down to my dad's generation. The same values he has tried to instill in us, and that I am responsible for teaching to my own children. No matter the gender of this child I carry, Mary Keaton will be honored somehow.

I am InkMom. I am the daughter of a great woman, who saw the Gospel for the truth that it is before I was born, and taught it to me and my siblings, and who taught us how to live the same way her mother taught her. I am the granddaughter of Clare, who loved and lived better than anyone else I know, and who I think held onto my babies in heaven until I was ready to receive them; and I am the granddaughter of Stella Catherine, who worked so hard in her life that she even died at her quilt frame, and whose fervent example of hard work I will never cease to emulate, and always fail to attain.

I am a privileged daughter of God, brought to this earth during a time fraught with spiritual danger, but rife with opportunities to grow and share the Gospel with others. I was shaped by the choices of the generations that came before me, and my unique spirit brings new and different dimensions to the family that will be mine for eternity, and that I enlarge as I bring my own children into this world and raise them.

Intelligence? Yes, we will take it with us. But what is it worth without our connections?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Make Way for Duckies

Last night, I came home from symphony rehearsal to find my dear husband doing dishes. I helped him straighten up the kitchen, and then he said he had TiVoed something just for me.

"It's the cutest thing you will ever see. It will make you cry!" he said.

We went to the living room, and watched a little segment from the 7PM broadcast of ABCNews. About ducklings. I did cry. It was adorable.

And I can't embed it. But here's the link:

Spokane Duckling Parade

Enjoy, and thank my sweet husband.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Despicable Drosophila, and Other Tales Of Spring

I stayed up too late last night. You see, I was waging an epic battle against an enemy both foul and insidious, that wins its wars by sheer number, fortified by an incredibly prolific reproductive ability: Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly.

Ah, yes, spring time is here, and with it, the influx of fresh produce to my kitchen. We've been feasting on local asparagus from the farm down the road for weeks now, and finally, their strawberries have come in. They grow an old heirloom variety, and they are divine: succulent, sweet, beautifully red and delicious.


We're lucky here -- we have lots of local farmers who grow all kinds of wonderful things. Next will be peaches and cherries, and eventually, cucumbers, green beans, squash & zucchini, corn and okra, eggplant, peppers of many varieties, cantaloupes, watermelons, the long awaited tomatoes, and then apples and large squashes. And I can find local sources for all of these, plus all the milk, cheese and cream you can stand, eggs and poultry, beef and pork. But with the fresh produce, comes the fruit flies. Every year, I pick up where I left off as I fight a losing battle against little bugs a mere fraction of my size, as I slowly slide further down the slippery slope to insanity.

Last night, CPod, wonder-husband that he is, had set out the last of our Christmas-morning pain au chocolat from Williams Sonoma to rise so we could have a yummy breakfast today. (They come frozen, unrisen, unbaked. Just set out overnight, brush with an egg wash, bake, and voila! Paris, straight from your oven!) I went into the kitchen for my nightly cocktail of milk, prenatal vitamins and Zyrtec. I stopped by the stove to admire the croissants . . . and there were fruit flies on them."Oh, no you didn't!" I thought to myself. "Not my precious chocolate croissants!" I quickly covered the delectable delicacies with a dish towel and proceeded with the art of death.

I stood in the kitchen swatting, smacking, and muttering things to myself like, "You are MINE!" and "Gotcha!" As the fruit fly fatalities reached epic numbers, I left my kitchen counter littered with their bodies, hoping their compatriots might enter my kitchen, see the corpses of their fallen comrades, and smell death, vacating the place post haste. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the darkened kitchen window -- and it was scary: crazed look in my eyes, pants unbuttoned and falling down because, let's face it, I just can't wear regular clothes anymore, waving my arms around like a mad woman. If I'd been out on a street somewhere, I think they might have carted me away to the asylum.

I finally went to bed after I'd counted a full 30 seconds without seeing another fly. And even then, I was haunted by the possibility that the one I didn't get would assuredly be the one about to lay 400 eggs on some unassuming piece of fruit in my kitchen. 400 eggs which will, undoubtedly, in 12-15 hours, hatch in my kitchen and then, after another 4 days, grow into another battalion ready to assault my fruit, my sensibilities, and my sanity in one fell swoop. It almost makes me look forward to winter's frozen wasteland, with no real fruit that doesn't taste like cardboard . . . almost.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I have a love/hate relationship with spring time. I love the transitional parts of the year: the parts that aren't all the way hot or cold quite yet, but help bring about the changes to get us there. As you can see, I love the bounty of the harvest, but I hate the fruit flies. The same goes for the outdoors. I love the flowers, the green, the growing things that surround us in this lovely world, but I hate the mosquitoes. I hate the flies. I'm okay with butterflies, and other pollinators. And I recognize that they all have a place in the natural order of things. Except for mosquitoes. I firmly believe they are a blight and a pestilence on this world and they will not exist in the hereafter.

I spent yesterday digging around in the dirt, filling my small pots and hanging baskets with lovely, fragrant, twining, blossoming things. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than having a hand in fostering growth, be it in your children, those under your stewardship at church, the plants in your garden, or even yourself.While I was digging, I found these four-leaf clovers:


Twenty of them! And I wasn't even looking -- I have just always found them, wherever I happen to be standing. I found 6 more, but I felt guilty, so I didn't pick them. I mean, I'm pretty sure it's a minor genetic mutation, and if I pick them all now, how will the gene get passed on, so I can find some more later?

Spring time gives us the outdoors back as an extension of our home. Our kids play in the yard as though it were the living room, with mud. Spring brings us wonderful miracles, like the pair of little sparrows who decided to build their nest in the basket of fake hydrangeas that hangs on my front door:

As of this morning, there are two little mouths to feed, and three eggs shaking and shimmying their way around the nest, about to take their turn to crack into this world.

And these beautiful blooms:







(These lovelies are all in my mama's fabulously unruly yard. And photo credit goes to her!)

Herein lies the problem: beautiful flowers, yes. But these little flowers are reproductive beings who are so overcome by the displays of the others around them that they cannot contain themselves and cast their sexy dust to be blown about by the wind to God-knows where. And I am allergic to all of it. That's right, people. I just can't keep the flower sex out of my eyes.

I spend the months of April and May in a constant state of foggy, itchy, post-nasal drippiness. I know it's all miraculous, and beautiful, and wonderful, I just can't see it clearly through the scratchy eyes and snot-covered haze of an over-active immune system.

I live for rainstorms, that rinse the pollen from every surface and cleanse the air of irritants. I love the smell of ozone right before a big gullywasher, and I love the dirt-y, loamy fertile scent of a freshly washed earth. I love the sound of the neighbors playing baseball in their yard, and of my boys racing down the driveway on their trikes. I love the late disappearance of daylight and the sound of the crickets and cicadas singing their love songs in the darkness.

I love to send my brood out into the warm and balmy wilderness, like I did last weekend, and I love to hasten their return home. I love the irresponsibility of relaxed schedules and I love the smell of smoke and sticky marshmallows that cling to every exposed surface after a campfire family night. I love putting little tired boys to bed after a day of full-throttle play and contraband fireworks at the lake. This sensory feast will last into the summer, but springtime is what makes it all possible.

(My adorable boys, crammed into the back of Daddy's Jeep, on the way to the Father-Son Campout on Mother's Day weekend.
One of the only reasons I might have a little part of me hoping this next baby is a boy.)

The highs definitely outweigh the lows on the InkMom scale of love. CPod says that little nest on our front door just seems lucky, as though even the birds know our house is a happy place to have a family. And with all those four-leaf clovers, how could this spring be anything but a lucky one? If only I could get rid of those blasted fruit flies.

P.S. I'm entering this post in the Scribbit Write-Away writing contest for May . . . the topic is Spring. I get a kick out of her blog, and she has a new contest every month.Wish me luck!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Nose

I cleaned my bathroom today. It was in need. I dropped my sports bra on the floor after I ran last on March 1 (I'm not kidding. It's the pregnancy, cut me some slack.) and it was still there, in the same spot, gathering dust bunnies until I picked it up and put it in the laundry today. Don't judge me. My husband does the toilets.

Anyway. As I rearranged stuff around so I could clean the counter, I noticed, for the first time in a while, my big, fat bottle of expensive perfume. And this brings me to The Nose.

After CPod graduated from . . . the long, long schooling that he attended in Memphis after graduating from BYU, we had a 6 week lag before he received his professional licensure and could do what he was trained to do. (This anonymity thing is hard sometimes!) I had a great job, and we'd been living on my earnings for a long time, so it was no biggie -- but CPod does not do bored. He cannot be idle.

So. He playied around on a few travel websites, all without my knowledge. He formulated a little secret plan, and one day made the announcement: honey, we're going to Paris! Well, flying in and out of Paris. What we did with the remaining three weeks was entirely up to us.

I was absolutely shocked. And ecstatic. But mostly shocked. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. What better way to burn through the last remnants of his student loan money? The surprise was an advantage -- my boss couldn't say no to three weeks of leave when CPod had already bought the non-refundable tickets and I had had no part in the planning.

We organized our trip, bought Eurail passes ahead of time, and test-filled our backpacks to make sure we weren't taking too much gear. I cut my hair super short so I wouldn't have to worry about it on the trip.

The trip was fantastic. I spent the summer after I graduated from high school travelling through Europe with an orchestra, so we went to all the places I could see again and again and again . . . the Louvre & Orsay museums in Paris, Santa Croce in Florence, the Jungfrau and Trummelbach Falls (I will write about this place again, I promise) in Switzerland. We ate fantastic food (after black truffles, how could anyone ever be the same again?), and explored amazing places. We slept on the train, and we slept in a 700 year old hotel in Venice. In Florence, we had gelato 14 times in 3 days. We made a big loop through France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany and it was all fantastic. All of it.

We have little handmade pottery salt & pepper shakers and a handpainted refrigerator magnet from Orvieto. We have a couple of small watercolors from some artist in Montmartre. We have a mechanically perfect hand-carved peppermill from Germany, and Christmas ornaments from Katya Wohlfahrt's in Rothenburg. CPod saved all his souvenir money so he could buy tools and Jack Wolfskin gear in Germany. And I spent most of mine in Sephora.

Have you been to Sephora? I don't mean the one in your mall, the one that smells like a flower shop on steroids. I mean a huge Sephora. A Sephora with a Nose. At the flagship Sephora on the Champs Elyssees in Paris, the first thing you see when you walk in the door is a small kiosk: nothing fancy, just a wooden circle filled with plain labelled brown bottles and a little man with a really big nose.

The Nose's job is to divine your scent: you tell him what you like, and he finds the fragrance for you. But it's more like magic. All of the bottles look the same, and they are arranged by major ingredient: citrus, floral, marine, musk . . . you get the picture. I thought I might like citrus, knew I didn't want musk, and that was all I said. He looked me over, and said, "Marine." He waved a few little wands under my nose, and voila! "L'Eau d'Issey, by Issey Miyake" was his proclamation, and darned if he wasn't right.

By the way, who is this Issey Miyake character? And where can I get whatever that is you're waving in front of my face, because I have GOT to get me some of that. It's divine: light, airy, clean, cool, and plus, when someone asks me about my perfume, if I say it fast enough, they have no idea what I'm saying. Because if you know me in real life, you are not allowed to share my signature scent.

So there's my memory. I have a newer, bigger bottle of Issey Miyake now. I don't wear it often enough. But every time I put it on, three wonderful weeks of my life flash before my eyes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On Mothering

Most days, when I was growing up, my mom was waiting for us in the kitchen when we got home from school. Occasionally, she wasn't.

"Mom?" I would call from the front hall.

"Yes?" She would answer back from somewhere deep in the bowels of the house.

"Okay."

This conversation happened over and over, with every kid in my family. We just needed to know she was there. And I have already participated in the same conversation, this time from the other side, in my own home.

I've been thinking of the meanings implicit in little, tiny statements and conversations like that one. My mom was more than just a presence somewhere in the house when I was growing up. Her "being there" meant so much more than just physical presence. It meant if we needed her, she was just a room away. It meant we had a full-time guardian who would patch up skinned knees and bake cookies and just talk if we needed it and pay close enough attention to keep us from even entertaining thoughts of getting into too much trouble. I cannot place a value on her constant presence in our lives.

I know she sacrificed a lot to be our mom. And I can scarcely express my gratitude.

Another common statement in our house: "I expect you home in time for dinner."

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's mostly about food, but it's a bit about family, too. She says that most of her effective parenting has been done at the dinner table or in the time immediately before and after a family meal. The "family dinner" has just about been excused from the table of society: it's just too complicated to coordinate the busy lives and schedules of all the people in a family.

We had complicated schedules when I was growing up, too. I was the worst one -- even in high school, I played in three symphonies and a string quartet, took piano and viola lessons, had a viola student, and still went to early morning seminary and rarely missed Wednesday night YW activities. But evey night I could be home for dinner, I was expected to be home for dinner. No exceptions. No cellphones. Just expectations.

A few weeks ago, we went out for FHE dinner to our little hotdog joint downtown. Come visit me, and I will take you there. The all-beef chili slaw dog it outta sight. We sat outside at a picnic table to eat our yummy dawgs and fries and milkshakes. While we ate, I observed a little family a few tables away.

The family was composed of a mom and a dad and an 8 or 9 month old little boy. They all arrived in different cars. It was obvious that both parents had just left work. They met the babysitter at the restaurant, and she brought them their baby. The babysitter's husband eventually came, and they all sat down to a wonderful meal of hotdogs together.

And here is what I noticed. The babysitter played with the baby, and said things like, "Clap for Mama! Can you show Mama what you learned today?"

And, "Can you say, DA-DA-DA-DA-DA? Good boy!"

I looked at the mom . . . and I can hardly describe what I saw in her face. I wouldn't have been surprised to see tears in her eyes. It was as if she wanted to say, "But he's mine! I'm his mama!" And in that moment, she realized all she has already missed, and all the things he'll do for the first time when she's not around. My heart broke for her.

I make no assumptions about her situation. I pass no judgment about her decision to work instead of staying at home with her little one. But I have come to realize what a great luxury, a priceless privilege it is to just BE HERE.

I used to think that moms who "get" to work really have it pretty good. They get to have adult conversations, and use their brains for things that actually seem challenging, plus they get paid for it. I'm not so sure now. They also have to entrust their children to someone else for most of their waking hours. They have to miss so much of their little ones' lives. And they're still responsible for all of the things that aren't so fun, like laundry (the bane of my existence).

Here's what I know: My mom was spectacular then, and she still is now. She has never stopped BEING HERE, even when she's not physically in the same place as me.

Here's what else I know: No matter how hard it is, this job that I have now -- this mothering gig that seems to be so incredibly demanding and never-ending and usually thankless -- is the greatest, most rewarding job in the entire world. I tell myself that I should feel lucky, blessed, fortunate to be able to stay at home with my children. And I am all of those things. But I chose it. My husband and I carefully arranged our lives so that my choice to stay at home would be possible. And I feel for those mothers who don't even have that choice to make.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Critters

Lest you be misled, this post is not about my children. Although it could be. No, this one is actually about critters: creatures, beasties, varmints, wild thangs, animals. And I'm gonna be southern here, y'all. Because I cannot talk about my numerous critter encounters without the southern accent comin' out in all kindsa places. So if you can hear in southern, turn it on now.

Last night, I spent a pleasant evening in the company of some very nice women, at the home of one of my oldest and dearest friends. I have known her since seventh grade, and though we were not friends then, by the time we graduated from high school, we had enough shared years of sleep-overs, yummy food (I'm certain this was the beginning of my food snobbery) and viewings of Dirty Dancing to keep us BFFs. She married her high school sweetheart, and bless his heart, whenever we were both home from school for Christmas or summer or whatever, J would graciously accompany my friend over to my house for evenings of girl talk with my mom and my sister. Now, let the critter stories begin.

On one such evening, we were passing the time laughing and talking as we always did. J was sitting on a bar stool in the kitchen with a straight shot view of the fireplace in the living room. Suddenly, J, usually reticent, if not downright silent, piped up and said, in his born-and-raised-in-the-south, sweet-as-honey accent, "Do y'all have a hamster?"

Turns out, J had been quietly observing our cat, Boo-yah, as she channeled her inner cheetah and stalked some prey large enough to be seen two rooms away. A flying squirrel.

As J said, "That cat was on the move!"

Flying squirrels are not unusual in my parents' house. The old homestead is up on the mountain, surrounded by tall trees and all kinds of creature homes. Their house is cedar, and I guess the squirrels like how it smells. Nearly every year, at least one breaches the perimeter, reverse-scales the chimney, and escapes through the fireplace into the strange jungle that is a human habitat. To make matters worse, they aren't called flying squirrels for nothing, and the exposed beams and trusses of my parents' post & beam house regularly become a veritable jungle gym for the acrobatic antics of little, scared, fuzzy things. I have seen a squirrel soar from the beam at the top of the two-story living room and glide right onto my mom's shoulder, digging in with little claws to ensure a safe landing. Oh, yeah. I'm checking out that video when I get to heaven.

* * * * *

Another animal encounter: Many years ago, my family took a summer trip to the North Carolina Zoo. It's a big zoo. It's a great zoo if you're there when the animals are willing to cooperate. I've been when it's great, and I've been when the animals are so far into their impressively-sized habitats that I begin to think my ticket price was a little steep if it didn't include a helicopter ride to catch a view of something exotic and four-legged.

This particular trip, the zoo was great. The animals were close enough to see, and see them we did. In the African pavilion, we lingered at the mandrill exhibit. If you've never seen a mandrill, here's what we're talking about:

(photo courtesy of nationalgeographic.com)

I placed my hand on the glass enclosure and watched these comical primates gambol and play over the rocks and trees of their dwelling. One approached the wall. Our eyes met. He placed his hand on mine, bridging the impossible distance between us on the opposite side of the glass. We were soul mates. At least, he thought so. I was a little unnerved by the brightly colored face and, yes, I'll say it, the completely hairless, bright red butt.

I turned away from the glass, and he was visibly hurt, shoulders sagging as he slunk towards the back of the habitat. I turned again to the glass -- by this point, I was intrigued. And so was he. Because he came back. Over and over, I repeated the ritual. A crowd began to gather. I looked into those ape eyes, and I seriously saw some depth there. It was a long time before I had another guy willing to stare at me so intently for such a long time. There was a connection. I don't know if it was my effervescent smile, the blue and pink eyeshadow so popular in the early nineties, or the red shorts I was wearing. Something about me said, "Good breeding stock!" to a mandrill. Doesn't it go without saying? Definitely flattered.

* * * * *

Back to my parents' house. When Michael Crichton's book Jurassic Park was published, I was 14 years old. My mom bought the hardback, and we all took turns reading it. I think I was second. I devoured it in about 2 days, carrying it with me everywhere we went, even inducing acute carsickness just so I could find out what happened next.

One night, we got home, and I stayed in the car to keep reading. I don't know, I think I was probably just lazy. It wouldn't have been the first time. Anyway, I read until it was dark. I finished the part where Nedry catches his own entrails after being eviscerated by a velociraptor. Brutal. I opened the car door, and I could have sworn I heard one of those raptors. What, didn't you know we've revived the dinosaurs here in the mountains? It's how we keep the po-po from finding all the moonshine stills. (Which are real. The moonshine stills, I mean.) That night, I was convinced. The sound was so eerie, like a cross between a woman screaming and a baby crying, all mixed up with a dying cat, and something a little more sinister. Scariest of all, it seemed to be everywhere at once: with my grandparents land next door, there's 3 or 4 cleared acres, and that creature seemed to inhabit the entire perimeter simultaneously -- right behind me, then across the driveway by the truck, behind the house, far away, and then right behind me again. I nearly wet myself. Actually, even with the bladder integrity of someone who had not yet given birth, I think I had to change my pants when I finally mustered the courage to run the longest 50 yards of my life.

Turns out, we had the distinct pleasure of harboring a juvenile of some rare screech owl. It took my dad some serious research to find out the true identity of our velociraptor. That sound still haunts my dreams.

* * * * *

And, finally, a more tame, and more recent, critter adventure. A few summers ago, we noticed a foul, sulfurous odor around our front porch. Truth be told, it wasn't sulfur -- it was mercaptans, the compounds that make skunks stinky. I was a little worried we had one of those in residence under our porch, until I discovered the holes in the ground, and the network of tunnels circumnavigating our house.

Then, we knew it was a groundhog. I find these creatures to be fairly lovable. There is a family group of them living in the median of the interstate highway here. I once counted 16 in that median while driving a single two mile stretch. They sit up on their back legs and just watch the cars go by. I think they're charming. As long as they're not trying to share my living space.

CPod wanted to pour concrete into the cavity our little friend had dug out under the porch, but I nixed that idea. I had visions of Mafia-style entombment in concrete, and it felt pretty cruel. Plus I didn't want to smell a decomposing animal all summer.

All on his own, CPod decided to unleash his South Carolina childhood. He smuggled some M-80s and some smoke bombs across the border (Don't you know about the South Carolina special? It's peaches and fireworks, always sold in the same establishments.) and thought he'd smoke that sucker out of his hidey-hole. Our somewhat sheltered neighbors came running outside -- somebody was shooting something, and no matter how hard their mom tries to keep them from encountering . . . people like my husband, 5 little boys will not be kept from the sound of anything exploding.

Well, little ground hog went running, but he came back. Apparently the lingering odors of gun powder and smoke did little to erase the comforts of home. And he was bold. He would come up onto the porch to eat our flowers. He would look in the window to see what we were up to. We got almost near enough to pet him. But I worried about the boys.

Finally, we invested in a humane trap. But that bugger was smart. We tried baiting the trap with vanilla, and peanut butter, and leafy greens, fresh green beans, and flowers. We closed off one side of his burrow so he could only exit on the side with the trap. Finally, one day, the boys and I heard a noise. Success! Our little groundhog was trapped. We left him in little cage, carefully shoving greens through the holes, until CPod came home from work. He carted our little friend off to a happy life in an apple orchard a few miles away.

So those are a few of my long-winded tales. But this is really the tip of the iceberg, my friends. I could go on about creatures and critters on my dad's parents' farm; with family lore about exceptionally large cockroaches; and don't forget CPod, who served his mission in Australia. He's got tons of varmint tales to tell.

What about you?