An Open Letter to Mousedom

Photo0042PDear mice and other varmints:

I have tried my best to coexist peaceably, because I am by nature a gentle, amiable soul. I was happy to concede our entire garage to you, as long as you avoided crossing the borders into our house. But I have been pushed over the limit. “Peace in our time” was a pipe dream for Neville Chamberlain, and it’s not working for me, either.

I waffled for a season, telling myself that mice are really cute little warm and fuzzies (in their natural outside habitat). I used moderate control measures when a few of you took up residence among us. But the invasion and ensuing population explosion within our domicile have reached the intolerable point. Deportation has not worked. Neither has making a public example of some of your ring leaders been effectual. New masterminds continually rise to the top, and your family dynasty within our walls has been growing by alarming proportions.

My formal ultimatum is this: get out of my house by sundown or face all-out war.

I have done extensive research, and let me solemnly assure you that there is no pretty way for mice or any of their rodent relatives to meet their demise. The violent keep their kingdoms by force, and I am not above biological and chemical weapons. If I can find the WMDs that eluded George W. I will use them, too!

So, there you have it. I mean it. Now it is up to you to back down and scram. John Wayne and Chuck Norris look like Captain Kangaroo next to this mad mama.  So don’t mess with me anymore. Ya hear?

Published in: on October 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ornesta Tells ‘Em Off!

I got a phone call from Ornesta Fruggenbotham the other day.  You might remember Ornesta.  She’s the lady from the U. P.* that has way more extreme things happen to her than I ever thought of having happen to me. 

“Well, helloooo, Ornesta!  I haven’t heard from you since you put me up in your ice shanty a couple of winters ago!  Have the bluebells peeked through the snow drifts up there yet?” 

“Yes, and the lemmings did their yearly stampede, too.  It was a sad sight.  I cried for a week.  Why haven’t you written any funny stuff lately to cheer me up on such occasions?”

“Well, I just haven’t felt … funny.  But let me guess.  You’re calling because you have a story, right?”

“Yes, I do!  And I was wondering if you could write it all up for me, and slap your style on it, so that you have to put that cute little disclaimer in there about how it’s my relatives and not yours.” 

“You know, Ornesta, I much prefer it straight from the caribou’s mouth.  How ’bout if I hook up the voice recorder, you just give me the scoop, and we’ll let ’em have it just as it happened?”

“OK.  You know that Craig’s List place on the World Wide Web?  Well, Bud discovered it, and I can’t get him to leave it alone.”

“Oh? What’s he buying, London Bridge?” 

“It’s what he’s selling.  You know how my mom always keeps food forever and then tries to pawn it off on us?”

“Yeah, like the bluegills she’d had in the freezer for fifteen years, and then she tried to make me eat them while I was living in the shanty — thought I’d like to do a backyard fish fry — in December.”

“And the frosting that was seven years past the expiration date.  Duncan Hines goo in a bucket.  Well, she gave me this jar of Sanka –“ 

“Sanka, as in instant decaf?  Official drink of the Apollo astronauts?”

“I think they drank Tang, but yeah.  Some people keep strawberry preserves.  My mom kept Sanka preserves.  Embalmed in its original jar, with the seal still unbroken.  Best used by March of 1969.  Well, Bud saw the possibilities, and posted it at Craig’s List in the ‘vintage’ category.” 

“It’s good he didn’t know about Craig’s List back in the day of the expired goo in a bucket, I guess.  But, I would imagine there is quite a market for a rare item like Sanka preserves, right?”

“Well, Bud thought it was worth a try.  Waxed paper straws are a hot item, so why not Sanka from the golden years?  So, while he was outside selling the family car, the phone rang — one of those ‘private name, private number’ calls.  Normally I wouldn’t have answered, but Mom’s doctor likes to call incognito like that, so I thought I’d better answer it, in case her intestines were flip-flopping again.  They always call me when that happens. 

“So this guy asks for Bud in a very pleasant, businessman kind of voice, and I said, ‘He’s outside selling the family buggy.  Can I take a message?’

“And he says, ‘Well, no, I was just curious to find out what kind of an idiot would try to sell a jar of Sanka on Craig’s List.’

“I have lived with Bud for close to thirty-five years, and I never noticed that he had any problems approaching that degree of distinction.  What do you think?”

“Well, he seemed pretty normal to me when I was up there.  Maybe a little jollier than anybody living that far north has a right to be in the middle of winter, but I would say his mental faculties seemed to be in order.”

“That’s what I thought!  And so I said, real polite and sober-like, ‘Well, if you’re going to insult him, I don’t see any reason to let you talk to him.’

“And he sasses back at me as pretty as you please, ‘Lady, I’m not only going to insult him.  I’m going to walk him up one side of the street and down the other, and –‘ 

“And that’s when I got mad, so I interrupted, ‘Sir, you know that family buggy that Bud’s selling outside?  Well, it was Teddy Roosevelt’s first Model T, with the original tires and everything — ALSO listed in the vintage department at Craig’s List.  We bought it from Teddy’s granddaughter.  And just to be nice, she threw in a jar of Teddy’s Sanka as part of the deal.’   

“By that time, I think I heard a little gurgling on the other end of the line, which I took as encouragement, since he hadn’t hung up yet, and I wasn’t anywhere near finished, ’cause I was plenty mad. 

“‘Do you know where that jar of Sanka has been, sir?  It rode up San Juan Hill with Teddy, tucked in his back pocket, because he didn’t ever want to be without his favorite blend, and it saved him from taking a bullet, which is why Bud mentioned in the ad that the label has a slight tear in it.  And if that ain’t vintage enough for you and Craig’s List, then I can’t help you!'”

“Um, and then what happened?”

“Not much.  I hung up to let him think about it, that’s all.”

“Ornesta, tell me the truth, now.  You don’t really own Teddy Roosevelt’s first Model T, do you?”

“No, and Teddy didn’t ride up San Juan Hill with a jar of Sanka in his pocket that was best used by March, 1969, either.  But we’ll just let Mr. Smarty-Pants that has nothing to do all day but call nice people up and insult them think whatever he pleases.  He’ll probably have to Google ‘Teddy Roosevelt + Sanka’ to find out for sure.”

*U. P. — Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Journey to the Highlands

I don’t know what you did for Thanksgiving, but our family visited cool places, not counting the hotel we stayed in.  We have just returned from an exploration of life outside Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is unanimously viewed as being cold, while a few of us think it is cool, but not cool like where we have just been.

Many moons ago, our daughter and her family left their spacious wildlife-infested parsonage in Pittsburgh suburghia and relocated to a teeny-tiny apartment in Louisville.  They are there to plant a church.  Through years of large black snakes sunning themselves on the outside door frames of their house and tinier serpents infiltrating their basement, Susan prayed for the day when she could be surrounded by concrete.  Her prayers have been heard. 

We must start out right.  For the sake of educating America, we did not visit Loo-iss-vil, nor did we visit Loo–ee-vil.  It is Loo-uh-vul.  Say that three times.  Loo-uh-vul.  Now you know where we stayed.  I knew how to pronounce it long before going there, thanks to reading Ann Landers and Mark Twain in my younger years, but I listened carefully to the locals just to make sure I was getting it right.

Susan and her family reside on Bardstown Road, in the Highlands of Louisville.  It is a gathering knot of the culturally colorful, a haven where old hippies never die and younger ones currently live the lifestyle to one degree or another.  It is a place that confirmed I am fashionably valid — something I never suspected, but will now milk for all it is worth.

We spent an afternoon exploring the shops up and down Bardstown — many of them filled with semi-pricey vintage clothing.  Upscale, fashionably savvy people come in droves from other parts of Louisville to buy garments identical to some I currently have hanging in my closet.  Apparently, I am not a clueless fuddy-duddy after all.  I am chic and never knew it.  Next time you see me sashaying around in my hunter green Nehru jacket with the tapestry-covered buttons and the football player-size shoulder pads, remember what I have just said.  I am not an oddball; I am trendy and cool.  Now those of you who know me in real life will all wish you had not snickered, and you will be calling me for advice on how to morph yourselves into being cool, too. 

I now know how to pronounce hookah (who-kah, not hook-uh).   I knew what one does with a hookah from bygone days of reading The Count of Monte Cristo, but I did not yet have the correct pronunciation (unlike Loo-uh-vul).  There are hookah lounges on Bardstown, along with the Hubbly Bubbly Smoke Shop, which specializes in whatever you need to get your hookah experience going.  Susan and her family sometimes do second-hand hookah via the air vents from their downstairs neighbors’ apartment.  It makes their dog sneeze.  Susan assures me that not all hookah lovers smoke the substances that Monte Cristo’s heroine indulged in.  I am not entirely convinced, though.  Nothing like living the culture.

We scrounged the Peddler’s Mall for antique chairs at cheap prices for Susan and Chris’s church building.  If I were to move to the Highlands (which I will not, but it is a safe form of entertainment to imagine it), I would sell all the furniture I currently have and start fresh with the stuff from the Peddler’s Mall.  It would need to be fumigated or otherwise sanitized somehow, but it would be a fun, economical experiment. 

Meteor Shows and a Visit to the ER

I had an unpremeditated visit to the ER a few nights ago.  (Aren’t they all?)  Now, listen up, all you oldsters out there, because I’m going to give you some valuable health information: if you have flashing light shows, as in aurora borealis, flaming meteors, or comets appearing at the edge of one of your eyes, it is time to go to the ER, just like I did.

Being a semi-calm and rational person, I did not immediately opt for the ER.  I thought about several practical reasons  for why I might be having a personal light show, none of which were satisfactory.  I could not recall having a history of light shows in my eyeballs, either.

Step #2 was to consult the Internet.  Aha!  My symptoms were described exactly at several places, including Ask Yahoo! where plumbers try — complete with “LOL” comments — to diagnose and scare the livin’ daylights out of people with real medical problems who really should be on their way to the ER, instead of fooling around on the Internet.  Not wanting a plumber’s advice on my ocular needs, I moved on to a place where a real ophthalmologist told me what I was dealing with — and it was not overly comforting.

Step #3 was to call my eye doctor … on a Sunday night … knowing he and his office staff would not be in.  BUT they referred me to an eye doctor who would be in … but was not.  That person’s call service referred me to still another doctor … who was also not in.  Her call service referred me to a nurse … who told me I needed to get to the ER immediately — which I then did.

I asked an idiotic question while they were registering me at the ER.  (I guess I said several idiotic things during the hour and a half I spent there, so why not start out doing that right from the get-go?)  I asked them if they were a PPO for my particular insurance company.  I got slightly nervous when the lady said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.  What is a PPO?”  It went downhill from there.

Both the ER doctor and I knew I was in there because of possible retinal detachment or retinal tears.  He listened to my flashing lights story, asked if I could still see out of my eye in all sectors (yes), and announced my case had him “stumped.”

I didn’t care to hear that the doctor was planning on being of no help.  True to my nature, I decided to help him out a bit: “Do you want to hear what the Internet said you are supposed to do?”

Toilet Plunger by bnielsen via OpenClipArt(He did not.  He said the Internet doesn’t know what it is talking about most of the time.  I thought that was a rash statement, seeing as I was planning on telling him what the ophthalmologist had said, not the plumber spewing advice on Ask Yahoo!  ER doctors do not really want their patients helping them out when they are “stumped.”)

I forged ahead anyway.  After all, this was my eye in need of help, and if I was going to pay ER prices, I at least wanted my money’s worth of care.  “The Internet said you are supposed to dilate my eye and take a look inside to see if the retina is OK.”

Fortunately for me, he did eventually decide to at least turn out the lights and leave me in semi-darkness for fifteen minutes so that my eye would self-dilate enough so he could take a peek.

My husband Paul was with me while I was enjoying the intensity of the meteor show in the semi-darkness.  Have you ever noticed that people tend to fret about little things more when it is dark out?  Paul started to obsess about some minor missing details.

“Don’t you think it’s kind of funny that they didn’t take your blood pressure?  And your temperature — what about your temperature?”

“It’s my eye, not my heart or my thermostat we’re concerned about here.  I’m sure they figured that out.”  (But this did start to make me wonder why I had not been invited to step on a scale.  Doctors always want to know if we are eating too much.)

When the doc came back, he did a lot of scrutinizing of the inside of my eye, and finally pronounced it to be fine.  No retina problems.  (Good!)  He then talked with the ophthalmologist whom I had been trying to reach earlier in the evening.  Apparently he was not routed through several call services, only to get a nurse, as had been my case.  If he had been, the nurse would have told him to go to the ER immediately.

The ophthalmologist knew by my description exactly what the problem was — a vitreous detachment (the same thing that causes floaters) — not all that serious.  It seems that the ball of goo that makes up the inside of the eye is held onto the retina by zillions of tiny fibers, and if some of them get tired and let go, bingo! we have a light show.  This, by the way, was the same info I had picked up from the Internet doctor, who had still recommended the ER, because dilating the eye could reveal whether retinal detachment was in progress.

So, they sent me on home with instructions to follow up with my eye doctor.  Before sending me home, they did take my blood pressure and my temperature — but they forgot the scale.

My eye doctor is the best.  There is increased risk of retinal problems over the next couple of weeks, so he calls me every couple of days to see how I am doing.  Your eye doctor probably wouldn’t do that.  He would tell you to call him if anything dire transpired, and maybe you would get him if he wasn’t playing golf or doing something else more important right then than your eyes.  But my eye doctor is wonderful, and he calls me.  I will probably give him a thumbs up on FaceBook and Twitter when I get a chance.

I am still enjoying some light shows, which somewhat concerns the doc, but I can see what I need to see (which is a good sign), and I am confident I will be fine.

The Great Cookie Dough Heist

LeeAnnRubsam.com

It was a kinder, gentler world back then – a time when salmonella did not rule the bird population, and children could still eat raw cookie dough even if it did have eggs in it. My mother used an old family recipe to make the most wonderful cutout sugar cookies, and Christmas would not have been complete without them. Their one drawback was the two-step process involved – make the dough one day and roll them out and bake them on another.

Mom worked long hours as a bookkeeper at a local gas station, yet she always managed to find time to play board games with us kids, take us wherever we needed to go, and bake goodies for the family. But it didn’t usually happen just when we were panting and breathing for it. It was that way with the Christmas cookies, one year. We made the dough one Saturday, and waited on the baking until the following Saturday. It was more than a little girl could bear.

“Mom can we make the cookies tonight?” Dead-tired Mom didn’t want to think about it, so night after night the answer was the same. The project must wait until Saturday, which seemed at least a decade away.

Sinister crimes are usually perpetrated in dark places, and this one was no different. The cookie dough, stored deep in the farthest corner of the basement refrigerator, pleaded loudly in my ears, “Eat me! Please, come eat me!”

I answered the call. It was just a tiny sampling at first. No one would have even noticed, especially after I pinched the dough together so the finger marks wouldn’t show. I swore that first dough-snitching episode would be my last, but day after day, evening after evening, the dough continued calling. I could hear it while watching TV, while reading a book, while trying to sleep: “Eat me. Please, come eat me!” And I succumbed, again and again.

A little taste here and a little taste there, and by Thursday night, a horrible truth had dawned: when Mom went to bake those cookies on Saturday, the whole family would know that someone had been stealing the goods. There was only enough left for about three cookies. I had vaguely observed a gradual dwindling of the mound, but kept telling myself it was not very noticeable, until it became so obvious that even I could not live in denial anymore.

What could I do? It was too cold outside to run away and live with the hobos.  Grandma wouldn’t protect me.  She lived with us, and would be mad like the rest of them that there were no Christmas cookies to be had.  I could frame my younger brother. I knew he had sampled once or twice, but he would hotly deny any part in the crime, and besides, my honest face always managed to tell the truth when my lips did not.

There was only one solution: when the day of reckoning came, I would have to own up to my heinous deed and face the music. In the meantime, I might as well enjoy my sin, since I was going to have to pay for it anyway. I ate the rest of that cookie dough. All that remained were finger trails up the sides of the bowl.

Saturday morning I awoke with dread in my heart. I stayed in bed extra long, covers over my head, listening for sounds of impending doom from beneath me. I heard my mother’s footsteps on the basement stairs, the opening of the refrigerator door, the pounding up the stairs again, the seconds of silence before the storm.  And then it blew.

“Lee Ann! Gary! Get down here!” I crawled out of bed and sidled on down to the kitchen, guilt written all over my miserable face. “Who ate all the cookie dough???!!!”

“I did, I guess – but I think Gary helped some.”

“Not much. I only did it once,” my brother defended himself.

Mom did not morph into the ogre that I had expected. She was really annoyed, but after recovering from the initial shock, the novelty of one small girl eating an entire batch of cookie dough on the sneak without being discovered until the last scoop was gone hit her as being a tad funny. She didn’t tie me to any bedposts, lock me in the closet for a week, or put me on a diet of moldy bread and  pond water for the next thirty days, as my young imagination had supposed would be fitting punishments.  She didn’t ban me from eating Christmas cookies for the rest of my life, either. Her lip twitched slightly, as she tried to hide the eventual smile.

“I guess we will have to make a new batch. This time maybe we’d better not wait another whole week before we get around to baking them.”

Moms are wise beings. They learn from their mistakes the first time around. I think I did, too. Not so much as a smidgeon prematurely departed from that cookie dough bowl in the interval before the next baking day.

LeeAnnRubsam.com

Thanksgiving Dreamin’

LeeAnnRubsam.com

My husband had a deprived childhood. Never once in all his growing up years did his family sit down to a Thanksgiving turkey. You see, he and his twin brother were the little tykes who stayed home with Mom, while Dad and the older brothers were all off in the woods tracking Bambi every Thanksgiving. 

Still, Paul has pleasant memories of their peculiar holiday tradition: Spaghettios. Yes, you read that right. The left-behind part of the family gave their thanks with the help of spaghetti in a can. Mom dressed it up real fancy by adding ground beef and kidney beans. She and the boys thought it was a fabulous treat, because it was the only time of year they got to eat noodles of any sort. Dad hated noodles and forbade them at his table, while Mom craved pasta 364 days out of the year.

Why am I telling you about it? Because I find Paul’s childhood tradition inspiring. I am beginning to raise my family’s conscious level to the radical concept of Thanksgiving without the turkey and all the fixin’s. I hate cooking, and the day I hate cooking the most is Thanksgiving.

One of these years I will push past all the accepted traditions and plop spaghetti down in front of their faces — with baby carrots still in the bag as a side dish. I will not do the noodles-mummified-in-a-can version. I loathe Spaghettios and all of its cousins. No, the spaghetti will come out of a box and the sauce out of a jar.  And I will not adulterate our entree with kidney beans. They make me think of  their namesake body part, and that is not appetizing.

I will serve up our meal on a tablecloth-less table, and the spaghetti and its accompanying sauce will appear in their original cooking pots, not fancy bowls.  The silver will stay in its box and remain tarnished if it wants to, while we eat with the everyday flatware.  I will still bake pie-out-of-a-box to ensure that there will be no mutiny. And we will ALL enjoy ourselves immensely — especially the cook, who will not spend hours after the repast fighting food coma while painstakingly picking all the remaining meat off that poor gobbler’s bones and preparing stock for soup. 

Lest you think I will shock all my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and cousins ten-times-removed who expect the real traditional deal out of me, I must explain that the family gathering has shrunk down to four of us.  My mom will always get her turkey dinner if I have to buy it in a Swanson TV dinner box for her.  And we’ll work into this gradually. I am a long-range planner and can salivate over a revolutionary new concept for a decade before I actually put it into execution.  The rest of my family will be all right with the idea once they’ve heard about it a few times. My teenager doesn’t like turkey or any of the fixin’s anyway.  She endures until the moment of pie arrives.  My husband may miss the turkey and dressing, but when I remind him of how his mom used to do it, the pleasant memories of his childhood will carry the day.

I think it will work. And I may be doing the women of America a humongous favor just by writing this. The Internet is a powerful tool for raising up an army of radical thinkers, you know. I could create a grass roots  uprising of middle-aged women all over the country who never before had it cross their minds that they do not have to be slaves of  Thanksgiving dinner the way their mamas were.  The trend will eventually snowball to where grocers cannot keep enough pasta and Ragu on their shelves to satisfy the public demand at Thanksgiving time. All the turkey farms will be converted to fields of Roma tomatoes.

Yes, I like the idea.  Anybody with me? 

LeeAnnRubsam.com  

Of Bunnies and Beans

LeeAnnRubsam.com

At the risk of alienating all my gardening friends, I have a confession to make: I like bunnies.  It doesn’t matter what size they are – big bunnies, little bunnies, in-between-size bunnies.  I just like them.  (But the teenier they are, the more I’m likely to ooh and ah over them and call the family to come and see.) 

The back wall of our house overhangs the foundation a little bit, and that overhang is the perfect place for bunnies to live year-round.  In the winter, they have to tunnel through the snow banks to forage.  I leave carrot peelings and popcorn kernels by their hole to help them make it through those cold months.  They also help themselves to my raspberry bushes when the going gets tough. 

In the summer, as long as we get the chicken wire around the garden before the beans start coming up, our relationship with them is harmonious.  And the tiniest ones don’t have a notion of being afraid.  They sit within six feet of me and listen up carefully while I tell them all about how much I like them and wouldn’t harm a flea on their hides. 

But this summer I noticed that the bean plants were looking a tad nibbled on, and while investigating,  I discovered that my bunny friends were getting more clever — an excavation under the chicken wire had been accomplished.  The invasion was easily stopped with a barricade of bricks. 

A couple of days later, I spotted one of my little bunny friends doing strange things outside the garden fence.  He had his tiny front paws wrapped around the chicken wire and was shaking the fence as violently as an eight ounce rabbit can be expected to, all the while biting the wire frantically.  I had never seen such behavior before and thought, “My, he must really enjoy the taste of bean stalks!” 

But bunnies must be smarter than I had previously given them credit for.  You see, he was really valiantly attempting to rescue one of his partners in crime.   Somebunny had gotten trapped inside the garden when we bricked up the under-fence tunnel. 

I didn’t get it at first.  I was picking beans and noticed the little guy inside the fence.  When he saw me, he just laid down on his side about two feet from me, and watched, and panted.  “Poor thingy!  He’s so scared he doesn’t know what to do,” I surmised, and proceeded to talk with him about how the humans at this house didn’t hurt bunnies, and that as soon as I left the garden, he could find whichever new hole he had dug, and get out. 

But Paul had a different idea about why he was in there.  “He probably doesn’t have another hole; he got trapped in there when I bricked up his entrance.  If we don’t let him out, he’ll dehydrate and die.” 

The easiest way to fix the situation would have been to remove the bricks and let him find his own way out.  But retired husbands don’t think like that.  Paul decided to help that poor rabbit by chasing him around the garden until he either caught him or until one of them collapsed in a state of exhaustion.  

There is no reasoning with such logic.  The best I could do was to suggest the use of work gloves in case Mr. Bunny decided to fight back, and to direly intone about how unfun rabies shots are. 

“Paul, I have to run off to the dentist right now for a dose of tooth-dope and a hilarious session of lying upside-down with my mouth wide open for an hour, but when I get home and am once more semi-coherent, you’d better tell me if that rabbit bit you or not.  I don’t want anybody around here foaming at the lips, unless it’s just toothpaste.  And if you think rabies shots are a joy ride – twenty-one slow, painful injections into your belly-button …”  and on and on in my unique style of husband lecturing. 

While under the influence at the dentist’s office, I did not think about the battle between rabbit and husband going on back at the ranch.  And when I got home, I did not receive a blow-by-blow account.  But the headlines were that the bunny wore out before Paul did, the work glove advice was heeded, no one got bit or otherwise injured on either side of the confrontation, and the bunny scampered away to the rabbit hutch and lived happily ever after. 

“Paul, are you SURE you didn’t get bit and you’re just not telling me?” 

(Patiently) “I’m sure.” 

“And you didn’t toss the bunny hard — he didn’t get hurt at all when he landed?” 

“No, I was very nice to him.” 

(Sigh!) “Now the bunnies won’t believe me.” 

“Hmm?” 

“I promised them no humans at this house would ever hurt them, and I’ll bet they just won’t understand.”

Oh, My!

It is my birthday today.  And my daughter has given me a unique present — the “unauthorized” tale posted for all the world to see of how I used our homeschooling experience to successfully launch a career in writing and publishing.

She’s engaging, witty, and quite a wordsmith.

Here’s the link to her tribute to Mom.

And for those of you who need a great copywriter (or just like reading fun stuff from writers)  — http://www.byhannahdavis.com

Thanks, Hannah!

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 2)

LeeAnnRubsam.com

I was wrong in yesterday’s post about Pittsburghians not knowing that it is good manners to say “hi” to strangers when passing.  It is not Pittsburghians who are ignorant on this point; it is just the ones on the part of the Montour Run Trail behind Susan’s house.

Today I took the trail where it continues on the other side of the highway, and almost all the folks walking and biking it said hello to me before I had a chance.  I will not have to try to elevate their culture after all.  They were a different group: not so focused on building their muscles and seeing how much wheezing they could handle before cardiac arrest set in.  They were the mom-and-dad type with little kids, or the I-am-just-out-for-a-stroll-to-enjoy-the-weather-and-I-don’t-care-if-I-elevate-my-heartbeat-to-its-maximum-potential-or-not type.

I simply cannot get used to all these houses built into the sides of the mountains.  We’ve got some of the same in Door County and the east side of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, but most of our state is mildly hilly or fairly flat.  I also cannot get used to how some houses’ front doors open almost directly onto the highway — or else have a goodly flight of stairs up to the door.  I would be a lean muscle machine if I lived here permanently.  If the up-and-down-hill walking did not do it for me, running from the copperheads in the summertime would.

I am developing a theory: even driving the hairpin turns and up-and-down slopes burns calories.  It would be possible to be quite athletically fit in Pittsburgh even without consciously exercising — if it weren’t for Chick-fil-A to ruin it all at the end of the day.

Susan has always been mystified by part of the local culture.  Although their home is only fifteen minutes from the heart of Pittsburgh, many people from their area — even very youngish people — have never been to the City.  Even more of them have not ever been to the other side of it.  They just live and die in their own small corner of the suburbs (suburghs?).

If Susan had wanted to know the answer, all she would have had to do is ask.  One of the natives explained it to me.  They all get lost if they travel outside of a certain small radius.  You see, because everything is in the mountains, there are no such things as square city blocks.  All the roads wind this way and that, without any organization, rhyme, or reason.  Finding your way around — especially around the city to the other side of it — is nigh-on to impossible.  So they all just stay in their township and the couple of townships nearby.  It is completely a safety issue.  There now.  That makes sense to me!

You might ask, “But what about one of those little GPS gizmos?  Wouldn’t that take care of the problem?”  We tried the GPS gadget to get us to Pittsburgh from Wisconsin.  It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  It tried to tell us Susan’s address did not exist.  After awhile, it decided the existence was a distinct possibility, but the directions given were not sensible.  If we had listened, we would have ended up on the wrong side of the city, lost forever, never to find Susan or Wisconsin again.

So, I understand.  I would behave myself and stay in my suburgh too.

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 1)

LeeAnnRubsam.com

Keeping Fit in Pitt

LeeAnnRubsam.com

As I explained yesterday, we have been visiting in the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh. 

I have been doing quite a bit of walking, partly out of desire to see some scenery, partly to find temporary solitude.  There is a hiking path about one-half mile from Susan’s house.  Getting there is semi-dangerous, as there is only a narrow shoulder along a sharply curving highway to walk on, and traffic is clipping.  I take consolation in not seeing many wildlife corpses on the road, which probably means that if I keep my eyes open, I will not end up as roadkill either.  I instruct the family before leaving that if I am not back in two hours, it is time to mount up a posse and come looking for me.

The hiking trail is an old railroad line, with a long tunnel cut through a hillside for added interest.  Woods adorn both sides, and Susan’s house is up on a bluff overlooking a creek which cuts between the trail and the residential area.

It seems that Pittsburghians do not behave quite like Wisconsinites.  The folks out on the trail are mostly intense types.  They jog, they stride energetically with arms flailing wildly, they are pulled along by unruly pitbulls, but they do not acknowledge each other’s existence as they meet.  My mother taught me as a small child that when we pass someone on the street, we smile pleasantly and say “hi.”  Pittsburghians appear to be very serious about whatever they do, including conscientiously obeying their mothers’ instructions never to speak to strangers.  I perversely insist on accosting them with a “hi,”  although I quickly discovered this is not kosher. The typical response is a surprised stare, as if they have discovered an intriguing new species of insect and are not quite certain whether to squash it or let it entertain them.  I keep trying, in hopes of improving their standard of civilized behavior, and I sometimes even get a response, but it is difficult to change a culture in a mere week’s time.

The trail is not heavily traveled in November, so I feel a little nervous about encountering lone men when no one else is in sight, especially in the dimly lit tunnel.  I am alert to my surroundings at all times, and listen carefully to assess the danger factor.  If the guy is breathing heavily as he approaches, that is probably good.  Loud snorting, wheezing, asthmatic gasping, and pre-cardiac arrest noises are even better.  All of these mean I can run faster than them, and that predator tactics are the last thing on their mind.

One of Susan’s friends informed me that in the summertime, the men are not the main alarm factor on the trail.  When it is warm, the copperheads enjoy sunning themselves smack dab in the middle of the road.  When they get too warm, they cool off in the tunnel — and no doubt lie in wait for silly Wisconsin women who never once imagined that a ten-foot-wide gravelled road would be a snake resort. 

I passed a pleasant elderly couple along the trail one afternoon.  (They said “hi” back and smiled — probably natives of Wisconsin, not Pittsburgh.)  I suppose they were in their seventies.  She was round and he was very lean — like Jack Sprat and wife.

As I approached  the tunnel on my return leg of the hike, I encountered Mrs. Sprat peering intently around the edge of it.  Jack was on the other end, poking around in some weeds.  Shortly after I entered, what I thought was a teenager tore past me in the fastest sprint I’d ever seen outside of the Olympics.  But it wasn’t a teenager.  As he got nearer, I realized it was Jack.  Seventy … spry as a youngster … faster than a speeding bullet … no red cape  or other super hero props though.

“How’d I do?”  Jack asked, lightly puffing.

“Thirty-one seconds,”  Mrs. Sprat replied.

But the light puffing didn’t subside or even continue evenly.  “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!” Jack commenced gasping in high-pitched apparent distress.  I wished I had remembered to bring the cell phone.  Obviously Jack was going to need an ambulance, and no telling how long it would take one to get there and whether the driver would know that he could disregard the hiking trail rule, “no motorized vehicles allowed.”

I turned to gaze in horror.  Mrs Sprat giggled.  Jack didn’t giggle.  He just kept on with the “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!”  At that point I figured that either she was rather looking forward to an early widowhood, or else Jack and the Mrs. just hang out at the tunnel on a regular basis, waiting to show off their stuff for whatever unsuspecting Wisconsinite comes along, hoping to scare the daylights out of their victim.

I headed on down the trail, and I noticed when I got to the end that the Sprats, with no “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUHs” in earshot, were not far behind. 

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 2)

LeeAnnRubsam.com

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