Tanked (#368)

We spent several months depressed and dog-less before I spotted a video of a gray bully mix named Tank on Petfinder. The video showed Tank playing fetch with a young boy. Tank even sat nicely with a cat.

I showed the video to Andy. “Look! He’s great with kids and cats! He’s trained. And he’s under eighty pounds!”

Andy agreed. I called the rescue and arranged a time to meet Tank. We showed our son the video. Dalton promptly dubbed the dog “Tankie De Jong” after watching Tank chase a ball into a pool, a couch, and the bushes.  Dalton, who was all about soccer, told us that Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong always had to have the ball.

It turned out to be an accurate comparison. Tankie was friendly when we met him, accepting pets and giving sniffs, but the second a ball appeared? Nothing else existed. He barreled through any obstacle to get a thrown ball, then raced back to the closest human, dropped the ball, and waited for it to be thrown again. (This was novel. Getting the ball back from some dogs could be…difficult.) Tankie would sit and stay on command, lie down, high-five, and go to his crate. He even had perfect recall off leash.

There are, at any given time, between 26,000 and 44,000 stray dogs in Los Angeles. The majority are chihuahuas, followed by American pit bull mixes and American Staffordshire Terrier mixes. Tankie looked like thousands of other stray, gray bully mixes. He was found on the streets of Moreno Valley, unaltered, at age 2-4.  Months later, he was pulled from the shelter by a rescue.

A picture Tank’s foster mom took soon after she got him.

Tank spent at least a year in foster care, overlooked in favor of younger dogs.

His foster mom had been working with him for months, hoping that a someone would value training enough to opt for an older dog instead of a cute puppy.

And here we were, smitten, taking Tankie home for a two-week trial period. We just needed to make sure he was a good fit and that the boss was okay with our choice.

 And no, Dalton was not the boss.

This was the boss.

The Boss

Boss Cat was her full name, and she ran the household. She loved dogs—especially hitting them in the face—but she had refused to be in the same room as the last dog we’d brought home for a few days.

I warned Tankie’s foster mom that if Boss Cat didn’t like Tankie, we couldn’t keep him. She gave me a can of compressed air and said, “Use this if he acts up. He really, really hates it.”

Once he arrived, Tankie immediately made himself at home. He played with Dalton and a dog-proof soccer ball. He crashed on his outdoor bed on our sunny patio. He was a dream on our walk up to the park. Since no one was around, I let Tankie off leash.

Tank and his newfound football

He promptly found a discarded football and brought it to me for the inevitable game of fetch.

When we got home, I put him in his crate. Boss Cat walked by, stopped, and glared at Tankie. I grabbed the can of compressed air.

Tankie sat up on his haunches, ears perking into an alert. And barked a single, angry bark.

“NO!” I shouted, shooting compressed air into his face. Tank dropped immediately into a submissive pose. “Absolutely NOT!”

Boss Cat stalked away.

Tankie never barked at her again. He did his best not to even look at her. Boss would come sit within a foot of Tankie and glare, her tail lashing back and forth. Tankie would stare resolutely at the wall, or put his back to her.

Then she’d move until she was right up in his face, as if to say, “Come at me, bro. I got five daggers on each paw and I will CUT YOU.”  And still Tankie would look away. Sometimes he would look at me, checking to see if I noticed what a Very Good Boy he was being in the face of such outrageous feline provocation.

Tankie’s last test was three small children. My Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister came to visit with her kids—none of whom were known for having impulse control. I gave them all a very firm lecture on how to behave with Tankie.

“We’ll be very good with your dog,” they promised.

“Well, he’s actually not our dog yet,” I explained. “We’re still seeing if we’re a good fit.”

I introduced them to Tankie and showed them how much he loved to fetch. Then I watched them like hawks. I needn’t have bothered. Tankie was thrilled to share his yard with them. If they weren’t playing ball, he followed those kiddos around as they picked lemons, shot Nerf guns, and wrestled.

Such a good boy

When the youngest patted him on the head, he licked her face.

Tankie had been trained not to go on the furniture. But at one point, he came over to my chair and tried to climb into my lap.

“Tankie!” I said, laughing. “Down!”

My sister snapped a picture and said, “I don’t care what you say, he’s definitely your dog.”

And so he was.

 

When SoCal Gives You Lemons (#366)

If you have a square foot of land in Southern California, you probably have citrus tree. If you don’t, you might have one in a pot. If you don’t have one in a pot, all your friends with lemon trees are currently offering you free lemons (the oranges aren’t quite ripe yet).

Tis the season in SoCal.

Our lemon tree is loaded this year. Andy has made lemon pancakes and crepes with lemon curd multiple times in the last month.

Andy’s crepes with lemon curd

When Baby D had dental work done, Andy made him a lemon posset. (I thought possets died out in Victorian times, but apparently there’s a resurgence.)

When a friend asked me to bring a dessert for a New Year’s party, I figured I’d better use up some lemons. But what to make?

Then I remembered Lawyer Sis raving about her daughter’s addictive lemon cookies. Kickass Niece (who kicks ass in school, social justice, taekwondo, soccer, and baking) was apparently forbidden from making those cookies too often when the rest of the household stopped fitting into their clothes.

I hit Kickass Niece up for the recipe. She told me it was basically any sugar cookie recipe modified with extra sugar and two lemons. (My version of this recipe is at the end of this post.) I got to work.

The cookies came out super lemony (I suspect East Coast lemons are puny compared to ours).

Andy and Baby D tested them for me. They both shrugged.

Andy: “They’re good.”

Baby D: “They’re okay.”

I asked, “Where do they rank compared to my other cookies?”

Baby D said, “My cookies are the best, then chocolate chip, then maple rugelach, then chocolate cookies with white chips, then the cream cheese sugar cookies, then the candy cane and chocolate meringues, then these.”

Andy said, “The chocolate cookies are first, then D’s cookies, then chocolate chip, sugar cookies, then maple rugelach, then these.”

“So they’re last?!”

Baby D shook his head and said, “No, the oatmeal cookies with cranberries or raisins are last. Or the Berger cookies.”

Andy said, “No, the candy cane and chocolate meringues are last. DEAD LAST.” (Andy thinks chocolate and mint together are the devil.)

I sighed and wondered if I should have made different cookies—until I realized that Baby D was stealing the just “okay” lemon cookies off the cooling rack every chance he got. Cookie casualties reached the double digits before I started squirting him with the cat’s water bottle.

The lemon cookies didn’t look very impressive (even though I picked the prettiest ones for the party platter). But only a handful remained at the end of the evening. As we were leaving, I offered the remainder to the mom of one of Baby D’s classmates.

The mom said, “Actually, I think I will. Olivia’s got a cold and these might cheer her up.”

Her friend piped up with, “Oh, and I’ll take some for Janet.”

Olivia’s mom eyed her friend skeptically and said, “Janet?”

“You know, my imaginary friend who will get just as many cookies as your daughter.”

Olivia’s mom gasped in outrage and said, “I really am taking these for Olivia!”

“Suuuuuure,” said the friend.

We laughed and made our exit with an empty platter—which outraged Baby D, especially when he learned that we’d sent the last of the cookies home to Olivia.

He may even have sent Olivia an angry text about her eating the last of “his” cookies.

To which she responded: “What cookies?”

Olivia’s mom is so busted.

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies

Since folks on Instagram asked for the recipe:

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies (aka Kickass Niece’s Cookies)

  • 2½ cups (318 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt (I used kosher salt ground finer with mortar and pestle)
  • 2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar, plus ½ cup (100 grams) for rolling
  • Zest and juice of 2 large lemons (maybe 3 if you are using puny East Coast lemons)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed to beat the butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and beat an additional minute. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, and beat until combined. Gradually beat in the flour mixture.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup sugar into a shallow pan or bowl. Using a small (1 tbsp) spring loaded ice-cream scoop, scoop out individual pieces of dough, drop them into the sugar, and roll them around until they are coated with sugar and roughly ball shaped. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing at least 2 inches apart—these cookies will spread and flatten considerably as they bake.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges brown. (If you like softer, chewy cookies, cook less. Spouse prefers more caramelized and wanted them even browner on the edges.) Cool for cookies for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, assuming you don’t have a ravenous child who eats them all off the rack.

Dogless (#365)

We had never lived in our house without a dog. The night the owners of our current house accepted our offer, we got our first dog. Woofie came with us to the housing inspection. In less than six months, we’d gotten Woofie a buddy named Fey. Dogs were incorporated into our lifestyle from the start.

They prewashed our dishes, which was especially handy with egg yolk.

They made sure we got exercise: 2-6 miles daily.

They helped us meet our neighbors. (To this day, I generally know the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood. Their owners’ names? No idea.)

They guarded our house and saved us money on alarms and utility bills. If the dogs were home, we could leave the windows open when we were out.

They gave us a handy excuse to leave awkward dinners or parties: “Gotta get home and let out the dogs before Bad Things Happen.”

The dogs helped entertain and raise Baby D, as well as ensuring he had a very robust immune system.

Even in Los Angeles, I could walk those dogs at any hour without an ounce of fear. Only the most desperate, hopeful dog-lovers would approach me and my 160 pounds of canines. (When they did approach, it always made Woofie’s day.)

No TV show was ever as funny as watching their battles over water bottles or tug toys (which generally ended in Woofie dragging Fey around the yard as she hung onto said toy). We spent many summer evenings on our swing in the backyard laughing over their antics.

They were family, whether snuggling with us on the couch at night or counter surfing relentlessly during the day.

And we lost them both to different cancers within a year-and-a-half of each other.

I took losing Woofie hard. So did our Boss Cat. While Fey had guarded her yard all day, Woofie spent much of the day inside, playing with Boss Cat or getting attention from me. I kept expecting to hear his claws on the hardwood floor, or feel his muzzle lift my arm when I paid too much attention to the computer screen.

Boss Cat tried to play with Fey, but Fey was a sensitive German Shepherd mix. When Boss Cat batted her in the face, Fey barked and snapped. A normal cat would have fled. Boss Cat glared and hit Fey with her right paw so hard that the WHAP reverberated through the house. Fey—who had vanquished multiple loose pit bulls, a Tibetan Shepherd mix, and a Rhodesian ridgeback—winced and slunk away. Without a canine playmate, Boss Cat consoled herself with food, gaining a pound after Woofie’s demise.

Andy took Fey’s death hardest. She was his obedient girl who loved to jump on the couch and have him pet her face after he got home from work. Andy consoled himself with Boss Cat, who allowed cuddles and head bunting nightly.

*****

Our dogless house was a quieter place. Less mess. Less money spent at the vet. No need to hurry home from Baby D’s soccer tournaments. It was much easier (and cheaper!) to hire the girls down the block to feed Boss Cat than to find a reliable dog sitter to stay in our house when we traveled.

We closed and locked all our windows up when we left, returning to a house that was a veritable SoCal sauna.

We had to throw out leftover food and waste water rinsing away egg yolks.

I still went for early morning walks, but my only companion was Pokemon Go. Sometimes I would see a big dog and run over, cooing, “Oh my GOD! She’s so cute! Can I say hi?! I have a venison treat in my pocket in case she had allergies is that okay?!”

I had become the desperate dog stalker.

We took care of a friend of a friend’s dog for a few days. Boss Cat hated that dog on sight. She nearly tore out a window screen trying to escape the house and refused to come into the living room until the dog went home.

I told Andy, “I guess if we want another dog, it would have to have Boss Cat’s approval.”

“You want another dog? You’re the one that always goes on about how you have to train it and do all the work.”

“Yeah, but…our house doesn’t feel right. Every morning, going up the hill, I think, ‘This is such a waste of a walk. Some rescue dog out there would be loving this.'”

“We’d have to find a dog that is good with cats and kids.”

“But it has to be a rescue dog that needs a home. A big dog.”

“Not over eighty pounds,” Andy declared. “I need be able to carry the dog ten years from now when it’s old and sick.”

“It’ll have to be trained. And not a puppy. I am not up for spending hours on dog training again.”

“So we’re looking for a dog that’s good with cats, good with kids, is big but under 80 pounds, is young, but not a puppy and fully trained?”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “We’re probably not getting another dog for a while, are we?”

And we didn’t.

Until I found the Tank.

The Coffee Maker (#364)

I did not grow up drinking caffeine. At my dad’s house, there was only hot tea (usually Bigelows, usually herbal) on cold game nights. At my mom’s house, there was coffee every morning, made on the stove in a cheap, old fashioned percolator. That coffee smelled so good that I would occasionally try a sip, only to gag at the bitterness.

Back then, when the world was so new and all, we didn’t have fancy Peppermint Mocha Crème Brulé Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccinos to make coffee palatable. Since I was an insomniac, I never needed coffee to stay awake. Tea remained my drink of choice (except when laced with lead in misogynistic ceremonies).

Andy, my Chinese American husband, grew up with tea during dim sum, hot tea with meals (even in Hawaii!), and the devil’s brew known as foo chai when he was sick. The he went to Starbucks—I mean, Seattle for a semester of college.

By the time I met Andy, he brewed a ten cup carafe of very strong coffee every morning. He also had his own coffee and coffee maker at work.

In grad school, I worked in a restaurant. While staff wasn’t allowed to have food, we were allowed as much coffee we wanted—including milk and cream. So I’d have a tablespoon of coffee and a mug of cream while working (don’t judge, in my hungry family, we NEVER turned down free food).

By the time Andy and I moved in together, I could manage a mug of Andy’s coffee in the morning…as long half of the mug was half-and-half.

Then we had Baby D and I was up at 4:30 AM. Sometimes I needed a second serving of coffee.

Eventually, Andy started making my coffee milk and leaving it on the counter. I thought it was very nice of him, though I was constantly reminding him to use a coffee mug, rather than my favorite teacups. My friend M sent me a hand-thrown mug with a fall leaf, but Andy rarely used it. Instead, he’d pick the smallest mug available.

I finally caught on: “Hey! You’re hoarding the coffee! That’s why you tried to use my little teacups and you won’t use the big mug!”

“What? No, of course not, honey. I know you like the little mugs and you do have a little mouth and you don’t want to spill,” he protested. UNCONVINCINGLY.

“But it’s fall and I want the coffee in my big fall mug that has the rim I like!”

“But when I give you that mug you never drink it all!”

“That’s because I can’t before Baby D needs something, or the cat throws up, or a dog has to go out, or there’s a racoon in the yard, or whatever! And then my coffee gets cold and it gets a skin.”

“If you just drank coffee black, you could reheat it, like me.”

“Oh my God, I get, at most, 2 cups of coffee. That means you get eight. HOW IS EIGHT CUPS OF COFFEE NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?!”

Andy’s coffee from Costco

Andy had no response…besides finding the darkest, bitterest roast on the planet and grinding more of it to make his coffee even stronger.

 Since we’ve been married, he’s gone through four coffee makers and five grinders. The knob of the last grinder fell off, but since the grinder still worked, my frugal husband used pliers in place of the knob.

For our anniversary this year, I printed out reviews of the best combination grinder/coffee makers—all with 12 cup coffee carafes— and put them in his birthday card. I told Andy to treat himself to his favorite. It sounds lazy, but while I’m fairly ignorant about making coffee, I’m not stupid enough to pick out coffee equipment for a coffee snob.  Also, our kitchen was being repaired after water damage and there was nowhere to actually put a coffee maker. (Andy was living on Starbucks.)

When the kitchen was finished, Andy ignored all my reviews and bought himself a new grinder and an expensive De’Longhi coffeemaker.

“It looks fancy,” I told him. “But the carafe only holds ten cups! You sure you didn’t want a twelve cup one?”

“The De’longhi only comes with a ten cup carafe. But look! It has a milk steamer. You can have cappuccinos or lattes.”

“But I wanted YOU to have the coffee maker that that would give you all the coffee you wanted. It’s not supposed to be about me!”

Andy shrugged. “It’ll be fine.”

My cappuccino with one of Andy’s mochi doughnuts.

The next morning, after a lot of noise in the kitchen, Andy presented me with a frothy cappuccino—in my big fall mug. It was deliciously mellow, not at all like his usual bitter brew.

“This is amazing! Thank you, honey.” Andy beamed, but I still felt badly that he’d gotten me a gift with his gift. “Listen, you don’t have to do this all the time. Just leave the instruction manual out and I’ll figure out how to use the frother and steam my own milk.”

Andy did not leave out the manual. When I called him at work, he said it was in his file cabinet. It was not.

I searched up videos and instructions online. The next time I got up before Andy, I frothed up my milk and added it to some coffee from the carafe.

It was bitter as all hell. Stronger than the coffee from our previous coffee maker for sure. I was still making faces when Andy hurried into the kitchen.

“This is bad, honey,” I told him. “I dunno why it doesn’t taste like your cappuccinos.”

“You used MY coffee?!” Andy looked both outraged…and guilty.

My espresso bag.

“What do you—what coffee have you been making ME?” I whipped open a cabinet. “Is there a can of instant or General Foods International Coffees in here?”

“I would never! This new coffee maker also does espressos, so I make you your own shot for your cappuccino.” He pulled down a brown bag and showed it to me.

“You mean you’ve been secretly making me different coffee? So you can have all ten cups to yourself? While I was feeling bad you got a smaller carafe in order to get the machine with the milk frother?!”

“But don’t you like the cappuccinos better than my coffee?”

“That is…not the point!” I stalked off to walk the dog. And also to complain to my Lawyer Sister about Andy’s duplicitous coffee-switching.

After she quit laughing, Lawyer Sis said, “I don’t know why you’re complaining. Your husband makes you your own special cappuccino every morning. Take the win.”

“Yes, but if I get up first, then I have to wait for my coffee.”

“Oh, boo-hoo. Other people have to pay money and drive to Starbucks for cappuccinos. My husband doesn’t even know how to make coffee. He drinks Dr. Pepper. FOR BREAKFAST.”

I shuddered and conceded.

Andy promised to show me how to make my own shot of espresso. I have yet to take him up on his offer.

Perhaps because I am also enjoying my new coffee maker.

Cappuccino holiday style!

Hurriquake (#360)

We had a little excitement over the weekend. Historic excitement, even.

Southern California has its share of disasters. When I moved west, I knew I was trading in hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, blizzards, and locusts (or at least cicadas) for earthquakes and wildfires. (My son Dalton thinks this was a shit trade; he is green with envy every winter, when his cousins get “snow days” and have no school.)

My partner Andy thought he was leaving hurricanes when he moved from Hawaii. You know why? Because meteorologists have long said Southern California’s coastal waters were too cold for a hurricane to survive and the winds send storms back out to the Pacific.

Last week, Hurricane Hilary made a beeline for us. Thanks to the fossil fuel industry’s greed, the Pacific Ocean has warmed up quite a bit.

Now, technically, Hilary was downgraded to a tropical storm before crossing over from Mexico into the United States. So, yes, we still haven’t officially had a hurricane (let me get that out before white bros start “well actually-ing” the crap out of my comments section). But SoCal and its Maine-like water temperatures were supposed to be relatively safe from tropical storms, too.

Fuck you, Exxon.

Next up on our bingo card: ice-storm, probably. Courtesy of Shell and all the white men insisting on driving jacked up pickup trucks to prove their toxic masculinity. May all y’all drive those trucks into the rising waters and get swept away in a rush of double irony.

Even though meteorologists were always very clear that Hilary would only be a tropical storm by the time she reached us, a tropical storm still meant way more rainfall than SoCal usually gets. 4 inches of rain is a pittance on the East Coast. In SoCal, we get maybe 10 inches a year—4 inches is a DELUGE! In our inland deserts? Death Valley gets 2 inches annually.

So on Friday, Dalton and I cleaned out the rain gutters. (He’s young enough that climbing on the roof is exciting, plus he’s lighter than his parents and less likely to damage the shingles, plus didn’t you know conservatives are bringing back child labor?) After the city cut down the seven trees around our house, gutter-cleaning was far easier than in past years, but in the rain gutters Dalton discovered dirt, 3 drill bits, one entire rusted drill nose/ bit, and several metal cylinders (probably from our solar installation last year).

Meanwhile, Andy reapplied caulk around the roof vents. He tucked away all his pots and gardening supplies in the garage and shed. Any light furniture, yard signs, and cushions went into the garage.

We were ready for the worst, even as we watched Hilary’s projected storm track move further and further from the coast.

Normally, we get strong afternoon winds blowing in from the ocean. Saturday, those winds died. Andy informed me that this was typical pre-hurricane weather: hot, humid, and still.

SoCal’s nighttime temperatures normally drop as much as 20 degrees, thanks to our lack of humidity.

Sunday morning, as Hilary approached, was even hotter than Saturday afternoon. When I checked the doppler, the majority of the rain was passing to the east of us.

Occasionally the sky would spit, but we didn’t get light rain until about 11 AM.

It didn’t cool off a darn thing.

This was my phone yesterday.

At about 2:40 PM, the rainfall got heavier. As I shifted in my chair to look out the window, the house seemed to move. I had a split second to wonder if the barometric pressure changes were giving me vertigo before my phone started screaming “Emergency Alert!”

One flooding alert for Hilary.

And one for a 5.5 earthquake.

As SoCal social media alternated between gleeful “#Hurriquake” and gloomy “#FML,” thankfully someone in Los Angeles office of the National Weather Service quickly tweeted that a tsunami was NOT expected, post-earthquake.

Alas for #Hurriquanami.

The quake did no damage to us, since the epicenter was far to the north. (No injuries or serious damage, just a lot of broken glass in Ojai.) The worst storm systems went around us on both sides of the Los Angeles basin, proving once again that geography has an impact on weather. We finally got some cooler winds and heavier rain by about 7 PM.

Our area got about 2.5″ of rain in exchange for a few tree limbs down and loss of power. I invited neighbors to come by and recharge at our house (thanks to our powerwall), but power was restored before anyone got that desperate.

Palm Springs and Coachella Valley were far less fortunate.

Several school districts canceled classes today.

Our school district, however, is still on summer break.

Dalton is rather bitter about this: “That was probably the best chance to have school canceled for weather!”

“Give it time, dude. Our climate is heading for extremes. You could still get a snow day.”

“That will NEVER happen in LA, Mom.”

“They said the same thing about hurricanes once, buddy.”

East vs West: Camping Edition (#359)

Our only child was an extrovert. An extrovert with FOMO (fear of missing out). If his friends were doing an activity, Dalton had to do it. T-ball turned into Pony League. AYSO turned into club soccer. Going to the YMCA alerted Dalton to possibilities such as Jr. Lakers basketball, gymnastic class, kid yoga, and porpoise club. Porpoise club gave way to Junior Lifeguards.

There was also Cub Scouts. Dalton was all over that: “You build a miniature car! There’s races! And there’s a camping! And you get to spend the night on a Navy ship! Mom, please we have to join!”

“Sure thing, buddy,” I agreed. Visions of a night alone in the house danced in my chronically sleep deprived brain. “Seems like an excellent program with lots of father-son time!”

“Wait, what?” asked my husband, who hadn’t been paying attention.

“Yay!” yelled Dalton. “Camping!”

“Camping with Dad,” I corrected. “Poor mother will have to stay home with the pets.”

Andy reluctantly got a tent and sleeping bags. He also got air mattresses. I pulled out some old camping plates, tin cups, utensils, and a battery-operated light/ radio. Andy eyed my stash and said accusingly, “You’ve been camping before.”

“Haven’t you?”

Andy laughed and said, “No one goes camping when you grow up in Hawaii. It’s like road trips.”

“I saw campgrounds when we were in Hawaii.”

“Those are for tourists.”

“I bet other people in Hawaii went camping.”

“White people, probably. Everyone else is like, ‘I spent so much on this house, and you want me to sleep in a tent?!”

“Whereas my mom dragged us all out camping when Baby Brother was three months old.”

“Didn’t Baby Brother spend his first month in the NICU?!”

“Yep. I watched him while everyone else was setting up tents and swearing. But the wildlife programs at the ranger station were pretty cool. All about owls and how to avoid being attacked by the raccoons who got trapped in trashcans—”

“Attacked by raccoons? That’s a real camping thing?!”

“It is when they’ve been stuck in a trashcan for hours. And then in my twenties I did a kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands where we camped out every night.”

“Since you’re the one with all the experience, maybe you should—”

“Oh hell no.”

On their inaugural Cub Scout camping trip, Andy forgot the sleeping bags. He texted hopefully from the mountains: I guess we will have to come home.

I utilized the Mom Network and caught a mom before she left. She brought two extra sleeping bags.

Try to imagine Andy’s excitement.

Dalton had a fantastic time, relishing the abundance of activities and playmates.

Andy hated it. He complained about the food, the showers, the dust, the ill-behaved children, the crappy parents who ignored their ill-behaved children, and the hard ground (even with the air mattress).

They were home by 7 AM on Sunday morning. After a two-hour drive.

On all subsequent Cub Scout trips, they were also home by 7 AM. Andy would immediately go sleep in his own bed for 5 hours.

Camping Torture only lasted about 3 years. Once Dalton got serious about soccer, practices, weekend games, and tournaments conflicted with Cub Scouts. And as Andy was quick to point out, “We’re paying too much money for club soccer to miss a single game!”

That man sold the tent and air mattresses as fast as he could.

Several years later, Dalton asked, “Hey, Dad, why don’t we go camping again?”

Andy shot Dalton a reproving look and answered:

“Son. We are HOTEL people.”

Shoutout to Mark My Words for his inspirational post about indefinitely postponing camping.

For the Birds (#356)

Birds flock to my yard. I don’t put out feeders, but fountain brings in birds by the dozens in dry SoCal (also skunks, which is another, stinkier post). Andy’s insect-attracting compost pile attracts the black Phoebe fly catcher.

Small bird with bright orange chest
Allen’s Hummingbird, photographer Dean LaTray, Cornell Macaulay Library

The rufous hummingbirds and Allen’s hummingbirds dogfight over orange blossoms. Mocking birds have claimed the neighbor’s shrubbery and defend it against all comers—including hawks.

Bright yellowish orange bird with black wing
Fred Forssell, Macaulay Library

My personal favorite is the hooded oriole. He’s the most colorful bird, sporting bright orangish-yellow plummage. He arrives in late March, signaling that The Worst Month is almost over. The male hooded oriole fusses in the fountain before preening relentlessly for the less colorful female orioles. The females are much harder to spot, being the perfect shades of green and yellow for blending in with foliage. They also do far less preening and far more foraging for insects in trees and my rose bushes.

Recently, though, I caught the elusive female oriole on camera. She spent days ripping at the tissue box on the patio—either nest-building or auditioning for a Kleenex commercial. I’m dubious about the tensile strength of tissues, but she was determined. The orioles nest in very, very tall palm trees across the street. Fingers crossed the nest holds this year. (I’m all out of Kleenex, orioles. Don’t make me cry over your downed nest.)

Finch at a fountain, courtesy of a neighbor mom friend with a good camera.

Of all the birds, finches are the most numerous—and problematic. Every year there’s at least one pair determined to nest in my outdoor hanging baskets. When we first moved in, they successfully raised all their fledglings (and I cleaned a lot of poop of the patio). But once Baby D was a toddler, we went in and out and played in the yard so much the next finch parents abandoned their nest. Once it was clear the finches were never coming back, I took the nest and eggs to show Baby D’s preschool class. The kids were awed. I was sad.

After that, I started running off the finches as soon I spotted them in the baskets. Those finches were tenacious and sneaky. More than once, they managed to frame (with twigs) and drywall (with dog fur) while I was out on the morning walk.

That’s when I brought out the big guns: Boss Cat. The finches invariably fled to as I carried her outside. Raising Boss Cat over my head, (her Lion King moment!) I’d let her paw at the basket and rub her jaw against it. Then I’d yell, “Now do you see? This NOT a safe place!”

Sometimes, I’d throw in a song: “It’s the circle of life/ And she’ll eat you all/ Rip off your head/ Make sure your babies are all dead…”

I don’t know if it was the macabre lyrics or my singing voice, but Boss Cat and I successfully deterred basket nest building for years.

One of us was happy about this.

Eventually the wicker baskets fell apart. I replaced them with wrought iron baskets lined with coconut matting. The finches left them alone, allowing to freesia bloom in the spring, and marigolds to bloom in the fall. In the shadiest areas, the fuchsia geraniums bloomed year-round.

Until the scrub jays discovered them. Apparently coconut matting is even better than dog fur for avian drywalling. Those scrub jays tore out matting out by the handful, then flew off with it to their unknown nesting site. When I brought out Boss, they merely retreated to the telephone wire. And when I sang? They squawked back at me.

Blue and white bird on a post.
Marauding Scrub Jay, courtesy of mom friend

Like they were laughing.

As soon as I went in, those jays resumed ripping at the basket. I took my laptop outside and set up a chair under one of the baskets because I’m ornery like that.

The scrub jays went for the other basket. I moved my chair in between the baskets. The scrub jays disappeared. I was victorious.

Or so I thought.

Only later did I discover the holes in the coconut matting of front porch geranium.

Marauded matting!

I had to buy three new sheets of coconut matting before scrub jay nesting season was over.

This year, the scrub jays ripped out so much matting in just one morning that potting soil covered the patio and dog bed.

I took down the mauled baskets, telling myself they were rusting anyway. I transplanted the surviving flowers into my front garden.

And then I tossed the remnants of the coconut matting into the compost pile, yelling, “Fine! Have at it!”

The scrub jays were victorious.

Or so they thought.

I still have one hanging basket with pristine coconut matting on the front porch. The scrub jays, busy savaging the sacrificial matting in the compost, never touched the last basket.

Probably they’re saving it for next year.

Bright fuchsia geranium in a hanging basket of wrought iron.

A Sporting Chance (#354)

The first year I coached my son’s recreational soccer team we lost almost every game.

Undoubtedly due to the shitty coach who had never played soccer.

The second year I coached AYSO, I had all the boys from Dalton’s elementary school. They were smart, Dalton was fast, and there was no offsides rule. The boys quickly learned to send it out to Dalton on the run—he would get to it first, they would sprint for the goal, and he’d pass it back to them for a score. They won most games. We were only crushed by two teams, both stacked with good players—players with dads who had started them young and/ or also had them playing on “club teams.” Club teams are known as “travel ball” teams outside of California, where apparently you have to travel a long way to play other good teams. In a huge city like Los Angeles, with millions of Latino kids (who got soccer balls before they could walk) and Japanese American kids (who got soccer balls as soon as they could walk), no teams had to travel far for good competition.

Club teams played all year.  They had licensed, professional coaches. They were also thousands of dollars annually. AYSO was $165.00.

Dalton at British Soccer Camp

Every summer break, winter break, and Spring Break, I put Dalton in whatever soccer camps were available: AYSO, British, or local club camps. He had a blast and I got a break. Even those camps were a fraction of the cost of club soccer. That was as close as Dalton got to a club team.

Until our worst AYSO season. Once the kids hit U8, AYSO coaches rank their players at the end of each season. The age group coordinators are supposed to use those rankings to make sure the teams are fair. In Dalton’s age group, the coordinator claimed the previous year’s rankings had “disappeared.” She stacked her son’s team with good players, including the great player with the dad who had played soccer in college and now coached. I had three players who had never played soccer before. All Dalton’s prior teammates wound up on other teams.

We were the Panthers, and we were pathetic. In our first game, we were slaughtered 9:0. In our second game, the Crushing Red Typhoon crushed us 11:2, with repeated goal-scoring breakaways from a club player named Jacob. Our one bright spot—aside from snacks bags with brownies—was Dalton chasing Jacob down. Face red and furious, Dalton came diagonally from one goal all the way to the other to deny Jacob a last point.

Then I had to bribe Dalton, who hated injustice even more than losing, with ice-cream to get him to go through the post-game handshake.

But with every practice, and with every game, the Panthers improved. (Probably because getting worse wasn’t possible.) I kept the practices as fun as I could, using games like “Target the Coach” to improve passing or “Simon Says” to work on ball handling. Every week I handed out a little black panther statuette to one player for doing something great…or just following directions. When we managed to tie the Agent Orange team, we celebrated like it was a win.

By the time we played the age group coordinator’s stacked team, we only lost 5:0. At that point, I was almost as angry as Dalton over the disparity in the skill levels among teams. After the handshake line, I told Andy, “Don’t let Edwin get two snacks and don’t let Dalton see the other team celebrating. I’m going to go give the coordinator a piece of my mind.”

“Do you think that will help?”

“Of course not. But it’s the only consequence I can give.”

“Okay. Same deal as Dalton. You get an ice-cream if you don’t hit.”

I did not hit her. I told her I’d watched her stack her son’s team for years, against the AYSO mandate for fair teams in order to build a love for the sport. I told her it discouraged players and that all the kids deserved better. I told her she sucked as a coordinator, a parent, and a human. I refused to accept a single weak excuse and then I left.

For the Panthers’ last game, we again faced the Crushing Red Typhoon. And do you know what?

WE WON. Despite the amazing Jacob (who eventually moved on to the LAFC Academy team). Despite our inexperience. And despite our Goal Keeper getting knocked over and falling into dog poop. When the last whistle blew, it was Panthers: 3, Crushing Red Typhoon: 2.

The jubilation of Panther parents, Panther players, and, yes, the Panther coach rivaled that of any World Cup Champions. (Nobody hoisted our keeper on their shoulders, though.)

During the next Christmas break soccer camp, a coach from a local club team asked Dalton to try out for his team.

Eyes shining, Dalton asked, “Can I do it, Mom? They play ALL YEAR. And it’s a REAL coach, not a parent.”

Andy said, “Ouch.”

I laughed and said, “Sure. You need an actual soccer coach. And I’m gonna retire while I’m still on top.”

“On top? We didn’t win AYSO,” Dalton scoffed.

“Oh, I think we did, buddy. I think we did.”

And I always will.

Homemade (#351)

As I mentioned in previous posts, my husband had a grudge against all the gifts I got from ex-boyfriends. Not an angry, “burn them ALL” kind of grudge, but the kind where stuff disappeared. Mainly, I found it amusing (I’m not much for jewelry anyway), but I did fight to keep my favorite purse.  Also, I lied about the provenance of a few other items and I still have those, so HA!

I’m not sure why some? All? men are like this. Is a woman wearing the clothes or jewelry a man bought her the human equivalent of a dog peeing on something to make it his own? If so, karma already got back at Andy; the first time we took our rescue dog Woofie to the dog beach, the dog had a blast, playing in the waves—only to return to us, lift his leg next to Andy, and pee on my husband.

I laughed so hard, I nearly peed my own self.

I’m too busy living that exhausting SAHM life to even look at other men. Andy hasn’t got the slightest reason to be jealous.

Of men. (Or women)

The only thing I drool over now is food. I grew up on very bad American staples like Hamburger Helper and TV dinners. McDonald’s was exciting to us. Gourmet or even homemade food with seasoning and spices? Heaven.

My brother-in-law once made a fabulous beef Wellington for Christmas dinner. Half the kids were asleep at the table when it was finally served at 9 PM, but I raved about beef Wellington for weeks.

Next Christmas, Andy made beef Wellington.

Andy’s beef Wellington

A French-Canadian opened up a restaurant near us that served poutine. I hadn’t had poutine since a visit to Ottawa years ago. I dragged Andy there and made ecstatic noises as I scarfed down French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.

Andy told me it was a heart attack on a plate.

I said, “At least I’ll die before the dementia gets me.”

Andy got a fryer and perfected his doubled-fried French fries, along with giblet gravy.

Andy’s fries, back in the days of our first small fryer.

Cheese curds are very hard to find in Los Angeles (which makes me so jealous of Midwest Mark My Words), but Andy found some garlic cheese curds at the Farmer’s Market. Now he makes poutine for my birthday and Mother’s Day. (And he even has some, too, without a single comment about cardiac arrests.)

On one visit to Utah, Current Stepmother made prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. That Yorkshire pudding, covered in jus? It was the bomb.

British Sunday Dinner!

Guess who got TWO Sunday dinners with primes rib and Yorkshire pudding before her husband tore a ligament in his dominant hand?

I did.

When a new burger place featured an Impossible Burger with chipotle aioli, I only had to get take out twice before Andy started making me Impossible burgers with homemade chipotle aioli and homemade buns.

After dinner with friends at The Melting Pot, Andy got a fondue pot, raclette cheese, and made his own. He even makes baguettes from scratch.

Andy’s pizza.

We don’t do takeout pizza anymore, because it can’t compare to Andy’s homemade crust and tomato sauce. But then I oohed and ahhed over an Italian chef who showcased his fried pizza on Netflix. Andy fried up a wedge of pizza dough with mozzarella, arugula pesto, and tomato on the inside and it was to die for.

Sometimes, I’ll suggest going out to dinner. Andy will shrug and say, “But I make it better at home and it’s much cheaper.” And he’s not wrong.

Perhaps Andy upstaging all other chefs is about saving money. The man is very frugal.

Perhaps he merely enjoys making delicious food for an appreciative audience.

Perhaps it’s just male insecurity channeled productively.

Whatever the reason, all I can say is, “Well played, sir.

“Tonight we’re eating in.”

Fondue Night!

One Mom, Every Mom (#349)

My husband did (and still does) a lot of wrestling with Baby D. But our son’s main playmate, when there was no school, sports, or playing with the kids on the block, has always been me.

Baby D loves the water. Swimming is a good way to wear out any kid, even those of the inexhaustible variety. We’d always get to the pool at least a half-hour before lessons and play games. And by games I mean:

Baby D: “Mommy, let’s pretend you are Mommy Whale and I am Baby Whale!”

Me: “Can’t I be Mommy Shark?”

Baby D: “No! Because I am Baby Whale!” (Swims out to middle of pool, proceeds to spin and thrash.) “MOMMY WHALE! MOMMY WHALE! Baby Whale is caught in a whirlpool!”

I would sigh, ignore the sniggering lifeguard and go to “rescue” Baby Whale.

Golden Pond, Town Beach

When Baby D was older, but stuck with only me as a playmate at a New Hampshire lake, the games became more involved. They were inevitably based on whatever he’d read most recently:

Baby D: “Okay, this rock is Momdor and you have to defend it and not let me touch it!” (Baby D charges, freestyling like mad. I scoop him up and throw him a few feet back. Repeatedly. I tire out way before my kid.)

Me (mining blowing a horn): “Momdor calls for aid! Momdor calls for aid! Where are the Riders of Rohan?!”

Baby D (outraged): “Momdor isn’t GONDOR! It’s MORDOR!!”

Me: “Not a chance, Baby Sauron. I’m Gondor AND the Houses of Healing.”

I certainly felt like a besieged nurse on a regular basis. Andy had one of his lemon episodes soon after our beloved rescue dog Woofie was diagnosed with a terminal fibrosarcoma. Then our other rescue, Fey, injured herself shoving Woofie out of the way in order to claim attention from friends and neighbors who came visit Woofie one last time (Woofie had always believed everyone was his friend. Turns out, he wasn’t wrong.)

That month had a lot of trips to human and canine physicians. While sitting in yet another waiting room—don’t ask me which kind—I wrote the following (apologies to Tolkien):

Three X-rays for the denizens
In the house of sturdy brick
A canine with a cancer
And a skull that’s awfully thick
His wussy shar-pei sister
Yelps with compressed discs of three
And the man that ought to walk them
Had surgery on his knee.
One Mom to nurse them all
One Mom to chide them
One Mom to find those pills
Wherever doggies hide them.

I was not, however, the only poet in the family. The following Mother’s Day, Baby D’s class wrote poems about their moms. Baby D’s started off and ended as quite the ode:

My mom is hardworking
She always supports me
She lets me do soccer and
Supports me with glee…

…I love my mother truly
She is the greatest for me
Amazing she can see
What is the best for me!

But the middle? It contained this gem:

When my mother is resentful
I know to hide in my room
Else will come my doom!

Maybe Momdor is Mordor after all.

Or maybe every Gondor has a bit of Mordor in it.

Actual poem & picture. Baby D says it’s tree. Andy says it looks like our dog Fey up on her hind legs. I say words always trump illustration.

If you were hoping for a Christmas Post, here’s my husband’s first New England Christmas. If you want Christmas AND you got every single Tolkien reference in this post, here’s the perfect read for you: The North Polar Bear.