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Rats! June 28, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Home Front.
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Okay, while rats is the operative word, it’s a metaphor for so much more… Rats leaving a sinking ship, as in eleven, count’em, Thank You cards lined up to sign for colleagues who received a RIF notice.  Rats! Some of the best teachers ever are being put out to sea, while the sinking ship that is education takes on more water (aka students).

To add insult to injury, as the teachers struggled to pack up last Friday, the fire alarms went off at one-minute intervals – for five hours (okay, they took a break for lunch).  My son, who was helping me pack up my room, looked stricken.  I said, “Can you see how this could drive you crazy?” as we wandered in circles looking for the one roll of masking tape we needed to cover all the bookshelves with paper.  Especially, if you’re already crazy to begin with,” he shot back, but I’m immune to his caustic comments. I don’t know why the military engages in waterboarding, when the most effective form of torture I can think of is having you pack up a filthy classroom with fire alarms blaring.  Think about it.

I checked out of the school by 1 p.m.  My husband was late joining us for lunch.  He’d been at home waiting for “Johnny Rat,” the pest control specialist, to check out our growing rat problem.  (Yes, that’s how his name is printed on the card.) Think tiny claws in the walls at night and palm fronds that suddenly collapse with tell-tale nibble marks.  We’ve been in denial about “the rat problem” for years.

When I wrote I Smell a Rat, we were talking about ONE rat.  Now we’re talking about legions.  Think of the movie 300 only with rats in the starring roles.

So Mr. Rat and his sidekick, Nelson, from the Rat Patrol took a look see, and the news wasn’t good.  I think the only reason we don’t have a termite problem is because the rats have crowded them out.  So my first day of summer vacation was spent listening to the ills that could befall of us if we don’t take care of “the rat problem.”

I now know way more than I ever wanted to know about personal lives of these wily rodents (or vermin, depending on your POV).  We were informed that once the rats had all been trapped and new screening installed so they can’t jump from the trees onto the roof and move back into the attic, that a new problem of biblical proportions will emerge.  Rat mites!  Without a delicious rats to feast on, the starving mites will come looking for fresh flesh and blood…us!  Through the walls…through the ceilings. We couldn’t write the check fast enough. This will be an ongoing battle and from an evolutionary standpoint, the rats have an advantage.  We’ve trimmed all of the bushes and trees four feet back from the house. Johhny Rat and Nelson are all that stands between us and these flesh eating mites.

Mr. Rat winced when we introduced him to our son’s two pet rats, Peanut and Brittle.  My husband informed him that rats are smart and make great pets.  Johnny agreed that they are smart as he’s been trying to outsmart them for years.  But the look on his face said it all.  Pet rats!  I think he thought we were crazy.  But then he met the pig and now he knows for sure. Rats!

Cool Photo January 14, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Home Front.
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All the teachers were complaining about the rain this morning.  You have to understand that rainy weather means rainy day recess.  Herding squirrelly students into the auditorium.  Shortened lunches.  Recess INSIDE. The misery.  So when my friend Bev in England forwarded me a link to this satellite photo of the UK under a blanket of snow, it put it all in perspective. (To see the full-sized image, click on BBC.)  Come to think of it, I did pick up over a hundred limes that had fallen off our Mexican lime tree yesterday. OMG it was freezing – like 65 degrees!  Oh, never mind.  Like much of life, it’s all how you look at it. Sending warm thoughts to all my friends who are snowbound. (Bev pointed out that if you look closely, there’s still a small patch of green on the Emerald Isle.)

The Hills of Los Angeles Are Burning August 28, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Home Front.
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For the most recent information on the Station Fire, click on Los Angeles County Fire Department.

I woke up at 6 a.m. when orange light filtered through the blinds.  It’s fire season in Southern California.  Four big fires are raging at the moment, several nearby.  With the intense heat and all that dry brush, the fires came early this year.  During the school year, we keep the students indoors when there’s a fire as many have asthma.

My heart goes out to all of those who’ve had to evacuate their homes.  We have friends who lived in Topanga Canyon for many years, and it seemed like packing up the car with the kids, pets, and photos was an annual event.  But it’s never easy.

It’s been over 100 degrees for three days now and I can’t imagine what it’s like for those fire fighters who are wearing all that heavy gear and fighting Mother Nature with a hose and a pick ax.  I have to say that after living in NYC for 11 years, I have the utmost respect (bordering on awe) for firefighters.

When I first moved to California in the 70s, I remember standing on the roof of our garage and watching the hills in the distance burn.  We were having a big party and ash fell on the guests like snow.  I remember saying, “This is like the last days of Pompeii.”  Two days ago, I woke up and walked out into the dining room. My house smelled like a campfire.  Fire.  It goes with living in Southern California.  But it’s never easy.

Lyrics for Los Angeles is Burning by Bad Religion

Somewhere high in the desert near a curtain of blue
A sane man skirts under the wind
But down here in the city of limelights
The fans of Santa Ana are withering
And you can’t deny the living is easy
If you never look behind the scenery
It’s Showtime for dry climes
And bedlam is dreaming of rain

When the hills of Los Angeles are burning
Palm trees are candles in the MURDER wind
So many lives are on the breeze
Even the stars are ill at ease
And Los Angeles is burning

This is not a test
of the emergency broadcast system
When Malibu fires and radio towers
Conspire to dance again
And I cannot believe the Media Mecca
They’re only trying to peddle reality
Catch it on Prime Time
Story at nine
The whole world is going insane

When the hills of Los Angeles are burning
Palm trees are candles in the MURDER wind
So many lives are on the breeze
Even the stars are ill at ease
And Los Angeles is Burning

A placard reads “the end of days”
Jacaranda boughs are bending in the haze
More a question than a curse
How could hell be any worse?
The flames are stunning
The cameras running
So take warning!

When the hills of Los Angeles are burning
Palm trees are candles in the MURDER wind
So many lives are on the breeze
Even the stars are ill at ease
And Los Angeles is burning

I Smell a Rat February 5, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Home Front, Urban Wildlife.
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A terrorist has set up a base of operations in my kitchen.  The current threat level, according to the handy dandy color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, is red, or “High,” as in “High Risk of Terrorist Attacks.”

The website advises all Americans “to continue to be vigilant, take notice of their surroundings, and report suspicious items or activities to local authorities immediately.”  The following is a report of suspicious activities I’ve observed.

In the last week, a small rodent with a prehensile tail has been spotted scurrying through my house in the wee hours.  Said rodent has been described by my husband as “cute” and by my son as “small and cute.”   I first became suspicious when I found teeny tiny bite marks on pears left in a bowl on the kitchen table.  What this rat doesn’t know is that I’ve watched enough episodes of  CSI  to know I can make a positive ID of this “small and cute rat” using state-of-the-art bite mark technology (aka plaster).

Least I sound overzealous, you need to know I actually rather like rats. (I’m giving them a “pass” on Bubonic Plague – It’s a Statute of Limitations thing.) My sons both had rats as pets, and they’re very sociable creatures (the rats that is).  I spent one Halloween greeting trick-or-treaters with “Chocolate” and “Vanilla” perched atop my shoulders and wept when they died.

Having lived in Southern California, a premier destination for rats, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing rats scurrying through patches of ivy.  At sunset, we like to watch as an entire family (gang?) of rats tightrope walks across the telephone lines as they head out for a night on the town.

So here’s the bottom line.  Pet rats with names = good.  Unnamed rats cruising the kitchen counters after hours = yuck!  A few years ago another rat staged nightly terrorist attacks in our kitchen.  We thought it was coming in through the dog door, but eventually located its illegal port of entry behind the refrigerator. When we redid the kitchen three years ago, we solved THAT problem.

Rats love to live in the palm trees in Los Angeles.  When several still-green fronds “mysteriously” broke off one of our Queen palms recently, we spotted the tell-tale nibble marks. My husband got a long pole and dislodged a real honest to goodness “rat’s nest.”  And it did bear a striking resemblance to my hair after a serious night of tossing and turning.

The most troubling thing is I learned this tiny terrorist had recruited an entire cell of sympathizers who pass themselves off as my family.  My husband was literally “ratted out” when I found a bowl of Cheerios he’d set behind the couch.  Then my son copped a plea for leaving out a ripe banana “for the little guy.”  I reminded them that I didn’t know too many rats who were only children.  I envisioned members of the rat’s large extended family just waiting for an invitation.  This image made both rat sympathizers wince. They mumbled something about buying a “humane” trap.  But after a week, this trap had not materialized.  In the meantime, every night we moved all fresh fruit and food to higher ground.  There’s nothing like camping in one’s own home.

The terrorist threat level hit Red this morning when my husband came out and saw that Mr. Cute and Little had left a pile of wood shavings on the floor after he’d gnawed a corner of one of the kitchen cabinets.  The cabinets that are only three years old.  The cabinets that we’re still paying off.

My husband couldn’t get to the hardware store fast enough.  The only “humane” traps in stock came in two sizes: “Skunk” and “Racoon.”  My husband is of the opinion that anyone foolish enough to try and capture a skunk should be put in a cage themselves.  He noted that the Raccoon trap seemed rather small since all the raccoons he’s seen while walking the dogs are the size of four-year-olds. He said a raccoon would just pick up the trap and make off with it.

We have house guests arriving tomorrow and it’s always nice to have a large steel trap positioned next to where you’re eating.  So my husband went high tech and sprung for a “sonic PestChaser” that plugs into an electrical outlet. According to the package, which features two rats running for their lives, its high-frequency sound repels rodents.

Following Homeland Security advice, we’ve now implemented the “protective measures to reduce the likelihood or impact of an attack.”  And so we wait. There’s a nice juicy pear sitting out on the table.

CODE RED  Update

No sooner had I published this post than my husband went out to the kitchen and observed the tiny terrorist enjoying the pear not four feet from the sonic “PestChaser.  A large humane trap shall become part of our kitchen decor tomorrow.  Nothing says “Welcome” to guests like a large steel rat trap in the kitchen.

To be continued…

Wrangling Dust Bunnies June 20, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Home Front.
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Summer Vacation is here, which means I have nine months of deferred housework to catch up on.  During the school year, I can make excuses for these lapses in basic sanitation, but come June I’m out of school AND excuses.  

The vacuum cleaner has been artfully positioned just inside the front door since the Christmas tree came down.  Think staging.  If anyone just stops by, this gives the illusion that they just interrupted my frenzied cleaning.  To sustain this ruse though, you have to remember to dust the vacuum cleaner itself and drag it around by its leash from time to time.  I have a friend who leaves her vacuum cleaner out so after a family member trips on the trip wire, I mean cord, they’ll become so fed up that THEY do the vacuuming.  I call that a plan.

You have to understand that we have two dogs.  Petey, the one we think is half coyote, sheds fur like a snow blower in Detroit.  Vacuuming, therefore, is our bedrock of home maintenance.  I do get around to vacuuming eventually, and isn’t it really the thought that counts?  

Years back,  I asked my then 13-year-old son, Ian, if he could tidy up the house and vacuum.  We came home and couldn’t believe what a fantastic job he’d done.   When his OCD kicks in, he’s a hard one to beat.  But the next day I started noticing there were cumulous clouds of dust on top of all the lampshades in the living room.  There were also dust drifts on the window sills.  Later, Ian confessed he’d gone out to the garage, gotten the electric-powered leaf blower, and taken it for a quick spin through the house.  The wooden floors looked fabulous, but for the next few months, I felt like I was living inside a snow globe as gravity took its toll. 

So, what am I doing right now?  I’m sitting on the computer with my back to the vacuum.  I’m snubbing it.  It’s not like it’s going anywhere without me, and with Edison urging people to cut back on the consumption of electricity during peak hours, I’m exercising restraint.  I will get to the vacuuming later, as soon as I finish cutting those crop circles in the overgrown lawn out front.