The wolf in the bathroom

Hijinks.

That’s what the wolf in the bathroom is all about. Hijinks.

He’s a coyote, not a wolf. My bad. But let’s not become distracted by the matter at hand, which is hijinks. My lovely hostesses got up to some hijinks on our last night in Louisiana, and everyone was in on it but me.

A coyote in the bathroom is par for the course for these girls. In fact, they’ve been pulling this trick on unsuspecting houseguests for years — literally. Is it any wonder I love these girls?

A little history: Sister Wendy, whose bathroom is pictured above, has a friend, Hanks, who is a biologist. Hanks and his wife, also a biologist, have access at their workplace, the Monroe branch of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, to some fine, preserved animals. “Choppa” is one such animal. Apparently Choppa was due to be retired after 30-some years baring his teeth, but was too fine a specimen to be thrown onto the trash heap. Hanks rescued Choppa, and like many other wayward animals, he came to reside at Wendy’s house.

Sounds like a nice, altruistic story of coyote adoption, right?

Nuh-uh. While Wendy & her hubs Lester are the epitome of altruistic when it comes to rescuing abandoned animals, having amassed quite the menagerie of strays, their altruism is certainly equaled if not outmatched by their mischief. Hence the coyote in the bathroom.

Allow me to introduce the current cast of Wendy & Lester’s menagerie. I really should let Sister Wendy tell this part because she’s much more amusing than I (again, hence the coyote in the bathroom), but she’s probably busy at this very moment in the OR helping someone transition from an old, worn-out hip or knee to a new and improved body part. So, you’re stuck with my version with bits of Wendy’s version sprinkled in for flavor.

There’s Brown Betty, who’s in charge of the pack. Don’t let that sweet face and those soft brown eyes fool you — she rules her pack with an iron fist, but I like to think she imparts her authority with love not tyranny. She had the good sense to show up at Wendy’s house, and the agreement was to foster her for a few weeks while Sister Holly found her a home. Sister Holly also has a soft spot for stray dogs who could easily star in the Island of Misfit Toys. In fact, we’ll now refer to Sister Holly as King Moonracer.

So King Moonracer finds Brown Betty and says she will find her a home while temporarily placing her with Aunt Wendy. That was 8 months ago. I’m guessing Brown Betty is a keeper. Wendy refers to BB as “a work in progress” and her main talent is identifying things that belong to Lester to chew. 

Next in the lineup of rescued dogs is Baby Gretchen. On the Island of Misfit Toys, she’d be the Dolly for Sue. Cute and cuddly but teeming with psychological issues.

Baby Gretchen showed up Wendy & Lester’s as a tiny baby. So tiny it was hard for her benefactors to tell if she was a kitten or a pup. She was small but mighty and mean enough to bite right through Lester’s palm. Gotta love a tiny girl with big spunk. She has a permanent sneer from a previous injury, which is just plain funny. It’s hard to get a photo of her because she’s a little nervous about people pointing things at her, and my iPhone-attempt to snap a quick pic of her freaked her out.

Then comes Disco, whose main nickname is Biscuit, and somehow I managed to conflate the two names to create Bingo, much to my favorite girl’s chagrin. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out why I kept flubbing that sweet dog’s name. Bingo didn’t mind the flubbing. She survived being shot or stabbed in the mouth as a young pup, so she’s pretty forgiving of a city-slicker who messes up her name. I love Bingo for that, and also because she has the softest face, which reminded me of my sweet Harry. And because she likes to sleep all the way under the covers, which reminds me of our little piggie

Disco/Biscuit/Bingo has perhaps the most colorful story of all the mules in the pack. Wendy and Amy saw her running down the highway the day after Thanksgiving and noticed she had a collar so they called her over to get her owner’s info off her tag. Wendy says Disco came right to her, but jeepers creepers she was dripping pus from her jaw. Her jaw “was obviously caddywompus and not quite aligned as one would expect.” Intrepid rescuers were not deterred, however, and loaded her into the truck but had to stick their heads out of the windows because the smell was SO BAD!  (emphasis Wendy’s). They cleaned her up and had Papa give her a penicillin shot, then brought her to Camp Langley (aka Wendy’s place) for a bath and some TLC. After her bath and her medical treatment, you might think that Disco was on the mend. However, as Disco shook her wet coat in the kitchen, Wendy says that “something went flying! I found some jawbone in the living room. Yes, I said jawbone.” Yikes. Wendy started Disco on antibiotics and flushed her jaw wound several times a day. “That girl was hooongree and thirsty! By Monday she was a new girl.” A trip to the vet confirmed a big bullet in her shattered jaw. Wendy reports that “most of the bone was dead, and the vet removed the jaw on one side and sewed her lip together so that it wouldn’t sag. She felt better than ever that night and has been our cutie pie since.” Talk about being luckier than a dog with two tails. As if having the most colorful back story isn’t enough, Disco also has the best nickname: Yellow-bellied-lilly-livered-long-eared-speckle-bellied-cat-head-biscuit.

At the bottom of the pack is Wayne Gretzky. About WG I have two words: sweet. heart. At first he scared me a little bit, I’ll admit, because he’s big and rock-solid. My first impression was that I wouldn’t want to meet up with him in a dark alley, but after scritching him between the eyes and having him flop at my feet, I realized he’s a lover, not a fighter.

Wayne Gretzsky showed up at Camp Langley and Wendy says that “after various attempts over a few days of Lester trying to make our home not-so-hospitable, I told him that if he tried one more time and the dog didn’t go away, he was ours. Immediately, WG ignored Lester’s latest attempt and came right up to me.” Smart dog. WG has also endured a run-in with a gun and had “a 22 graze” down one side. Not being a gun person, I can only assume this means he was unlucky enough to be shot by a 22-gauge gun and lucky enough to have been grazed rather than punctured. For some unexplained but likely equally awful reason, WG was missing part of his tail, and one of the other dogs in residence bit him and broke his nose right away. That dog, Ally, is no longer with us but like all Camp Langley dogs, has a story. Says Wendy, “Ally had a tracheostomy and no voice and poor WG did not know how to read her signals…..but she is a whole ‘nother story).” Indeed. Wendy says they tried lots of names on this dog but King Moonracer “got naming privileges on the day that her dog Cooper died. She picked Gretzky but we called him Wayne Gretsky because he looked like he had been in a hockey fight.”
So the discarded coyote is in good company at Wendy’s house. Wendy & Lester’s friend Hanks was involved in the culling of some of the worst taxidermy work at the Wildlife & Fisheries office. When he saw the impressive choppers on that coyote, according to Wendy, Hanks said to himself, “Lester needs that. It looks like a werewolf with dentures.”
Because of his impressive choppers, the coyote was crowned “Choppa” and has been instilling fear and inciting pants-wetting every chance he gets.
Here’s how Choppa’s attempt to scare me went down: I showed up at Wendy’s house for what I thought was a cook-out — burgers for the carnivores, portabellas for me, squash fresh from Papa’s garden for everyone, and Wendy’s special meringue cake.

newsflash: yum!

It seemed like a normal cook-out, with kids swimming in the pond and adults chatting and sipping. Instead, it was a wily plot to lull me into a sense of security and well-being then scare the pee-waddle outta me. This is how people get their jollies in northern Louisiana. Food was consumed, liquor was drunk, and a good time was had by all. Unbeknownst to me, everyone around the patio table was waiting with bated breath for me to excuse myself and go to the loo. For once in my life, my bladder outpaced my drinking — that never happens! So it was a long wait for the tricksters that night.
When nature finally did call and I moseyed to the powder bath, I didn’t even notice that the entire household — kids included — was following me to the bathroom. I flipped on the light and saw this:

Choppa, in all his glory with his impressive dentures flaring menacingly!

I can only surmise that the proliferation of adult beverages, including this delicious dill-pickle martini, is responsible for my less-than-creeped-out reaction to finding a snarling coyote on the vanity. If I recall, instead of a blood-curdling scream followed by a frantic fleeing from the scene followed by a need for a change of clothes, I uttered a small yelp that most likely disappointed the mischievous band of spectators. I’d give myself a 3 out of 10 for my reaction to Choppa. I was more alarmed by the fact that every single person knew what was going on but me. That kind of a hoodwinking following right on the heels of a full-blown surprise birthday party worries me. I’m afraid I may be losing my edge and will endeavor to become more observant, suspicious, and paranoid straight away.

Meanwhile, I need to get this photo blown up and framed as a memento of one wild & crazy night. 

I’m gonna get one for Amy, too. 


Annie’s got her gun!

Well, my middle name is Ann so I guess “Annie get yer gun” kinda works.

I’m not terribly familiar with guns, not having been raised around them. I’ve shot a handgun before and I think I recall shooting at tins cans with a rifle at some point (college maybe?) but in general guns give me the heebie jeebies because they’re unknown to me. But in northern Louisiana, where we spent a few blissful days, guns are as common as mosquitoes on a hot summer night.

The wise George Washington said ”Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the people’s liberty’s teeth.” I always liked the idea of liberty teeth. In this case, the firearms weren’t about liberty but about an afternoon’s entertainment.

My favorite 13-year-old has been itching to shoot a gun for a while. He talks about wanting to go deer hunting, and his vegetarian mama and his city-slicker daddy look at him like, “Good luck with that.” I will make him watch Bambi a few hundred times before I’d turn him loose with a gun in a deer blind.

Shooting clay pigeons, though, is another matter entirely and one I wholeheartedly endorse. 

We pulled into the private shooting range with our expert guide, Evan. He’s Amy’s nephew and while he’s new to the sport, he’s already a state champion. I knew we were in good hands.

Evan hopped out to unlock the gate across the driveway to his own shooting range, and I was charmed by this little house at the mouth of the property. 

The scenery surrounding the shooting range looks like this:

And like this:

I wanted to take a closer look at the picturesque pond, but as it was in the direct line of the shooting range, I thought I’d better stay put.

Evan schooled us on the basics of gun safety — keep it cracked, engage the safety, don’t point it at people, etc. 

Then we got a little lesson on skeet shooting and trap shooting. All I knew about this sport prior to meeting Evan was that it seemed cool to yell “Pull!” Now I know a lot more.

I also dug around a little and discovered that the sport was created in the early 1920s when the industrial revolution crowded out hunting land and hunters had to work harder to find both space and game to hunt. Skeet shooting became a form of practice, and its popularity spread. The act of shooting the clay targets simulates actual hunting, and accounts for the targets’ being called clay pigeons.

A skeet shooting range is typically comprised of 7 positions arranged in a semicircle spanning 21 yards. There are two houses that launch the pigeons. The “high house” launches the pigeons at a 10-foot height, while the “low house” launches from 3 feet. 

In the “high house,” the targets are neatly arranged in a dealy-bob like this:

Once they’re all loaded onto the dealy-bob, you can shoot away to your heart’s content. I took a quick peek out the window of the “high house” to get a bird’s eye view. Or a clay piegeon’s view, as it were.

Straight ahead, out the “high house” window, is the “low house.”

We had two different guns, but truth be told I didn’t pay much attention at that point. Once we’d covered the safety info, I turned my attention to the afternoon’s refreshments.

My favorite girl spent her time not shooting but getting to know Evan’s sister, Ellis, who is not only the same age but also owns the same outfit as my girl. Kismet! The girls enjoyed the beautiful day at the shooting range playing the iPhone version of the game of Life.

 

Watching Evan shoot, it was easy to see why he’s a champion. He has the mark of a great athlete in that he makes his sport appear easy. There’s a grace and effortlessness to the way he shoulders his gun, squints his eyes, and tracks the target. Amy & I watched the kids shoot and hollered at the top of our lungs when a clay pigeon was struck mid-air. Evan made it look easy, but upon further inspection,I learned that hitting a target that measures 4 5/16 inches around and is barely an inch thick is a bit harder than it seems. It took my favorite boy a few tries but he nailed one, and the grin that split his face apart was worth the trip in and of itself. 

After the boys had all shot, it was my turn. The gun might have been a little long for me, but I managed to nail a clay pigeon on my third try. My expert advisor noticed I was pulling the trigger before the target had a chance to crest, and my impatience the first two tries got the better of me. Once I slowed down, that pigeon was history. 

Rudyard Kipling once observed that “a man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.” I’m not going to argue with that!

Come back tomorrow to hear the story of Choppa, the wolf in the bathroom.

 


Puttin’ up corn

This is one of those posts that I feel needs a disclaimer right up front, because I already know I won’t be able to convey the fun we had, the experiences we gained, and the relationships we forged. The disclaimer should be something along the lines of the ubiquitous drug companies’ list of side effects for the various prescription drugs that populate print and TV advertising. Perhaps something along these lines: This post is intended to document the immense fun and incredible experience of a few days spent in northern Louisiana with an amazing family. This post should not be read while enduring a dismally empty social calendar or a puny vacation fund. This post may cause severe envy among readers who were not invited. Consult a psychotherapist if the side effects persist for more than four hours after reading, or proceed  to the nearest emergency room if you find yourself entertaining thoughts of showing up in Bastrop, LA, unannounced.

Ok, I feel better now.

The more I think about it, the expanse of this experience cannot be contained in one simple posting, so there will need to be multiple installments. This, the first installment, is gonna cover the trip itself and the corn. Oh, the corn.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not a fan of car travel and try to avoid it at all costs. That said, I would get in the car right now — not even 24 hours after returning home — and make the trip again. That’s how great this trip was. My favorite girl and my best boy and I packed up the car and headed out of Houston Tuesday morning, not knowing what lay ahead in the 400 miles between our house and our destination. Little did we know that we were in for the experience of a lifetime. 

The first time my dear friend Amy invited me to her family home in Bastrop, LA, the timing didn’t work out; never again will I allow another event to stand in the way of going to Mama’s house.

Mama and Papa and the infamous Sanders sisters — Gina, Holly, and Wendy — rolled out the red carpet and put on the dog for us. First stop when we arrived at Mama’s house was a tour of Papa’s garden. I’d heard about this little slice of heaven and was beyond happy to see it with my own eyes. My iPhone photos do not do it justice. The first thing we saw upon entering Papa’s garden was asparagus, and I’m kicking myself for having missed its harvest.

Once it’s past its prime, the stalks grow tall & reedy while the tops run to fern. Beautiful, IMHO.

I will be back in the spring for the asparagus. Mark my words, Papa!

Next is the cabbage. The plants are huge, and the ruffly leaves are pretty enough to be part of an elaborate floral arrangement. The heads, however, belong on a plate, sliced and simmered to perfection.

There’s okra!! Be still my heart:And eggplant. Good grief, it just keeps getting better!

Our little piggie would lose her mind if she saw this watermelon, growing fat and ripe in the sun.

There are scores of bell peppers and tomatoes. If there’s anything better than a homegrown tomato picked from the vine, you let me know.

And then there’s corn.

Sweet corn.

My favorite girl couldn’t wait to get her hands on some of Papa’s fresh corn.

Amy took a step into the thick of things —  literally.

The corn was the star of the show, and one of the main reasons we drove to Mama’s.

We were going to get to help put up corn.

For the uninitiated, “putting up corn” refers to the process of picking, washing, blanching, de-kerneling, and freezing the delectable veggie. We’ve been on the receiving end of some of Mama’s corn, lovingly transported from Louisiana to Houston and carefully guarded and doled out upon special occasions.

This is good stuff, people.

There’s a reason Mama’s corn is referred to as “liquid gold.”

Here’s how it works: Papa picks the corn early, early in the morning once he’s deemed it ready. He can tell when it’s ready by looking at it on the stalk and by experience.

Know how many ears of corn each stalk produces?

Go on, guess.

Think about how tall and wide each stalk of corn is, and guess how many ears are waiting to be picked.

Two.

Yep, just two ears per stalk.

(I guessed 6. Silly city-slicker).

So the fresh-picked corn is piled up, ready to be shucked.

My favorite girl couldn’t wait to get going on this part.

Awwww, shucks!

As we shucked, Papa had his knife ready to deal with any soft spots on the corn.

He also handled any interlopers.

The pile of shucks grows.

As we shucked, we tossed the ears into a bucket, ready to be toted into the house.

A few ears didn’t pass Papa’s strict inspection. Not quite up to snuff for us, but perfectly suited as a tug-of-war between Molly & JoJo. After all that tugging, JoJo needed a snack.

Before long, the shucking is done…

…and buckets full of corn are in the kitchen, ready for the next step.

After the shucked corn is toted inside, it’s got to be meticulously washed. First the sink is scoured, then each and every ear is scrubbed and de-silked under hot water. While this step is the most laborious part, you know this germophobe loved it.

Scrub-a-dub-dub! It’s early, early in the morning and my hands were already pruney from all the scrubbing.

We brought in some extra help for the last of the cleaning. My favorite girl and Amy’s youngest, Carter, were happy to assist.

The cleaned ears pile up in the sink, ready to go into the boiling pots.

Finally, the last ear is cleaned!

After a quick 3-minute boiling, the corn goes into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. The smell in the kitchen at this point was quite simply intoxicating.

Once cool enough to handle, we ran the ears through the corn cutter. It removes the kernels and the milk. This is where the magic happens, people.

The container of water to the left of the cutter serves an important purpose: we dunk the shaved ears into the water, then run them back through the cutter in the opposite direction, to collect every drop of the milk. 

As we ran each ear through the cutter, Mama’s giant metal bowl slowly began to fill with liquid gold.

Time for a little break, to rest our arms and replenish our flagging energy. I truly can’t remember the last time I had an ice-cold Coke, and glory be, it was delicious. Even without any rum.

A few of the prettiest ears were spared the cutter and put up whole. 

The rest, though, went into individual bags to be frozen.

We processed 192 ears, which translates into 17 quart-sized bags of liquid gold.

Each bag was lovingly placed into the freezer, like putting a baby to bed. 

If Mama and Amy weren’t looking, I might have been tempted to kiss that corn good-night.

Once the corn was put to bed, we loaded up the discarded cobs onto the 4-wheeler’s trailer. By the time they’ve been de-kerneled and milked for every drop of goodness, they look like a foam roller used for painting a wall.

Usually Papa takes the used cobs into the woods and leaves them for the local wildlife. This time, however, the cobs went to Papa’s friend’s house to feed his wild hogs. My favorite girl wasted no time wrangling an invitation to go see these hogs for herself.

These guys look a little different than the wild hog who lives at our house!

Stay tuned for a full report on our day of skeet-shooting.


We are home!

It was a full-to-the-brim, action-packed, fantastic trip. A full posting with lots of photos will follow, soon, very soon. I’m going to have to figure out a way to condense what seemed like a whole summer’s worth of adventures crammed into just a few days, so prepare yourself for an epic blog post coming soon.

There’s natural beauty to come.

With a garden chock-full of wonderful things.

Along with lots of dogs

and wild hogs

and scary wolves.

There’s ancient history

And new friends.

There’s ME with a firearm — does this combination scare you?

This is a goooooood story, y’all! Stay tuned.


Plans change

Stuff happens, plans change. Instead of dipping a toe in the swirling human soup that is a public waterpark, my little brood is hitting the highway and heading to Louisiana in a few minutes.

bacteria soup, compliments of googleimages

I’m not known for being the best car traveler, and a 400-mile drive is something I’d normally prefer to sleep or drink my way through, but it’s kinda hard to do that if I’m driving. So, away we go.

I’m not dreading the long drive because it will culminate in me being in a place I’ve always wanted to visit: my dear friend Amy’s family’s farm. Not the kind with animals but rather a huge vegetable garden, 20 acres for kids to roam, woods to explore, a pond for fishing and frogging, and untold wonders to behold.

I’ve been the grateful recipient of Amy’s parents’ veggies from their garden, and there’s a reason their corn is known as liquid gold. I could live off that and the purple-hulled peas. Yum!

Stay tuned for more adventures.


Happy Birthday

Congratulations Nancy, happy birthday. I’m stuck in a savage budget & planning meeting so apologies there’s no spectacular photo montage. I hope the champagne is already flowing.