Pepe of Noswad and the Squirrels of Chaos, Episode 16: What Do the Cows Say?

 

Pepe romantic

The next morning we were rudely awakened by a rock being thrown through one of the plate glass windows of the Concrete Palace. A note was tied carelessly over the rock. “Cease and desist. Orion will be held to ensure your compliance.”

The gig was up, the Spy Ring crushed. All information we held was useless until we found where they had moved their operations. To the north was the only clue we had. Bellingham? Canada? There was no way to know. And there was no way to find Orion. We packed up our Files of Chaos, and hid them behind a trap door in the closet in the house. George still entertained us daily with his memories of the past until one day he woke up with a new plan.

He spent the whole day digging a trench to freedom. By afternoon he was gone. For days he spent most of his time away, but he was secretive about what he was doing and where he was going. I could smell a strange smell on him. Perfume.

Creepster and I looked around. The squirrels had vamoosed, the mine was boarded up and the moles had been freed. Molehills littered the lawn and they held loud parties that lasted until morning celebrating their freedom. It didn’t take us long to realize all the information they held were lies. They had been brainwashed, and their small minds were as empty as the candy bowl in the house.

It wasn’t long before we met George’s new sidekick. A purebred standard poodle, that George had broke out of kennel to perform surveillance with. The cows across the road had to be interviewed and spied upon. Fluffy fit into that role perfectly. There was no way the neighbor farmer could mistake Fluffy for a ruffian. Some of the information gathered was useful, some was not. Finding out that the donkey down the street was a lush was amusing, but not pertinent to our investigation. But, the cows were paid well in weed, making them the happiest, most contented cows in the county. They were also the most paranoid.

We were all down at the creek one afternoon when the news reached us. The windows to the north had been broken, the house broken into. We arrived, fearing the worst. The fake wall in the closet had been removed, and all the chaos files confiscated. Someone had informed the thief where to look. I fought the tears back as I realized the informant had probably been one of ours. They had finally broken my brother, Orion.

Stay tuned for Episode 17: A Rainbow Before the Storm

As the Mortar Crumbles

I wrote this a few months ago, when our chimney was rebuilt and renovated.

So today, what has been standing for around ninety years must come down. Last year it was the willow tree, this year the chimney. The cost is about the same. At least the steady ‘chip, chip, chip’ of the chisel isn’t as loud as the chainsaws, but the debris, when it falls, is just as nerve wracking.

Our Victorian house has a steep roof, so the chimney has been one of the tallest in town. And will be again, when it is rebuilt tomorrow or the next day.

The men, all of them craftsmen, take the process for granted. One of them was very reassuring. “Piece of cake.” They’ve done dozens of chimney rebuilds. One was right down the street.

The chimney, over the years has taken a decided lean toward the house. They have been telling me for years, “One good wind…” I occupy my time and allow myself one trip outside to take pictures every hour.

Was it a rainy day like today when the chimney was built? Originally, in 1905 this house had no fireplace. What is now the living room were two bedrooms in the beginning. The original owner died in the house in 1922. It was after that the next owner combined those two smaller rooms into the long living room we have now. The fireplace is centered on the north side. Right where the dividing wall used to be. We see the smaller blocks of wood in the fir flooring that replaced the wall studs, forever reminding us that the wall is gone. We pull the rug back to show guests the scar that tells the stories of the past. Interesting how many changes have been made in 110 years.

But the house quivers as the bricks are carefully pulled out and the crumbly mortar falls. The old bricks will be cleaned and reused. Only small changes will be made in the rebuild. Nice and straight, ready for wind, rain, and the crows that may gather.

Fear not, house.

Merry Holidays, Happy Christmas!

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Usually one to enjoy Christmas Eve in my jammies, curled up with a book in front of the fire with Becky, Moxie, and Pepe nearby. But last evening, we braved the cold, drove off to an area of town where we had never been, and went to a Christmas pageant. I didn’t know what to expect, but I came back with new hope for this holiday we call Christmas.

It began with a small orchestra playing Christmas favorites. The church was huge, and lit only in candlelight. The large choir was quite impressive, filled with talented voices. I could tell this was going to be a memorable Christmas Eve.

The words and tunes of the carols were familiar. The church was filled almost to capacity, so I was comfortable singing. My voice, turned warbely over the years, does not sound like my own. I prefer now, to listen to others. I reserve, of course, the right to sing loudly to the music on my car stereo when I am alone. But for the most part, I remain tuneless. I must admit that I sang ‘Silent Night’ as loudly as I dared. There is something about that song. To sing loudly about a silent night seems wrong somehow. Perhaps that’s why I have to do it.

But the pageant is what stole my imagination, and has fired my thoughts today. It was about Santa. Santa? At a church Christmas Eve Service? What? What does Santa have to do with it?

Indeed. But that is how the play began. Santa wandered through scenes of Christmas shoppers. Pushing, shoving, frantically searching for the right/the cheapest/the most popular gifts. Santa looked for the very thing I have been looking for—the essence of the Holiday. Then he meets Saint Nicholas, and watches as St Nick gives to those in need, cheers those who are sad, gives hope to those whose hearts are breaking. Together, they approach and kneel at the manger to worship Jesus.

We light our candles, and sing the last carol. We have many ways to celebrate the Holiday season. The month of December holds Holy days for many faiths. Christmas is but one, and within that day, there are many rituals and traditions that one may follow. But my hope for the Season, is that love may bind us all. Perhaps that is the essence I seek.

Happy Holidays.

Pepe of Noswad and the Squirrels of Chaos, Episode 15: The Squirrels Vamoose

Pepe romantic

Pepe is on vacation for a couple of weeks, and is not available to dictate the next chapter of his saga. Instead, I am referring to the pile of notes I have taken while listening to his ramblings while under the influence of catnip. It is just as well. The next chapter is of a period of time that he normally will not discuss. I’m sure he doesn’t remember the things he told me that night.

 

I returned to the Concrete Palace late that night after retracing the route of the delivery van. I was on foot and it was raining hard, but luckily George had lit the stove, and the Concrete Palace was blisteringly hot. I could see the steam rise from my fur as I lay on the sheepskin rug that he kept in the center of the room. Unfortunately he had eaten the corner of the rug, but there was still room for the three of us to lay, stretched in front of the fire. Creepster cried when she heard that Orion was gone. Together we huddled together, dreading his fate, praying for strength for him to endure, strength for us to go on without him. George growled a vow of revenge.

George was not surprised that the Grand Poobah had figured out our mission. He was surprised, however, that the band of squirrels were pulling out. We stared out into the darkness and debated what we should do. Occasionally we saw faint lights in the field, heard shrieks in the darkness. By daybreak everything was still. The gig was up.

We stepped outside as the sun came up. Barney, George’s childhood owl friend, swooped low. His hoot startled me when I understood the implications. “Whoooot! The riff-raff is gone! Just like we predicted, they have moved to the north. I will follow them, and send a message when I know where they are settling. It may be a few months before you hear from me, my friend. Be safe, be sound.”

And with the whisper of his wings, he was gone.

The following two years were the most difficult in my life. After having been in the thick of things, I felt profoundly left out. Cocooned, meaningless, uninspired. I spent the days chasing rabbits, watching Creepster hone her birding craft. I went on missions stealing Easter eggs throughout the neighborhood with George. Practicing my serpentine racing between cars across the highway in rush hour traffic. Anything for diversion. Little did I know then, that the story was not even close to being over.

Ugly Christmas Sweater Competition

 

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We have been invited to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party next weekend. I am at a disadvantage. My mother taught me to believe that every Christmas sweater was beautiful. This leads me to believe that I have been a constant source of amusement and ridicule for my friends.

Still, this does not prepare me for the task at hand. Creating two ugly Christmas sweaters for us to wear boggles my mind. What to do?

First, we found the sweaters. Quite literally. On a walk, Becky and I found two sweaters in a box marked ‘FREE’ about a block away from home. Check. We now have two sweaters ready for embellishment. Next, we scoured the craft store, buying odds and ends of Christmas buttons and decorations along with felt in bright colors. Many years ago I sent out Christmas cards creatively made of fabric and felt. I kept three for myself because I thought they were so cute. A Santa, a reindeer, and a snowman. These will be the centerpieces, the theme of each sweater, appliqued on the backs. Glitter glue, pompoms, feathers, and garland will fill the blank spaces, and contribute to the general festive look to complete the masterpieces.

But what if I miss the mark of ugly completely? What if I overshoot and the sweaters are beautiful? How would I know? I can’t even tell the difference between navy blue, purple and brown It’s my taste that is in question here, and my eye for fashion.

This project astounds me in its complexity. I’m not sure I’m up for the task. Perhaps I should seek guidance on the Internet? Perhaps I am overthinking the whole thing? It seems wrong somehow to not spend tons of money on this project. But my supplies, as quirky as they are, fill my kitchen table. They are curious, I am sure, what I will do with them. “Come play!”

 

Pepe and the Squirrels of Chaos, Episode 14: The Laundry’s Filthy Plan Stinks

Pepe romantic

 

Pepe has opened up and is talking about his past yet again. He left us hanging as he jumped out of the delivery van he had stealthily hidden away in. He found himself two blocks away from The Lost Sox Laundry. The very place that had been accepting loads of stolen diamonds, extracted from the very mine he had discovered in the labyrinth of passageways under ground on the very farm where he lived. He was good. I have translated our hero’s words here:

 

I found the address without any problem. I could see the steam rising from their ventilators from several blocks away. Someone had left the back door ajar, and I crept through silently and blended into a dark corner while my eyes adjusted to the dim light.

The front of the building was a legitimate laundry. Behemoth machines rattled and fought against their moorings. Filled with steam, it was difficult for me to make out the workers. Three humans battled with the machines shouting curses and orders to each other. Water streamed across the tiled floor, pouring into a filthy grate not inches from my feet. The stench was unbearable.

I left this room, exploring a hallway that went past several rooms that held desks and computers. One man sat behind a computer working on a spreadsheet. I crept as close as possible and my eyes struggled to read. A time line. April 11, 2015 was  highlighted in red. Before I could read more, I heard footsteps behind me. I hid in a filthy pile of unwashed diapers, and from the stinking mass I heard the conversation. The dialect told me the speaker was Squirrel. The topic stank worse than the pile I was in.

“The meeting has ended, and the Highest Poobah has made his declaration. The Highest of the High’s declaration will be written down now, as I tell you. The Supreme Poobah’s declaration will read as follows:”

It was difficult to hear under the stench that was invading my lungs, my eyes and my fur. How was I ever going to wash this off? Would he just get on with it and forget about all the insane formalities?

“Are you ready to record the Supreme One’s Words?”

“Yes, please continue.”

“The date has been changed. But only the Highest, Supreme Poobah will know the exact moment that the Squirrels will land. The place of the event has changed. But only the Highest, Supreme Poobah will know the exact location where the Squirrels will land. The hour…”

The keys of the computer clacked as the lackey kept up with the Squirrel’s dictation. I now realized that I knew nothing. Everything had changed.

“The Grand Poobah is moving our operation to the north, and will no longer be needing your assistance.”

The lackey looked up from the screen. With utmost respect he asked, “But what about the cat that has been gathering information? What about the band of spies that have been following your every move? What about the book that was stolen that gave the plans for the landing field?”

“Will no longer be a problem, that.” The Squirrel’s voice turned whiney. “The Great, Marvelous Poobah has included that in the plan. It is a marvelous plan, I tell you. You do not have to worry your senseless little brain with the work of the cat any longer.” He stopped to scratch himself. In the dim light I saw fleas spread out in all directions. Some of them ran into the pile of dirty rags where I lay.

“A certain family member, by the name of Orion, has been taken as insurance. Their paws have been effectively tied. Even the flea-bitten George can’t do anything now!”

My heart dropped. Orion in the clutches of the enemy. My brother. Somehow they had discovered my work. Somehow they knew about George. And I had been so haughty at my prowess and cunning. Orion. May God help you. May God help us all.

Stay tuned for further adventures with Pepe in Episode 15: The Squirrels Vamoose

 

 

If There Was a Book About George, He’d Eat It

 

george

This morning I ran across some pictures of George.

On a warm, lazy day in August 1994, I answered an ad in the newspaper for a puppy. My son was with with me. He had just graduated from High School, both of my parents had died within three months of each other, and I was starting a new job.

Transitions. George was a transition dog.

The bitch had built the nest for her puppies in the crawl space of a home that was over one hundred years old. When I asked to see the puppies, they pointed to the crawlspace. The father gruffly said, “They’re under there.”

I have an inherent fear of dark, enclosed spaces. Spaces that are usually filled with webs, and the spiders that live in them, and the bugs that get caught within them. The house was built pillar and post with no surrounding foundation. I could see under the house enough to see a large nest, filled with squirming pups. It was about twenty feet in, the mother dog was suckling her pups. I not only was wary for the things I couldn’t see, but the mother dog protecting her nest. No way was I going to climb in a confined space with her. I didn’t know the size of spiders’ teeth, but I had a good idea of what a collie’s teeth could do.

I whistled and patted the ground. I got the attention of one of the pups.

“They haven’t been played with much. They aren’t too comfortable around people.”

The puppy came near, sniffing the air to catch my scent. When he would get close, he would dart away. It was a game to him. Sniff, come near, turn and run. On one of those parries, I grabbed for his tail. He didn’t know what to think of that, and whirled around and bit me. I caught his full body while his teeth were still holding tightly to my hand, and pulled him into the light of day.

Once in my arms, he settled down. The bite was merely a scratch though puppy teeth are incredibly sharp. “You bite me, you’re mine!” I told him sternly. He bit me again.

“I’ll take him.”

That’s when I noticed that our male puppy was actually a female. Still, that didn’t change our choice of name. By the time we were halfway home, we had settled on the name George, and the complicated gender role ‘he’ acquired because of ‘his’ name. George never complained.

Half collie and half German shepherd/Doberman/Mystery, George had a very long snout and a curiosity that was challenging to say the least. He ate three TV remotes, two pairs of glasses, the arm off the recliner, and a glass filled with milk. Nothing stopped him from sampling life to the highest degree, not even Shadow, our six-year-old Golden Retriever. Try, though she did, to train him, he was incorrigible, and went his own way from day one.

When I brought her home (keep up with the gender, people) from her spay, she escaped and ran through the swamp, frolicked in the mud and came in looking like the creature from the dark lagoon. The stitches held, I bathed her, and hoped for the best. Although the vet was livid, no harm came to her, and she healed with just the normal scar. She smiled through it all.

She spent several years at my son’s house protecting his property from vandals and thieves while he was at work. She also was a clever escape artist. There was no building, no fence, no gate she could not weasel her way out of. Years later, when I boarded her, she got out of her enclosure and spent the entire Sunday night visiting the other dogs. I’m sure she coerced them into giving her their food and toys. They found her the next morning in the break room. I suspect she ate their cookies and left overs out of the refrigerator. Yes, she knew how to open that as well.

She was an avid reader. Whenever she found a book lying about, she would devour it. She loved them. One book I had to buy three times. She ate it three times. What can I say? She had good taste in books.

It was early one Easter morning that I discovered her true gift. I called George for breakfast, but there was no dog. As I said, she could escape anything; it was futile to try to contain her. But that morning, she didn’t come when she was called. Since it involved food, I was surprised. I set her dish down, and walked into the front yard to call into the woods. There were several brightly colored things scattered across the lawn. Plastic eggs opened, that had once contained Easter candy. Along with the plastic eggshells were real eggshells also brightly dyed that had once contained hard-boiled eggs. Eaten. As I looked up, I saw George trotting down the driveway with more Easter treasures. Stolen, I was sure, out of one of the neighbor’s yard arranged for some child’s Easter egg hunt. The Easter bunny had been foiled. I wondered how many eggs had been left for the children to find. Not many, I suspected. So many crestfallen, disappointed children. So many bewildered parents/grandparents. One very happy satiated dog. I had to keep her in on Easter mornings lest the fiasco would repeat itself. But then, there is no way to know how many Easters mornings George had destroyed for this family. I never found out. I live seventy miles away now, and feel somewhat safe in posting her misbehavior.

Since she was an expert at getting out, she was also very talented for getting in. I saw her lugging something heavy up the hill behind our house one day. Woods surrounded us, and a creek bordered that side of our property. At first, my stomach fell, thinking what I was seeing was my dog dragging an animal up the hill. A small deer? A large cat? A snipe? She stopped to catch her breath every few feet. Whatever it was, was very heavy. I went out to greet her and discovered a ten-pound bag of dog biscuits stolen from a neighbor’s garage or car. Nothing was safe after that. Not even the neighbor’s dog. He was kept in a kennel, yet George was able to somehow open it and set him free. Together they would scour the neighborhood for treasures. He took to her bad habits enthusiastically.

When a neighborhood dog ambushed and viciously attacked her, she bore her wounds with no complaint. She showed off her scars with pride. Brave animal. I learned a lot from her.

When we moved, George made the seventy-mile trip several times in the back of the car proudly. She became very vocal, howling to the music, racing through the house as we unloaded. We acquired two other dogs at that time, and she couldn’t hold her own in a fight, as she was getting older. Instead of taking part in the everyday roughhousing, she became the referee or sports announcer. She would position herself alongside the other two, and bark out the progress of their disagreement, running back and forth to be sure we new exactly what was going on.

As she got older, she became less of a runner, and more of a ‘talker,’ answering all my questions in a variety of tones and inflections. She was bi-lingual. Our discussions usually sounded something like this:

Me: “George, you must stop eating books. This one had beautiful pictures of the ocean.”

George: “Arroooough.”

Me: “I mean it, George. It has to stop.”

George: “Rufflemorg.”

Me: “Enough.”

George: “Moofingale. Arringledorf.”

Me: “Let me have the last word, George!”

George: “Roofooorg!”

Me looking sternly at George.

George: “Arroooough!”

She always had to have the last word. Always.

Here’s to you, George. I miss you.

“Roofoorg!”

 

 

The Moxie Parade

 

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Another day, another walk with Moxie. After today, however, I am concerned that our walks will never be the same. Moxie is spoiled forever.

On our walk, a lady and her five-year-old daughter were standing on their front porch. The little girl saw us about a half-block away. I could hear her. “Oh, Mommie! A doggie!” Moxie, of course, insisted on going that way, and stopped on the sidewalk to show off her beautifulness. The girl was almost crying in frustration because she wasn’t wearing shoes, and couldn’t come into the front yard to meet Moxie. Sigh. So Moxie offered to bring her treasured self to the front porch to be admired. The little girl whispered things in Moxie’s ear that Moxie refuses to reveal. The girl placed her face on Moxie’s head. The girl told Moxie that she is the most beautiful dog in the world.

Wonderful.

We left, and very slowly made our way home. Moxie posed at every front sidewalk, waiting for the people to open their doors and pay her homage. Unfortunately, no one else had received the announcement of our parade.

We are home now, warming ourselves by the fire. Moxie is still smiling, re-living her glory.

Pooper Scooper Malfunction

 

Mox

I sat down to write my post about an hour ago. I had the outline neatly in mind, I had typed three words. Moxie, my Chow-Chow/Newfie, came and held her nose to my elbow. She does this to get my attention, or to share the moment with me. Her soulful brown eyes looked up into mine. I knew what she wanted. Her morning walk.

We usually go out at nine most mornings, even in the rain. Usually, we both look forward to it. But for the last three months, my knee has given me a lot of pain, and I have to walk so slow that she sometimes loses patience with me. When I get back, especially in this cold, it means sitting in front of the fire with my knee elevated with a heating pad wrapped around my knee. Pepe finds this suited to his needs and lays on top of the heating pad. Within thirty minutes, we are all ready to face the day.

But today I wanted to get this post done. I’m trying to set new and better habits. But Moxie reminded me that the old habits are still in place and shouldn’t be changed. We got all the necessary things together. Coat, phone, leash, pooper scooper bags, shoes. We opened the door and stepped onto the porch in time for the mail carrier.

This is always dicey. I never know for sure exactly how Moxie will greet them. We have had a steady change of carriers over the last couple of years, and Mox doesn’t always recognize the person behind the bag. It makes for interesting confrontations. With her, she judges the person by what they say. If they coo over how beautiful she is, how fluffy, how sweet, the person lives. If they mention the word, ‘fat,’ not so much. Today was great. Much was said about her beautiful fur, her shiny eyes, her great smile. We will receive our mail again tomorrow.

With my knee, I find a walk of twenty-five paces adequate. It is on the twenty-sixth step that my kneecap begins to feel as though it is beginning its journey around to the back of my knee. Going downhill is exceptionally challenging. We were halfway up the hill when she made her first poop deposit, and I stopped to clean up. Beautiful blue bags, so convenient. Further up the block, she stopped for another go. I bent over with a new blue bag and begin to collect. I didn’t notice the piece that rolled onto the sidewalk. Ugh.

When I stepped back, I discovered I had stepped in it, and had brought the whole problem onto the sidewalk. Another blue bag. I used it to gather the mess, and scrape up what I could from the concrete. I didn’t notice that I had worn a hole in the beautiful blue bag until I tied it closed. Another blue bag to hold the broken blue bag. I didn’t notice that I had gotten it all over my hand, until I pulled my hand out of the pocket of my coat. I found a wet patch of grass, and wiped my shoe and my hand as best I could. Now it was all over the leash. And the inside of my pocket.

We made two more stops, then headed home. Coat and leash are in the laundry. Hands scrubbed and disinfected. Moxie praised for being such a good dog.

I sit in front of my computer wondering what I had been so excited to write about. The heating pad is in the microwave, the chair and cat await.

Warm Willow

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The fire is blazing in the wood stove, yet the thermometer stubbornly read 68 for hours before creeping up to a comfortable 70. My goal for the winter is to rely on wood heat. The furnace, safely nestled in the crawl space will be our back up, firing up only if the indoor temperature plummets under 65. We will take advantage of the sacrificial willow, which should keep us comfortable all winter.

Feeding the fire throughout the night is much like feeding an infant. Climbing out of the warm bed every three hours, shuffling down the stairs into the cooling living room, stirring the embers back into a flame to welcome three more pieces of wood. I remember sweating in the hot sun to help split the wood and stack and stack and stack them into neat piles, which fill our parking area. Now we set some of that heat free, while watching the stacks get smaller.

The spiders are confused. They have tucked themselves away in the crevices of the stacked wood to sleep. Once on the rack in the entryway they begin to awaken, believing that spring has arrived. They stand on the wall wondering just where they have been transported. If they cooperate, they are gently escorted back to their outdoor kingdom. If cooperation is not in their plan, the vacuum catches them before they climb into my bed or closet. Alas.

But every morning I sit at the front window near the fire. Our street is a busy one, people rushing to work or school, trucks transporting goods, making deliveries. My laptop warms the blanket, which covers me. Moxie lies at my feet, Pepe shares the space on the sofa. These two remind me that they are happy I work from home. The characters in my stories clamor for attention on the electronic page in front of me. It is summer there, and the willow still stands.