Stay Gold, Ponyboy

Most people probably look back on junior high with mixed emotions. There were a lot of ups and downs. I looked like a train wreck, scrawny and pale as a wet noodle with terrible hair, and wearing the same sweater over and over because it was the only one I owned that I liked, with high-waters and the Kmart brand of Eastlands. Despite this, I had a great group of girlfriends that were funny and smart and actually liked me (shout-out to Lee, Laura, Marty, Nik & the twins!).In particular, I remember seventh grade as a stand-out year. It was the last year that I still felt truly like a kid.  I liked boys, but in more conceptual sense than eighth grade. My friends and I had finally mastered the one-curl bang and the lunch-time Poison VS Def Leppard wars were in full effect.

One of the biggest reasons I so happily remember my seventh grade year was English class. Mrs. Paradis was fun and engaging; her classroom was like an adventure to me. I had been an avid reader since before I even got into school, but seventh grade was the year that my love affair with literature caught fire. Unlike the Babysitter’s Club series, these books were a kind of universal language. Adults in my life had read them and cared to talk with me about them.  We “knew” the same characters. “Stay gold, Ponyboy”, I would say with a somber nod to anyone who would listen.  Man, I was cool.

The standouts that year were The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. I know there were many more, but 25 (ish) years later these are the three that I remember igniting in me a particular passion. I wanted to put away the safe “kiddie” novels I was reading and start asking larger questions. I realized that writing doesn’t have to be taken at face value; story can be a shell for something deeper. I loved this idea, it was like finding a treasure that was really a puzzle that you didn’t even know existed. I enjoyed thinking in layers. In retrospect, the books in the seventh grade curriculum at CMS (go maroon & gold!) were probably chosen for this very reason.  I now raise my wine glass to the powers that be that chose those books for my class to read.  Your curriculum worked for this book nerd.

This was my first introduction into “adult” reading. While my religious friends were taking their Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs, I had my own little threshold-crossing from kid books to literature. Now reading was for more than fun, yet I still reading because it was fun.  This was as close as I ever would get to any ceremony to mark my growing up in the eyes of society. And no one but me knew about it! But things were different from then on. Side note: I went crazy that summer reading Stephen King novels – only outside lying on the hammock, in broad daylight for safety. I devoured The Stand, The Shining, Thinner and anything else my stepfather had on the shelf.

Now as an adult I revisit childhood books, having recently read The Little Prince and Lord of the Flies I can highly recommend going backward and doing this at some point in your life.

Possible 7th grade reading list patched together from a shady memory and the internet:

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

Animal Farm, George Orwell

A Midsummer Nights Dream, William Shakespeare

Lord of the Flies (I feel like this was more likely 5th grade for us), William Golding

Of Mice and Men, George Steinbeck

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells

Where the Red Fern Grows (again, I feel like this was read earlier), Wilson Rawls




Mice Rise Against

There is a Norwegian proverb that says It is better to feed one cat than many mice. I know this because I am of Norwegian blood. Their proverbs run through my veins like an icy fjord. I’ve been feeding one cat for ten years now, along with hundreds of mice. There was a point in time that I actually fed two cats, but the slow one was murdered by a mouse gang.

Hi, I’m useless

Oh Sarsgaard, the mice. They live under the hoods of our cars, in the walls between the garage and house, in my compost bin, and today I discovered they’ve co-opted the teak bar on my deck.  There is a raging wind-storm going on (fun fact: wind is my most-despised weather occurrence) which caused the fold-down door on the front of the bar to open. I peered inside the bar to discover total destruction.

I store things in the shelves and cabinets during winter, things that I’ve successfully stored in there for 12 years. Those things are destroyed. Bag of wooden clothes pins: resembles Swiss cheese, clothes pins gnawed & soaked with pee.  Votive candles: wicks buried under turds. Gardening gloves: chewed, pooped on and filled with acorn shells. The whole inside was filled with miniscule Styrofoam balls, which I later realized were from the bottom of the cooler/sink combo that you can open from the top of the bar.

I used to have a Volkswagen that the mice loved. There was a fiber lining under the hood that was just perfect for them to fuck up. Once I pulled up to a gas pump and noticed that I had just run over a mouse on the concrete. It was still twitching. I’m pretty sure that sucker fell out of the front of my car when I pulled in and then I ran it over when I slow-rolled forward to the pump.  Another time I took the car to the dealer because it was having issues, caused by my air filter being crammed with acorn shells and pieces of the fiber hood lining. A mechanic looked at my car and jiggled some things. Then he drove the car into the bay and there was a 25-foot trail of acorns, which the service manager Instagrammed as a joke.

Earlier this year my husband obtained some sort of “natural” mouse repellant – because we are both suckers and hate to kill any animals, no matter how obnoxious. He, of course, overused the product (“if the can says to use 3-4 sprays, then 8-9 sprays will obviously do a better job! “) in the attached garage. I came out of the shower to the very pervasive smell of animal piss mixed with vomit wafting through my house.  As he laughed and left for the day he mentioned that the product is advertised as a beaver repellant. Well, the mice were not repelled. But I am happy to say that we have had zero beavers in our garage.

Back at the bar, I was gloved in pink rubbers that went almost to my elbow. I shoved what I could into a flapping plastic bag that was headed for the garbage. The wind whipped my hair and clothes mercilessly while Styrofoam balls rode the gusts through my nose, eyes and yard. I imagined finding a mouse somewhere in the bar and tossing it high in the air, like a kite with no string.

There is another proverb attributed to the great people of Norway: either conform to the customs or flee the country. I had this in mind many times while attempting to make the mice flee. But now I feel defeated. Maybe the message is reversed and meant for me, from the mice. The mice rise against.

Book club with my 8 year old

One of the things I imagined for myself as a parent was having in-depth philosophical conversations about books with my children. Then, I actually had children.

I did everything “right”: I started reading to them immediately, every day, explaining how new worlds open up when you can read, how you’ll never be bored if you have a book (all the while thinking ‘shut up! You sound like your mother!’). I even read to them while I was still pregnant, just in case.

My youngest cannot yet read, and he seems to not even care about learning his letters. TBD I suppose. But my oldest – my oldest has actively hated the books I’ve tried to share with him from my childhood.  He suffered through Charlotte’s Web recently, turning away from me and staring at the wall while I read chapters to him at night as if trying to retreat to a happy place in his head in which he could not hear my voice.

He is in third grade, so I know he’s not old enough to have formed lifelong habits (or non-habits as is the case with reading).  But I was irrationally sad when I received a notification on a test at his school that surmised he was reading at only a first grade level. I’m no teacher, but even I thought this seemed wrong. When I spoke to his teacher about it she informed me that the reason he scored so low was because he completed his test in less than three minutes – it was supposed to take 20 – because he didn’t want to “waste his time” reading.  This was very much like him poking me in the eye with a sharp stick.

Recently, though, something changed. I am thanking the book The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate for this.  E has 20 minutes of daily reading required by his teacher.  He went from setting a timer for exactly 20 minutes and staring it down the whole time, to voluntarily reading for 40-60 minutes without a timer.  The first time he did it he said it was easy because the book had “sucked him in.”  My heart grew three sizes that day.  And then, when he finished the book, my heart actually exploded when he casually said “Mom, you should read this book.”  Here it was, our first shared book.  I got so excited I read the book as fast as humanly possible so I could have a conversation with him about it.  Here is how this conversation just went down:

Me: “E, I just finished that book you recommended.”

E: “Did you like it?”

Me: “I loved it” (here I paused to wipe away a tear)  “but it was so sad. Also it was beautiful. I had so many feelings about it.  What did you think?”


Me: “E, what did you think?”

E: *walking away* “Good, uh huh, good…”

For now, it’s enough.

My week with a pigeon

Day 1:

Evan found the most beautiful pigeon on our deck this afternoon. Pearly pinks, greens, purples all over it. I tried to get close but it casually plopped off over the edge of the deck. Later it was in the driveway under my car. Noticed blue band around foot –  Googled and learned that it’s probably a racing pigeon who got lost or tired. I am giving it water and seeds to help it regain strength.

When I told Evan it was a homing pigeon he shrieked “A whaaaaaatt?!” in terror.  “A pigeon babe, a pretty racing bird. Nothing to be scared of.” I laughed.

pretty pigeon on the porch
pigeon on the porch

Now it’s late and cold. I’ve put a towel in a milk crate tilted on its side, up against the house on the front porch. I’d hate for our resident hawk to eat the pretty thing.  I have started to call her Katie Holmes. Because homing pigeon.

I do not expect to see Katie Holmes again.

Day 2:

Katie Holmes stayed under Adam’s car this morning as he tried to drive away to work. Afraid she was going to commit suicide, I laid on the ground and yelled at her while shooing with a stick so she wouldn’t get caught under a tire. It took him fifteen minutes to back out the driveway.

Katie spent the rest of the day in the back yard narrowly escaping being eaten by the dog, hawk and whatever else is out there. I spent the day trying to get her to drink more water to rehydrate herself enough to leave. I don’t want this pretty little thing to die on my watch (this situation is bringing up bad memories of last summer’s unsuccessful baby mouse rehab). I’m not sure she can fly.

I told a friend about this today and she didn’t get the Katie Holmes reference. “Did you name her that because she’s like, trapped at your house?”  Whatever. Works either way.

Day 3:

It was snowing when I woke up. I knew I had to get Katie Holmes so I could read her leg band. She didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and the internet says that like gremlins, racing pigeons should not get wet.  I spent the day chasing the pigeon around and worrying.

When Evan got home we cornered her together in the garage. I threw a towel over her and put her in an enormous cardboard box. It was so big I used the boys’ soccer goal to cover the top. I even gave her an old stuffed snowman and some towels to snuggle in.  Did you know that pigeons grunt  when upset?

Anyway, I was able to read her leg band and look up her pigeon club – in Meriden – not that far!  I called the number listed on the site and the guy said he used to be the pigeon guy but now he’s not the pigeon guy and he texted me later with the real guy’s number. Well, the real guy and I had a mild language barrier. Maybe that’s why he got off the phone so fast when I tried to set up a rendezvous point with him or his wife?  He said he would call me back.

While I like Katie Holmes, the idea of captivating a bird in a box is starting to make me sick. Also, the mountains of poop.

It continues to snow.

pigeon in a box
pigeon in a box

Day 4:

It has been pouring rain all day. Wind gusts reached 80 mph in the night. I spent the day obsessing about the live animal trapped in the soaked, poop-filled cardboard prison in my cold garage. An animal that would be in mortal danger if put outside. An animal that has knocked it’s water over so many times that there is now a frozen brook running the length of the garage making it treacherous to bring my many empty wine bottles to the recycling bin. Right pigeon guy has not returned our insistent calls; mine or Adam’s.

Katie holmes-ing pigeon
Katie holmes-ing pigeon

Day 5:

I woke to beautiful weather. I decided to free Katie Holmes. It felt good to throw away the sopping fecal cardboard box, stuffed snowman and old towels and sweaters I’d lent Katie. I sent her on her way. Which was apparently only five feet away, under my car in the driveway.

I texted the first, wrong pigeon guy and asked what to do since the second, right pigeon guy apparently didn’t want his bird. He said he would take her, but he is moving and it will be a few days. He told me to recapture her and put her in a box in my garage.

I picked the poop-slimed stuffed snowman out of the bin.

Day 6:

I spent all day waiting and worrying and checking on the bird who is now housed in a miniscule plastic tote.  I’m starting to feel like Tom Cruise/Scientology. The bird has eaten all my rice.

She's just there, staring at me
She’s just there, staring at me

Day 7:

The plastic tote has shrunk in the night, or the bird has become massive. She is now entirely crusted with poo in the foot/claw area.  Neither pigeon guy has called.

Day 8:

Early this morning I texted the first guy and told him I’m mentally incapable of taking care of Katie Holmes and I would be calling animal control. He texted me back his address, only a few towns away. Adam and I brought her over, and he was indeed moving. We interrupted him and his friends carrying large pieces of furniture into the house to bring him an unwanted pigeon that wasn’t his. He was cool, though, and explained that he’d been the president of the pigeon racing club until recently, and he seemed to know a lot about the birds. He liked Katie and said he might keep her, or find her a good home. He conceded that maybe she didn’t belong to the second pigeon guy after all. He even seemed happy about the poop on her feet, and complimented its color and consistency.

He showed us that Katie Holmes couldn’t fly because someone had clipped her wings. Possibly because she had been recently purchased, and new owners do this to avoid the pigeon returning to its original home until the new owner can re-train it.

It didn’t hit me until we were driving away what this meant: Katie Holmes walked to our house. Her owner is one of our neighbors.