Tag Archives: Animals

Touring Away from Other Tourists

If you’re like my friends and me, you’re still mulling your summer trips. Whether traveling by plane, train or hang glider, or staying in tent, hotel or castle, we all agree on one issue: We try to avoid places where other tourists go.

We require hotels much quieter — and cleaner — than our homes. Campers hope no one will locate within a mile of their Winnebagos. Both kinds of vacationers pray their rowdy, late-night parties will not be disturbed by some other rowdy, late-night party.

Patrons at both rough-it and refined ends of the getaway spectrum seek restaurants that attract no screamy children but their own.

We want to fill cyberspace — especially the pages of envious relatives — with amazing photos of eye-popping attractions. Attractions that should never draw other visitors, yet must include:

  • Infinite-sized, free parking lots.
  • Plentiful, pristine restrooms with no lines.
  • Classy, dirt-cheap souvenirs.
  • Educational adventures even grandmas and insurance companies consider safe.

Children, however, have long considered “education” and “vacation” a contradiction in terms. They love tourist traps.

Hubby and his brother, who as children stayed at their grandparents’ Wisconsin lake cottage, could have fed their morning cereal to deer peeking in the windows. Still, no vacation was complete without visiting nearby Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm.

Today’s media-soaked children still reverence such attractions. Admission fees are in direct proportion to their pointlessness, reflected in souvenirs, e.g., oozy green livers from Mutant Body Parts Wax Museum and litter-shaped candy from Pretty Kitty’s Cat Condo.

Even teens welcome such enticements — if they can ditch parents.

Surprisingly, our college-aged daughter once asked me to journey with her in Honduras, where she’d spent the semester.

My airplane seatmate, a native who had moved to Texas, advised me to remove my necklace before we landed: “Pickpockets jerk them off.” She also counseled me to avoid taxis if I didn’t know the driver personally.

Long and scary story short, my daughter and I did rendezvous, enjoying a tropical paradise together. We also shared a bus ride along a favorite hijacker route to another seaside town. A town where bank security guards carried automatic rifles and strips of ammunition crisscrossing their chests. There, we unknowingly risked our lives watching a tribal dance at night.

At our mountainside 1950s-style hotel, a white cat with malignant eyes kept vigil on the front desk. Sen֮or Blanco listened to our complaints about no locks on our door. The often-AWOL owner didn’t.

But we never had to stand in line.

My daring daughter is currently planning a South American visit. Her husband will go adventuring with her to places tourists never visit.

As for me? Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm, here I come.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite away-from-the-tourists vacation spot?

Froggy Fever

One sunny day, my husband and I, spring fever victims, rode our tandem bicycle past wetlands.

A hallelujah chorus of spring peepers nearly deafened us. Soggy Froggy City posted record decibel levels. Had these amphibians gone high-tech, renting rock-concert sound systems?

After compiling the results of a survey I sent them, however, I’m convinced frogs are musical purists who not only sing without artificial amplification, they don’t even open their mouths. Instead, they balloon their necks.

Unlike most human choirs, the majority are males.

These guys don’t waste words or melodies. They not only establish territories and predict weather changes with their songs, they also romance their ladies. Listening to their impassioned harmony, I wished I could understand the lyrics.

Then, remembering current Top 40 titles, I gave thanks I didn’t.

I’m not so enthralled with peeper music that I’d pay $75 to buy a frog online.

Nor would I pay $10 for flour beetles culture to balance his nutrition pyramid. I’ve paid more to get rid of such “cultures.”

Owners concerned about their pets’ boring diets can buy frog bites which, according to the Arizona Dendrobate Ranch, “add variety to a young amphibian’s diet.”

Many devotees will attend California’s American Frog Day. They’ll revel in frog symphonies, bet on jumping contests, even purchase driveway signs: “Frog Parking Only. All Others Will Be Toad.”

However, in 2002, the BBC did not consider frogs a joking matter. Intense headlines implied that killer bullfrogs had attacked Great Britain. Having eaten Parliament, they were last seen headed for Buckingham Palace.

Further reading, however, revealed that the bullfrogs, an American threat mistakenly imported in batches of water plants, were devouring fish and other small critters. Not a national disaster. But something else for which Europe can blame us.

If frogs from South/Central America invaded their territory, they might have reason to gripe. Poisonous frogs abound there, and those who flaunt the loudest wardrobes — gold, blue, orange, and black-and-yellow-striped — present the greatest threat. The poison dart frog of South America, Phyllobates terribilis, is arguably the most dangerous animal in the world. This little golden frog resembles a kindergartener’s eraser. But according to the University of Georgia EcoView, its slime is 400 times as toxic to a laboratory mouse as a king cobra’s venom.

For those who adore poison dart frog songs but prefer long life spans, CDs of their calls can be purchased online.

Me? I’ll stick to live, free concerts by less flashy, Midwestern types who stay in their swamps, go to bed on time and only give us an occasional wart.

Describe your favorite frog encounter. Or, like biblical Pharaoh, do you consider them a plague?

  • Spring Peeper photo by Joshua Derck, Photo By <a target=’_blank’ href=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/51109932@N00/32910893583/’>Joshua Derck</a> via <a href=”http://www.stockpholio.net/” target=”_blank”>StockPholio.net</a>
  • Bullfrog photo by Kevin Vance, Photo By <a target=’_blank’ href=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/23446980@N07/9703424655/’>Kevin Vance</a> via <a href=”http://www.stockpholio.net/” target=”_blank”>StockPholio.net</a>

Unwelcome Visitor

Something brushed across my arm in the night.

Not my husband’s touch. After decades of marriage, my epidermis recognizes his epidermis, even when I sleep.

spider-1016713_640So I came to my usual semiconscious conclusion: giant hairy spiders had invaded our bed.

Please understand that as a five-year-old missionary kid, I once discovered a tarantula had invited himself to share my covers.

Now, decades later, I slowly wiggled my toes.

Nothing ate them. Whew!

I listened for unauthorized breathing. When our children were little, that sound on the wrong side of the bed indicated our son once again had escaped his crib.

Eventually I realized our son was pursuing a doctorate in Washington, D.C. Probably a safe bet that he wasn’t my brush with the unknown.

A burglar? But our stairs emitted loud cr-r-reaks. I had heard only a quiet swoo-oosh.

Now completely awake, I convinced myself I had dreamed it all.

Until … the next morning, when my no-nonsense husband said he had a similar dream.

That night, I crept up the stairs to our bedroom. A black, shapeless something hung from the fire alarm. I admit to letting refrigerator contents age into anti-matter, but had it been that long since we checked those batteries? Had they disintegrated to black goo?

The “goo” actually resembled a small, folded umbrella … until it shuddered.

bat-868410_640“A bat!” I screamed. “Kill it!”

Men do not understand why women who weep during puppy food commercials expect their husbands to take a flame thrower to all unwelcome home invaders, including burglars, germs and bats.

Finally, Steve persuaded me we could capture it. Armed with a laundry basket, a sheet and a fly swatter, we approached the bat, apparently a sound sleeper. I held the basket over the fire alarm as Steve tried to pry him loose. If Mr. Bat wasn’t a vampire, he certainly impersonated one well, with fierce, beady eyes and snarling white teeth.

My kindhearted husband finally detached him and slapped the sheet over the laundry basket. We carried him, hissing and flapping, outside and released him. Mr. Bat zoomed off into the blackness like a dark angel.

While I admit to a few bats in the belfry, I never expected to find one in our bedroom. If it happens again, we now have a plan.

laundry-basket-59654_640But if I hear unauthorized breathing?

I don’t think a laundry basket will work.

Have you ever shared your space with a bat? Or another unwelcome critter?

How to Tame the Post-Deadline Writing Bear

bearangryTwo days ago, I emerged from my writer’s cave after finishing a novel.

Friends and family urged me to celebrate the accomplishment. Those who know me best, however, stayed out of my way because I resembled a bear awakened from a long hibernation —  groggy, growly, and ready to snap at anything that moves.

Now, having recovered as much as one can in two days, I join my husband in offering survival tips for those near and dear — including critique partners, writing friends, as well as normal people — in how to tame a post-deadline writing bear.

Let the bear sleep.

In fact, encourage the bear to snooze extra minutes in the morning, to retire early at night, to take naps. Nothing will increase the life expectancy of those in a writing bear’s path like a few additional zzz’s.

Conversely, nothing will guarantee the loss of at least one limb like the question, “Why are you so tired? You don’t work.”

Give the bear some honey. 

In the face of bared fangs, this presents a challenge tougher than letting a writing bear sleep. But trust us, it works. When insecurity looms 3.5 seconds after the author hits “send,” pour on reassurance thick as honey: “You’re a good writer. You worked hard on this book.”

Even better: “We prayed about this book. God will use it.”

Accompanied by bear hugs, chocolate and other sweet things, this approach can’t go wrong.

Kick the bear in the butt.

 Only use this tactic when the other two have been applied assiduously.

If, after generous amounts of sleep and support, the bear remains un-bear-able and spends valuable writing time playing infinite games of Candy Crush or watching Saved by the Bell reruns or the potholder channel, do what you’ve been aching to do for months. Give the writing bear a good boot in the bootie: “God has gifted you. Is this the way you propose to use His gifts?”

Then offer honey from the Rock in the form of questions such as “What did you learn from writing this book? What would you really like to write? And what has God been saying to you that should shape your next book?”

teddybearThese tips have helped tame this post-deadline bear with less glaring, swearing and wear-and-tearing. So far, both tamer and bear not only have survived, but thrived in the same zoo.

Any hints on how to handle the writing animal at your house?







I Love You, Mr. McGregor

VeggiesAs a child, I read Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I loved the cute bunnies — Mrs. Rabbit wearing a spotless white apron; Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail sporting little pink capes; and Peter, a blue jacket with brass buttons. I thrilled to Peter’s quest for food and adventure. My dark side, carefully concealed under a pastor’s daughter’s façade, rejoiced in his mother-defying moxy. That bunny had attitude!

But I despised Mr. McGregor, who owned a whole garden, yet denied a few morsels to a hungry little bunny. McGregor and his equally depraved wife had baked Peter’s father in a pie! Such barbarism horrified me. I trembled as Peter nearly met his end. I cheered him as he sneaked past the evil old farmer.

Having misplaced most of my wardrobe during my young lifetime, I sympathized with Peter. He not only lost his coat and shoes, but his mother sentenced him to an early bedtime and chamomile tea. The unjust ending rankled — an all-too-familiar scenario of siblings enjoying life while the family’s fun person suffered.

In my mind, Peter Rabbit was a victim several times over.

Mr. McGregor, that green-thumbed egocentric, bore the responsibility.

Fast forward a few decades. Well, more than a few. …

A rabbit gang has invaded my garden. Unlike Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, none of these rabbits — I no longer refer to them as bunnies — wear cute little clothes. If they don clothing at all, I imagine it consists of baggy jeans and bandannas, accented by tattoos.

But the few I’ve spotted wear nothing. I try to be broad-minded. But hordes of naked rabbits nightly overrunning my garden?

This X-rated, crime-ridden piece of ground requires the monitoring services of the National Guard. Or at least, a few heavily armed musclemen.

Instead, enter a cranky old person wearing glasses and rough work clothes who somewhat resembles a beardless version of the 1902 storybook portraits of Mr. McGregor. She weeds and hoes, creaky bones playing rhythms that would shame a parade drum line. She pours her heart, plus gallons of expensive irrigation, into her garden. All she wants is a nice little harvest of something besides zucchini.

Instead, like poor Mr. McGregor, she must chase off heartless varmints who would have her go hungry. She probably won’t escape bad press, either.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit … will I read it to my grandchildren? Of course. I wouldn’t think of depriving them of childhood classics. But it might be a somewhat — er — updated version.peter-rabbit-cover


What’s your favorite childhood story? How might you “update” it?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Hen Party!

chickensillyOh, my God: Loved speaking to the fun women at Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan! I ate chicken soup (homemade noodles!), flunked the Little Red Hen game, and joined in a wicked chicken dance. We admitted that we flap like bald-eaglechickens when You want us to soar like eagles. Yet, OMG, You always welcome us home to Your nest.

Living with the Wild Things

No camping trip is complete without wildlife. Years ago, we and our young children made the acquaintance of elegant deer, sunbathing turtles, wading blue herons, and swans trailed by fuzzy gray babies.

I loved all God’s creatures—if they stayed in their own hotels. I did not cheer when Granddaddy Longlegs invited hundreds of his grandchildren to stay in our tent. Nor did I welcome clans of mosquitoes and yellow jackets that hosted family reunions on our campsite. My flyswatter and can of Raid soon made it clear our family values were not the same.

raccoonCuter species — especially raccoons — also posed problems. We refused to let our children feed them. That night, the masked varmints assaulted the campgrounds like commandos. Fortunately, we’d locked our coolers in the car trunk.

Campers next door allowed their kids to feed the animals daily. The raccoons spread this good news with evangelistic fervor, and hordes of raccoons gathered in broad daylight, extending greedy paws, chattering for their fair share — a park version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Our neighbors also left their coolers out at night, declaring raccoons could not open latches. Were they kidding? These coons could crack a safe.

skunkSoon word of easy pickings reached a rival gang: skunks. Guess who won the ensuing debate?

Thus, four-legged friends and thousand-footed millipedes inhabiting camp showers cause only a fraction of camping complications. Often two-footed wildlife create the most excitement.

Once, after a nearby rock concert, thousands of attendees decided to hug trees where we were camping. The lone park ranger looked 17, unable to control anything more aggressive than delinquent chipmunks. Our neighbors, who wore bandannas, chains and questionable cigarettes in their mouths, treated the campground to heavy metal favorites, courtesy of their oversized boom box. At 1 a.m., our tent walls throbbed in rhythm with the bass. One scary song sent our family over the edge.

“Mommy, it’s a bomb!” Our youngest dove into my sleeping bag.

“Nothing like getting away to peace and quiet,” I said.

“I’m going over there.” The love of my life unzipped the tent and stalked, unarmed, toward the gang zone. I prayed. I covered my eyes. But I could not cover my ears.

“Would you please turn that down?” he asked in a commanding tone. “My children cannot sleep.”

I waited for gunshots.

Instead, a loopy voice said, “Sorry, man.”

Silence. Blessed silence.

Out in the wild — and in the jungles of everyday existence — we often must communicate using fly swatters and worse.

Sometimes, when we least expect it, a forthright, courteous word will suffice.


Tell about a time when you lived with the wild things. Have you won any standoffs — two-legged, four-legged, or otherwise?

The Princess and the Pooped; or, Where’s the Rocking Chair?

During crazy decades of potty training, play practices and proms, I fantasized about being a grandma — a wise, all-knowing woman in a rocking chair, hands folded.

When a sweet baby girl made me a for-real grandma, I was ready. Had I not raised three children? I envisioned cuddling my princess while Mommy rested and laundry folded itself.

But by royal decree, our princess declared sleep illegal.

Then, the privileged pets refused to abdicate. One cat, also fruitful and multiplying, nursed five kittens in the bathroom because two male cats opposed the population explosion. Mama Cat growled when I dared enter. Her offspring, armed with sharp little claws and teeth, represented Mama’s Royal Guard.

The dragon-sized family dog, Toffi, considered me her grandma, too, sitting on my lap. Toffi guarded the new baby zealously, barking at potential threats — like oxygen.

So our princess slept even less. Toffi and I stayed at the park, where she protected the kingdom from wicked squirrels.

Every new grandmother dreams of such tender times.

Then elderly relatives called. Could they come by?

My daughter and I hyperventilated. These lovely people did not allow microbes in their home, much less eight cats and Droolius Rex!

“Stall them at the door!” I tied Toffi outside. Maybe she’d bark herself and the neighbors into a coma.

Our visitors would need restroom breaks. I shuddered.

The older cats ambushed me, but I shooed them out the back door and hid the litter box. As I swept up used litter, kittens fastened onto me like baby piranhas. I had just freed my ankles when our relatives called cheery hellos.

I closed the kittens into a bedroom, soaked the bathroom with Lysol and tried not to bleed.

Fortunately, the visitors were enamored with our princess. They looked a hundred years younger than I felt. Maybe I would achieve sanity when I became a great-grandparent?

“How’s the rocking chair, Grandma?” They grinned at me and headed toward the bathroom.

My daughter’s jaw dropped, but no cats attacked. No kitty litter jitters ensued. Our visitors sniffed approvingly at sanctifying Lysol before shutting the door.

After a pleasant visit, they planted good-bye kisses on the baby’s head to avoid bestowing germs. They didn’t know Toffi already had introduced her to several million.

Our princess gurgled. I looked into her blue, blue eyes. I loved being a grandma, though my first week aged me 20 years.

Cuddling her, I sank into a rocking chair. At last.

Now, after years of grandmahood, I’ve learned something about my predecessors. If they ever folded their hands, it was in prayer.

Grandmas, you rock!


Coffee Corner: Cranky Geese?

As my husband and I rode our tandem, we saw ponds swarming with geese. During fall, migrating Canada geese often stop at local lakes to visit their less adventurous relatives. But the family reunions we saw resembled WWE smackdowns.

Why all the honkin’ hullaballoo?

I suppose if my relations and I were floating in a pond with a temperature of 30 degrees, we might get a little cantankerous. Especially if some had just flown in from Canada. Everybody knows flying isn’t what it used to be. Geese don’t receive miles rewards. Plus, security measures really ruffle their feathers.

Already grumpy, they arrive for annual stays with kinfolk who didn’t invite them. Locals resent sharing their homes and food with these moochers every year — especially since their lucky visitors anticipate months at the beach.

Itinerary controversies only add to hostilities. Some migrating geese—especially moms and grandmas—are still upset at leaving before the holidays. Their golfing husbands want to hit the Florida greens early and won’t wait till after Christmas. Also, some like Georgia better; some, California; and those really dedicated to the wild life want Cancun.

The geese also disagree about who travels with whom:

Gander Guy: If you think we’re flying south with your mother, you’re out of your mind.

Goose Lady: If you think we’re flying with your cousin Vinnie, you’re seriously mistaken. His children are a bad influence on our kids.

Gander Guy: But Vinnie knows all the good places to eat along the way.

Goose Lady: And the best places to drink. Let’s compromise. We’ll fly with my Uncle George and Aunt Myrna.

Gander Guy: Great idea. She’ll want to stop at every outlet mall between here and Tallahassee. The last time we followed George, we ended up in downtown Detroit.

Goose Lady: But Myrna gave him a GPS for his birthday. …

Multiply this conversation several thousand times, add it to the kinfolk-versus-moochers controversy, and an Indiana farm pond’s Threat Level jumps.

Right now, it’s at red. Steve and I have enjoyed eavesdropping — from a safe distance. But we’re ready to leave this uncivilized bunch.

Besides, I’m hungry. “Where do you want to eat?”

“Let’s wait till we get home. Riding at twilight isn’t safe.”

My bicycle seat feels like a bed of nails. “I can’t ride home until I eat and rest.”

“If we hadn’t rested so long earlier, we might have time to eat.”

Grrr! But I decide to do the Christian thing: forgive him — and never let him forget it.

“Honnnk! Squonnnnk-honk-honk-honk!” The Goose Wars erupt again.

Too bad they’re not smart, like us.

How about you? Any honkin’ hullaballoo, goose or human, where you live?