Saturday January 30, 2016: from Manaus to the Jungle
We’re up at 7:30—before the 8 a.m. wake-up call—and take a water-blasting shower in our room at the Caesar Business Manaus Motel. We go down to breakfast on the mezzanine and find scrambled eggs, lots of breads to choose from, various cereals and lots of fruit, most of which I actually recognize.
There are also three juices: orange juice, mango juice (we think) and what turns out to be cactus juice, according to the hostess. Mark encourages another American to take a sip of the cactus juice; the look on the guy’s face makes it clear how awful it is.
We pack up and head downstairs for a 9:30 pickup by Jon, the River Plate Anglers rep. Mark pays our bill and in so doing, chats with the ladies at the front desk. They are impressed with Mark’s Portuguese and says he has no accent, which tickles him pink.
At 9:30, we are happy when our our bags are checked through because the weight limit is 33 pounds and we might have weighed our bags half a dozen times before we left and still worry. Mark’s bag is 32.5 pounds, mine 33.5 pounds, so they average out to to the max of 33. Phew!
We wait about 30 minutes for the plane to arrive and get gas. Bobby takes a seat next to me after chatting on the phone and asks why I stopped blogging a year ago. I mention how taking care of my mom changed priorities and kind of took the wind out of my sails. He says his mom was sick with cancer and he took 3 months to help her through treatment. She’s fine now but it was a tough couple of months. He shows me several photos on his phone including some terrific nature photos, including photo of one of the giant bucks on his ranch eating a cookie. He raises large bucks for others to hunt, but this one particular buck is one he calls “My buddy.” Bobby’s a super nice guy.
We’re told to load the airplane and wamble outside into what so far is a pleasant morning. Being crammed into a confined space and unable to wiggle is my least favorite part of the trip, and it’s made all the worse if it’s hot and if the pilot looks like the young fella that crashed the plane in 2013. Luckily, it’s not hot and the pilot looks to be at least 16.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder if he’s reading the instruction manual.
After telling us to put on our seat belts, the pilot cranks up the engine and taxis us down a long stretch of cement. After waiting for a private plane to take to the air, the pilot gives us a “thumbs up” and we take off without issue. I am happy there’s a co-pilot because on our last trip out of the jungle in 2013, there was no co-pilot unless you count me. I got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and just about pooped my pants when I looked over to see our pilot filling out paperwork.
The first part of this flight is a bit bumpy as we leave the buildings and roads of Manaus behind and fly over the Amazon River.
Soon we rise above the clouds and fly over a large tributary of the Amazon.
The flight smooths out and waters below us get smaller and more wiggly.
Now, not to sound worrisome or anything, but I can’t help but notice how much the pilot chats and gestures with his hands, as if flying is secondary to the conversation. I keep an eye on him and the co-pilot the entire time, ready at any point to say, “Com licenca,” which is Portuguese for “Excuse me. ” I’m not sure what I’d say next except to point out that they should pay attention…even though the plane is probably on auto pilot. Darn my worry gene.
At a point close to the hour mark, we start a slow descent, and I know this because the trees start to look more like trees than a painting. Soon we see a boat and what we figure are our floating cabins.
The pilot circles, slowly at first, and then–in a swift motion that has me thinking religious thoughts–he turns tightly and we end up smoothly on the water. Guides show up with two small boats to take us to camp, while other camp staff show up in another boat to get our luggage. We ride the short trip to our camp, which consists of several floating cabins tucked into a tiny bay.
Once we’re on solid ground, we meet Alejandro, our camp host. He’s short, bald, wiry and looks tough as nails. He speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish, and after a brief introduction points to our cabin, cabin 6. We note that cabin 6 is between cabin 1 and 3 and he says that 6 is actually 2 in Portuguese and laughs. We learn later that Alejandro is from Chile, climbed mountains while in the Army back in the day and is knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the Amazon. He was a former eco guide.
Alejandro shows us around the cabin, which is less rustic than the one in 2013. It’s whiter, brighter, newer and super clean. The two twin beds look new and comfy, and you might imagine twin beds are super for a romantic week in the jungle!
The air conditioning is solid and not rattling and there are plenty of water bottles in a cooler by the door. LED lights are used throughout.
The light on the bathroom automatically goes on when the door opens, which is new since 2013. Also, the shower is in the bathroom and there’s no divider from the toilet. There’s a trash can in the bathroom for all paper waste; one is not to flush toilet paper down the toilet.
We unload our stuff and have lunch, which is red beans and rice and a bit of salad. We get our gear set up and are introduced to our guide, who goes by Sappo. He knows little English and Mark immediately starts in with the Portuguese he’s been studying via Pimsleur and a free mobile app, Duolingo. I have studied, too, but not to the extent Mark has, and about all I can muster up is a nod of my head and “Ola!”
Sappo is a nice fella and reminds us a little of Preto, our guide in 2013—dark haired, dark-skinned, and built like an Army tank. Sappo takes all our rods and reels and loads them into the boat, along with several boxes of lures we brought with us. In the bottom of the bow is my dry bag with my camera, zoom lens and fish-eye lens, along with important things like duct tape, toilet paper, pills and Epi-pens. My rain coat is thrown under the bow of the boat, ready to grab.
We fish hard all afternoon and catch our first Popoca, a new species of peacock bass for us. It looks a little like this, as does Sappo, for that matter.
We spend the rest of the afternoon “ripping” top water baits, yanking Yozuris and doing a bit of jigging. We end up with only nine peacock bass, but one is a ten pounder I pull into the boat.
We also catch a Jacunda, which is a colorful fish.
Mark also has a knack for piranhas.
I am super hot after an afternoon fishing, and am relieved to get into an Amazon shower, which is water pumped from the river. The knob above the shower head was for heat once upon a time, says Alejandro, but that didn’t work so well because all the visitors used the on-demand heat source at the same time and zapped the electrical current at camp. So they decided to revert back to the old way of just using river water. It’s what we had in 2013 and the water is the perfect temperature for a shower.
Drinks are in the main cabin/dining room, consisting of beer, wine, a mixed drink, or a lime concoction that leaves ones’ mouth puckery. I take the latter and my lips pucker up like a fish. One by one everyone appears to chat about the day. Sadly, it seems Mark and I were the lowest fish producers of the day. Luckily, nobody kicks out out of camp.
Dinner consists of wing-dings, a meat filet with peppercorns, red beans and rice and tomato slices and lettuce. As we eat, I learn more about Steve, the banker, from Tennessee, a guy who’s traveled on many a trip with Dr. Bob, a veterinarian, farmer and producer of the parvo vaccine. Dr. Cozby, who goes by Coz, is an 82-year-old pediatric dentist fishing with–and keeping up with–Bobby, cast for cast. Curt and his son, John, 30, round out the group. John is quiet and polite and pays attention when Curt asks Mark questions about dinosaurs. I love the evening chats.
We go to bed right after dinner and I am asleep immediately.
Friday, January 29, 2016 – Miami to Manaus, Brazil
I start the morning by sending our last-minute dog sitter, Kim Bailey a text. She says the pups finally ate some food last night. She also says that Snickers now has kennel cough so she’ll make sure he gets meds like Winston. The good news is that Winston already seems to have stopped coughing.
We take our time getting up, showering, and getting to IHOP where a 65-year-old lady serves us because she’s the only person there who speaks English fluently. En route, we pass the tan cat we saw yesterday, so I order bacon with my eggs, toast and hash browns and take the bacon back to the kitty. He eats every bite, licks his paws afterwards and goes back to loitering outside the motel entryway.
We hang out in our room until I’m bored and need more interactions with other people. At 2:00 we go by shuttle to the airport, and after checking in, get a message from one of our Texan friends, Curt: “Where are you?” as we eat a Cuban sandwich at Café Versailles near out gate. Nearby is a piece of history on the wall, which I find myself having to photograph.
We finish lunch and Curt and Bobby stroll up. Behind them is John, Curt’s son who’s 6 foot 6 and causes me to look for a chair to stand on so I can see him at eye level. During our chat, we learn John has stolen some of Curt’s lures, and I point out that it’s good John and Curt are fishing together. They laugh, and it’s great to see they have a great relationship.
We start boarding at 4:10 and get regular seats even though I thought we’d paid for upgrades with more legroom by an exit. I feel claustrophobic with the seat in front of me so close. John sits across the aisle and I note that his legs are pressed against the seat in front of him. He says he’s used to it.
I see a stewardess and ask if we can move to the two available seats by an exit and she says to wait a few minutes, which we do. We end up waiting long enough for another guy to take up the aisle seat in that row. We wait and wait, and finally I ask another steward if we can move and he says, “Do it now so we can get underway.” We grab our stuff and step in front of the guy who moved before we did. We settle in, proud of our grab, and I’m about to unwrap my blanket when a guy shows up and says Mark’s in his seat. We’re about to get up when the man realizes Mark and I are together and offers to sit in Mark’s old seat. Phew! I’m so grateful for the extra inches of leg room—and in my case—a few more inches of space between me and the seat in front of me.
The guy next to Mark is from Brazil originally, speaks Portugese and is on a fishing trip with a bunch of other guys. They chat for a while and both start watching movies. The movies on airplanes make me woozy–too much movement too close to my face–so I watch the in-flight info as we fly over the Bight of Aklins and Acklins Island. We are served chicken salad with Ruffles, a Dos Equis and a brownie with nuts. I’m relaxed enough to wonder what a bight is and later discover it simply means a curve in the shoreline, or a wide bay formed by such a curve. Why not just call it the Curve of Aklins, I wonder? Bight this.
Near the end of the flight we are given cute little snack packs. Little did I know I should have saved some of the food for the ride home.
We land around 11:00 p.m. in Manaus, Brazil, and as we are finding our luggage, are greeted by Jon, the River Plate Anglers guy who escorted us to and from our motel in 2013 and who made sure we got a flight home in 2013 after our flight from the jungle didn’t pan out. Jon is in full beard and mustache and looks a bit wild compared to his clean-cut look. He remembers us from last time and I give him a hug.
Jon goes with us to the motel, and en route, we get introduced to the rest of the guys we will be fishing with. We meet Dr. Bob, a veterinarian from TN, Steve, a banker from TN, Dr. Cozby, a dentist from TX. They all seem like great guys and are livelier than I am after the long flight.
Jon gets us checked in and hands out keys to the room. I discover I’m paired up with Bobby, because apparently, nobody knew Mark and I are married. I switch keys, and Mark and I head upstairs…to the same room.
We’re at the Caesar Business motel in Manaus and all the guys love it because it’s closer to the airport than the motel we stayed at previously, super clean, doesn’t require a half mile walk to find one’s room like at the motel we went to in 2013, and the air conditioners hum and hum. There’s also a nice little snack bar, and cold beer and water in the fridge.
It also turns out the shower pours water like none other—the pressure is amazing—and everyone loves that, too. We are whipped and we don’t have to get up until 8 a.m. We set the fan on to run all night just in case somebody wants to start a party nearby for the third night in a row. I sleep better than a baby.
Thursday, 1/28/2016 – Detroit, MI Days Inn, to Miami,FL
I am up before 3:45 because Mark is rooting around the room, excited like a kid at Christmas. We get ready and are downstairs by 4:25 for that 4:30 shuttle we were promised. There are 8 people in the lobby when the shuttle arrives at 4:55, which is close enough to 4:25 for all people except impatient ones like me. We get dropped off at American Airlines and walk with our luggage about a half mile up and down several escalators to check in, all the while debating why we didn’t spend $5 on a cart to make our load lighter. I have my giant yellow LL Bean bag with my initials on it from my Dad and Norma, and at 33 pounds, I can feel it leaving a nice impression in my shoulder. On my back is my 9.5-pound camera bag and my purse–which I did not weigh–hangs off one shoulder. Mark has a small day-pack carry-on, and his mostly waterproof gray/black Columbia duffel weighs about the same as mine. My bag is an amorphous blob; his a nice, tightly zipped bag.
We check in at the kiosk and get boarding passes and luggage tags that the kiosk people think we’re intelligent enough to put on our own bags so early in the morning and with such little sleep. I carry my tag to the agent and he shows me how to put it on by doing it for me, which I count as a win for playing the helpless card. We get in line for security and an agent there tells us we have “quick check” status, which allows us to go through without removing our shoes or showing our liquids to the world. Mark gets patted down anyway due to his titanium knee, but the shortcut saves us at least twenty minutes in the normal line.
We find a small shop with coffee, bagel, cream cheese and bottled water and then head to gate D30 where Noah, a 4-year-old, and his 2-year-old brother, are testing their parents’ patience, and mine. I know his name is Noah because the mom uses it dozens of times to not get him to do what she wants. In the woman’s bathroom, Noah has an all-out temper tantrum because he has to wait for his mom to finish peeing. When she’s done, he runs out of the bathroom, down the hall a football field in length, and around the corner to his dad. Mark and I cross our fingers that Noah et al are in the back of the airplane and/or heavily medicated.
At 6:35 we board, and it’s a full plane, yet people try bringing larger carry-ons than allowed, along with multiple bags. Four ladies are stopped at the door by American Airlines agents, and have to check their bags so they’re not consuming more than their share of overhead space. They are unpacking their “essentials” and repacking as we walk by. I give the agents a nod because I personally dislike people that abuse the overhead luggage rule.
I end up sitting in seat 9E and am happy when Noah and family disappear in the back of the plane. Next to me is a woman who introduces herself as Shawn Perry, who is from Grosee Isle, MI. She knows my boss, Dina because she went to high school with Dina’s sisters. We have plenty to chat about after that, and I’m grateful for chit-chat because the 2.5 hour flight turns into 5.5 hours because bad weather has us circling the Miami area over and over again. In rare peaks through the thick clouds, I find it really disconcerting to see ocean below us…because Miami is on land and we are supposed to land on land at some point, I’m hoping. I find myself reaching for my life jacket so I know where it is, and also reviewing the number of steps to the exit door. Not that I worry or anything.
Hours later, low on fuel, we fly into West Palm Beach, only to wait for a half hour for the fuel truck to show up. Once refueled, we turn around and fly back to—and finally land at—Miami. Many people miss their connecting flights, including a couple across the aisle from us who will not get to the Dominican Republic until the next day. I’m not sure if Shawn got out to Cancun, but my sympathy for her was impaired a bit, because she had driven from Grand Rapids to Detroit at 1 a.m. this morning to get a flight out of Detroit instead of flying out of Grand Rapids….just to save $100. And she’s a lawyer.
We find our luggage in Miami and hump upstairs and outside into rain with wet luggage. We use our new iPhones to call the motel and wait 20 minutes for a shuttle whose driver came from Cuba 15 years ago. Mark chats with him in Spanish during the 25 minute ride to the motel. Traffic is horrible and I wonder why anyone would want to live here.
We get to the Holiday Inn Express at 3:00. After a nap and shower, I text Aby to ask what I should wear to dinner with our friend, Curt, and his wife. She says a dress and diamonds. I text back that I’m stressed about which diamond and dress to wear. I tell her all I have is fishing shirts anyway; she says it’s most important that they like me, which stresses me out even more.
We met Curt in 2013 on our first trip to the Amazon, on the Itapara River, and for some reason–in spite of us needing to ask him and his pal, Bobby, for Band-aids, a flashlight, Cipro, and money to tip our guide– they invited us on this trip. We are very grateful to them for the opportunity. We text Curt and am amazed he’s willing to drive 20 minutes in nasty traffic to pick us up for dinner!
Curt and his wife, Peggy, arrive at Curt 5:15. Peggy is a soft-spoken, pretty woman who, amazingly, is not wearing a fishing shirt. On the15 minute drive to Versailles, a Cuban restaurant, we learn that Curt and Peggy drove from Texas with their two small dogs, both of which are at their condo. Peggy stays at the condo while Curt is off fishing and on his other excursions, including two skeet shooting events hither and yon after we get back. Peggy and Curt share photos of their little mutts and tell us how each dog came into their lives. We tell our story of driving 9 hours to pick up one puppy, only to come home with two.
The Versailles touts itself as The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant and THE place to go in Miami for Cuban food. Established in 1971, it is the gathering place for tourists and exiled Cubans. It’s a pleasant atmosphere, and it’s early enough in the day that we are seated immediately. Mark and Curt rave about their “split pea pottage,” a pea soup with ham and Spanish sausage. I order Boliche (Cuban style pot roast) served with Moros rice and sweet plantains, which is amazing. I also order a Hatuey, which is a Cuban style ale and something one might say when one sneezes.
Everything is tasty, including the bite of Key Lime pie Mark insists we all share. When we’re stuffed to the proverbial gills and exhausted, Curt drives us back to the motel and gets out to say goodnight. He says, “This is going to be a great trip. I have lots of questions to ask Mark about dinosaurs.” We thank him for dinner and tell him we’re excited about the trip, too. Before he walks away, I point out a tan cat loitering outside the motel and ask if he needs another pet? He says no and both he and Peggy wave as they pull away.
We’re in bed soon after and are about to fall asleep when a party starts near our room. This time it’s a party with young, rowdy people speaking Spanish and hanging out a room or two from ours. I turn down the temperature in the room, turn up the fan to run constantly and fall asleep to the hum of the fan mixed with occasional outbursts of Spanish.
In July, 2105 Mark and I flew to Miami, checked into a motel and spent the afternoon lounging around a swimming pool. The motel elevator had two buttons, both of which read “UP,” so we thought that was a good sign for the start of our trip.
Hours later, however, as were nodding off in anticipation of our early morning flight to Manaus, Brazil, JW Smith, the owner of the Rod and Gun Club called and said our trip was cancelled because the local people on the Amazon tributary we were scheduled to fish–the Marmelos River–had blocked the river with their boats and said no outsiders were allowed to fish their waters. Negotiations had ensued for months prior to our arrival, but alas, they failed on the day the local outfitters had headed up-river. Since the locals threatened to shoot us “outsiders,” and because we weren’t allowed to take weapons with us to make it a fair fight, JW thought it best to cancel the trip.
I’m here to tell ya that there’s nothing like looking forward to an adventure, only to have to return to work in a cubicle and carry on as if nothing happened. That was tough.
But thanks to the excellent work on the part of JW and his staff, we were re-booked on a different river, the Xeruini, the end of January 2016. Two days before we were to leave, JW called and said that the water levels on the Xeruini were so low that getting a float plane and the camp set up wouldn’t work out so well. Instead, we were going to be fishing the Matapuri River, which is south of the Xeruini River.
Now, there are about 1,100 tributaries to the Amazon River and the reason we had hoped for the Xeruini was because a guy named Andre who worked for the Brazilian outfitters, River Plate Anglers, had told us in 2013 that the Xeruini was his favorite tributary. But since some trips–like the one in July–are out-right cancelled, we were happy to be going anywhere at all. To put this in perspective on a map, we were to be heading south of the capitol of Brazil, Manuaus, instead of north this time. Geographically, we were to have fished pretty much on the equator; this time we were to fish about 2 degrees south of the equator, which is still hot for Michiganders.
Indeed January in Michigan is a bit different than in Brazil, and there is no way to prepare for the heat of the Amazon except to take numerous saunas or long baths, neither of which we had time to do. The only other thing we could do to prepare for our trip was to exercise, which, for peacock bass fishing, consists of using a dumbbell to imitate the motion of ripping a long lure across the water…for 8 hours or so a day. Being retired and all, Mark had 8 hours with which he could wiggle a dumbbell around, but who would do that for such a period of time? Righto. Neither of us.
Since we’d already packed once for this trip in July, packing in January was no big deal, except for the fact that Mark kept adding lures he wanted to try…during the 6 1/2 days we’d actually be fishing. My opinion was that we didn’t have time to try what he’d already packed, but more lures were added nonetheless.
The other part of our preparation for a big trip like this was developing a game plan for our pets. We had already secured the services of a young woman by the name of Hannah to come in to take care of our two cats, two tanks of fish, Smokey Joe (the rescued mouse) and Buddy, the mynah bird. Our plan also included taking the dogs to their favorite place to play called Nana-N-Paws.
Two days before we were to leave, however, I came home from work to find Winston coughing and gacking forth this frothy, yucky stuff. Since we’d dropped him and Snickers off at Nana-n-Paws about 10 days earlier, we suspected Winston had kennel cough. I called our vet, we took Winston in at 8 a.m. the next day–the day before we were to leave–and the vet verified Winston had kennel cough. The vet said, “No kennel will take him unless they have solitary confinement, and while that might work for Winston, you also have another dog that’s been exposed. So, you need in-home care.”
As Mark and I began frothing about the complicated coordination of friends and neighbors who maybe could rotate in to take care of our pups, the vet said, “This isn’t common knowledge and we don’t normally advertise this, but some of our vet techs will come into peoples’ homes to take care of pets.” Mark and I both went “Phew!’ and were introduced to Kim Bailey, a vet tech who offered to come in several times a day to take care of our pups. Kim was to shows up at 8 or so in the morning, noon-ish, and at 9:30 or so at night just for the dogs; Hannah was to show up at five or six p.m. to care for the dogs and take care of the other pets. Winston was to get his meds twice a day, and both Kim and Hannah had a hand in that.
With that figured out, the only thing left to do was go to work for the rest of the day–Tuesday–and spend the next morning cleaning the house. At 3:00 Wednesday, we could think of nothing else to clean, so left our furry, feathery and fin-ny charges and headed towards Detroit. We got a half mile away before I realized I’d left my Epi-pens and Mark realized he didn’t have some plastic tubing that would help with our fishing somehow. Back we went to grab our stuff, pet the pets one more time and head out again.
We stayed at the Days Inn in Detroit less than a mile from the airport. They promised a shuttle to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, and for $130 gave us a place to sleep and safe parking for our car for the 10 days we’d be gone. We dropped our bags in our room, headed to the bar/restaurant and had an early dinner and some beer.
The bar/restaurant was freezing cold, and and as I airplaned my way to a warmer spot in the bar–arms out like wings and circling the room looking for a warmer spot–a guy by the name of Keith Smith noticed and introduced himself. He was from the state of Maine, he said, in a town over an hour from “Bah Hahbor.” He works as a truck driver of a “cah carrier” and he was in Detroit to get his truck serviced and a new load of “cahs” to deliver in another state. We chatted with him for hours, learning things like the story behind Burt’s Bees and how Burt was just a bee-keeper until a woman came into his life, turned him into a success story and then–some opinions go–took him for everything he had. Here’s the story on that.
We were in bed by 8:30 and sleeping well until a rowdy troupe of weedwackers (e.g. bad people) showed up around midnight with the intent of having a wee party right outside our door. They clanked the pop machine (which was right outside our door) and the ice machine (ditto) and stood around debating important things like who was going to sleep in which room, and which kid was really tired enough to sleep now and which was not.
I got up, turned the fan on to run full-time, as as I returned to bed, noticed that the comforter was upside down and the tag was right in my face. Too tired to flip it around and wake up Mark, I folded the tag under my chin and went to sleep.
I am all for the idea of celebrating groundhogs and actually having a day where we take a few moments to see if one particular groundhog sees his shadow. The thing is that Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog we put so much faith in, is a pet groundhog which is likely removed from some comfortable hole or house or something, and taken outside for a brief moment in the chill of the first Monday in February to see if he sees his shadow. If he were a wild groundhog in Michigan, he’d be out of his mind to even step out of his hole for even a second. See, it’s been like 20 degrees around here lately. And yesterday, we got over a foot of snow.
In spite of the snow coming down all day yesterday, our deck was visited by a bunch of critters which came to fill up with corn and sunflower seeds before the storm. Five cardinals showed up, which is a new record for us, including the two, below. Along with them: dozens upon dozens of chickadees, sparrows, finches, a flicker, woodpeckers and a sudden appearance of a flock of starlings. Point is, there were a lot more birds at my house the last two days than groundhogs. But who’d want to see if a certain bird saw its shadow this time of year?
While the birds were eating their fill, some squirrels showed up, including this one.
I liked him a lot.
So I took lots of photos of him.
Based on numbers alone, today would have been better off being named National Squirrel Appreciation Day. But that day was celebrated a few weeks ago. Point is, there were a lot more squirrels running around yesterday and today than ground hogs.
We also have a bunch of muskrats coming to our yard to eat. Consider this group of three muskrats pigging out together before the storm. But who, besides me, would support a national muskrat day to celebrate these guys?
This morning I woke up to this view out our bay window this morning.
The birds continued to come in, including this dove, which hung out near our brush pile for a while first.
The muskrats actually pushed their way from the waters’ edge through the snow–sometimes on top of it, sometimes under it–to get to our backyard today. Another compelling case for national muskrat day. And he even saw his shadow for real.
I also saw deer tracks in the backyard. But we seem to celebrate deer by shooting them in the fall. So it’s not like we could call this national deer day or anything.
Later, as I drove to go cross-country skiing, I saw turkeys crossing through the snow. But we celebrate turkeys on Thanksgiving…by eating them. So nobody would vote for this being national turkey day.
So after great deliberation and a few wintry photos, I resigned to the tradition of calling today Groundhog Day in spite of the fact that the groundhog that was living under our deck–and may very well still be there–is sound asleep like most groundhogs, and the fact that no groundhog except Phil, the pampered ground hog, would possibly see his shadow today.
Okay, it wasn’t my idea but I happen to think it’s a good one, celebrating squirrels one day a year! And according to people who keep track of this kind of thing, Wednesday is National Squirrel Appreciation Day. So here’s to the chubby squirrels.
Here’s to squirrels that aren’t chubby enough.
Here’s to the brave squirrel we named Stumpy.
Here’s to the squirrel that’s more black than red.
Here’s to the squirrel that’s more red than black.
Here’s to the squirrel that would just assume eat alone.
Here’s to the squirrel that happily shares our deck with other critters.
Here’s to the black squirrel with the mostly black tail.
Here’s to the black squirrel with the brownish tail.
Here’s to the black squirrel with the grayish tail.
Here’s to the gray squirrel with the gray tail.
Here’s to the squirrels that hang out with us in the summer.
Here’s to the squirrels that stop by in the winter.
Here’s to the two baby black squirrels that shared a nesting box with a third sibling.
Here’s to the three baby black squirrels on their first day out of their nesting box.
Here’s to the baby fox squirrel that peeked out at us one day.
Here’s to the young fox squirrel sampling an orange…and deciding he liked it.
Here’s to the young fox squirrel checking out a persimmon…and deciding he didn’t like it.
Here’s to the pregnant and nursing squirrels.
And here’s to all the squirrels that spend just a little bit of time with us. Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!
In November, my sister, Aby, said she was coming “home” to spend some time with my mother. Aby lives in Illinois, and during her visit “home”, she got to talking about what “home” really is, to her and to her children. We were at P.F. Changs. It was a bit noisy. I had a beer. And I remember thinking that I hadn’t thought about “home” all that much, and I wonder what got her thinking about “home?”
Afterwards, though, I thought about it for a bit. In fact, for quite a bit. Over time, I came to the conclusion that for me, Aby and our brother, “home” growing up was where Mom and Dad and our siblings were. Going “home” after school was to be with our family. Then, when our mom and dad got divorced in the early 1980s, our “home” was sold. My mom moved into a condo, my dad into a house in another town and I, in college, suddenly didn’t feel I had a home any more. I felt homeless.
Now, looking back at the time of my parents’ divorce, if “home is where the heart is” then I could have adopted the attitude that I had two homes, instead of just one. My mom’s condo could have been considered “home” and my dad’s house in another town could have been my second “home.” But those places didn’t quite seem like home to me.
But why? What else made a house a “home?”
Then I thought about the home I bought in 1996 with my husband, Mark. If ‘home is where the heart is,’ well, let’s just say that Mark has a big heart, loves me as much as my parents (he says more!) and he’s now the person I go home to every day. He is the primary “heart” in my home.
But just looking at that photo it’s obvious there’s a lot more to this place called home. Home is also where two dogs engage in bone wars…
…where a young cat plays with the dogs…
…where an old cat grumps mostly wants to be left alone…
… where animals are tended to until–and including–their dying day…
…where wildlife can get corn and sunflower seeds year-round, whether they come in alone…
…or with a few of their pals.
Home is also where I can wear sweatshirts, jeans and a baseball hat and they don’t have to match because unless I go outside or answer the doorbell, nobody else will see. Home is also where my outfits get even worse when I stain or paint.
Home is where I can ponder cleaning now and again and actually do it even less often.
Home is also an imperfect place whose imperfections I can ignore or fret about–the crack in the kitchen ceiling, the brass light fixtures in the hallway that don’t go with the rest of the house, the crack on the bathroom floor. At the end of the day in my home, it’s the hearts that matter. The rest can–and does–wait.
Home is also the structure whose walls hold the photos of days gone by, capturing brief moments that happened inside and outside these walls. On winter days in particular, I look at those photos and know how blessed I am.
Home is also where what I say or do stays in my home. It’s like being in Los Vegas without all the crowds. And unlike Los Vegas at night, it’s safe in my home–my thoughts are safe, my actions, my words, secrets, and expressing whichever part of me I want to…even if I’m not sure what part that is.
Home is also where I roll over in the middle of the night and find someone who loves me at my side, that same someone I can call cute names without anyone else hearing.
Home is where my step kids come to visit with stories of their travels, their careers, their hopes and dreams. Home is also where we laugh and sometimes cry, and raise a toast to one another in celebration.
Home is also where home-made cards are cherished like no other presents, no matter what home they were made in.
And while only two of the four step kids lived here for any length of time, I hope they know that my home is their home when they need it to be–it’s where they can always come no matter what.
That, of course, got me to wondering how they define home. And so it goes.
Prior to moving my mom into an assisted living place the end of May, my mom had lived alone in a condo for over 20 years. For most of those years, she lived independently and had kept up a place that had been the gathering place when my siblings visited from their distant states. Mom’s condo was also where Mom and my siblings met my future husband, Mark. And it was where my mom’s friends had come to visit. To my mom, her condo was her home.
Several weeks ago, when I told Mom that we’d gotten and accepted an offer on her condominium, I took her to her condo one more time. I had left all the drapes and curtains opened so potential buyers could see the nifty view out the back. The shot above is out her living room window. The one, below, through the basement sliding door.
Mom’s response to seeing the house like that was to shut the curtains “so nobody can see inside.” What she’d feared the most living alone was somebody peaking in at her. So shutting the drapes in every room before she left was apropos.
As she walked back up the basement stairs she turned off the lights behind her, making the place all the more cave-like. She stopped at the main level for one more look around, pausing at the fireplace to reflect upon how her neighbor had cut the tiles for her and how she and I had installed the tiles together. “Yup,” I said, hugging her, “and I think we did a nice job.”
As Mom walked past the dining room, she paused and asked what my plan was for the rest of her furniture. I told her a man was coming to buy her buffet, dining room table and chairs the next day. With that, she opened a random cupboard in the kitchen, made sure the pantry was empty and took one last peak into the one-car garage. She shut and locked the garage door and said she was ready to go. It was oddly unemotional, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think.
The next day I met a man at Mom’s condo who bought up all of her furniture except her monstrous sofa-bed. I didn’t have the heart to tell Mom that due to health concerns, nobody would take her sofa-bed in the basement and that I’d have to get rid of it myself. I charmed the furniture buyer and his friend and Mark and we all worked together to carry the beastly sofa to my car. Twenty minutes later, we paid $15 at the transfer station and dropped off the sofa for good.
The last item to find a home for was her old fashioned dollhouse. Mom had bought a kit many years ago and spent countless hours putting it together, adding a roof, fencing, all sorts of stuff. On the inside, she’d decorated rooms, and she’d bought furniture and miscellaneous pieces over the course of many years. Her request to me was that I try to get some money for it. Mark and I loaded it into my car in the hopes I’d figure out an easy way to make Mom some money.
With the dollhouse in my car, Mark and I had only a final sweep through the condo to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. We opened every cupboard, every drawer, and throughout the house we found all sorts of things I’d overlooked before: an old towel and luffa in the bathroom, a glass pitcher in one cupboard, and an entire cupboard we’d missed on previous sweeps that contained a bunch of very stale crackers and cookies. How’d I missed those? I also loaded up the last of the cleaning supplies, the last waste basket, a few rolls of paper towels, three brooms and a toilet bowl brush. And then I locked the door for the last time, wondering all the while what the new owner would find that I left behind.
Matk and I stopped at GoodWill to donate the items that were donate-able, then went to Kelly’s Consignment in Okemos where we learned we can bring the dollhouse to consign in early November. We unloaded that into my garage temporarily, put the crackers and cookies and toilet brush in the trash. And with that, the job of moving mom’s stuff was done.
The next day I went to the closing and signed on the dotted line. Afterwards, I squared away the water bill and energy bill, and cancelled Mom’s house insurance . Oddly, as I drove to work I felt rather empty. In several strokes of the pen I had made disappear the central gathering place for my brother and sister visits. In the same few strokes, I’d gotten rid of all my obligations related to Mom’s home–no more wondering what might be happening inside her empty condo, no more running off to sign papers for the title people or the realtors, no more calls to the maintenance people about the need to fix this or that on the outside. And no more stuff to sort, store or get rid of.
Mixed with the sense of relief, though, was a type of guilty feeling for having free time on my hands. In fact, when I took last Friday off to go fishing with Holly–who moved to New York on Monday–it took me until the moment captured below to relax and really start enjoying myself.
To make sure I continued getting used to having fun in my new spare time, Mark and I went fishing on Sunday, too. Afterwards, I took Mom to the grocery to get some “necessities.” And that was a good thing, because I was starting to miss her.
Sometimes it’s not only who you know, it’s who other people know. In my case, I know my boss and she knows her mom and her mom is a member of the Book Club of Grosse Ile. And it was because of that set of connections that I was invited to present a one-hour summary of my book to the members of the book club. Immediately, I was glad I dressed in a pant suit.
Inside, we were guided to the meeting room by a man who told us to tell someone else where an extension cord was for our media needs. The room was set up like this. My first thought: “I better not spill anything!”
Within a few minutes, I was introduced to Katie Hartwell, one of the book club members and the person who’d been my primary contact over the last couple of months. Then a waitress walked in to offer me some iced tea or lemonade and I told her I’d brought a bottle of water and was all set. Another person came in with two long, entangled extension cords. While Mark and I set up, ladies started signing in and putting on name tags.
By 1:00 the room held about 35 women, all of whom had given up an hour of their time away from a perfectly blue sky, zero-wind, 75-degree day to listen to me blab on about… I was about to be introduced when one lady pulled me aside and asked me what it was I was going to tell them. “I’m going to talk about my book, which is about raising a whole bunch of pets my husband kept bringing home.” “Oh,” she said. “I had a dog once, but I can’t have a dog where I am.” “Well, I said, have you ever considered getting a hamster?” She thought that was quite funny, and as she told her friend and they both laughed, I wondered if perhaps introducing these ladies to the messy world of my messy animals wasn’t my best idea.
At 1:00, Katie introduced me and I started off by thanking them for allowing me to talk in spite of the fact that my boss’ mom, Pat, wasn’t able to be in attendance due to her rehabilitation from a fall. Then I began my presentation, by t started talking, by giving them two reasons why–per the topic of my talk–Why There Will Always Be Something Underfoot in My House. Reason 1 was that I married a guy with 4 kids and kids like pets, so I figured I’d have a pet or two. I also introduced my first book, From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds. And I showed them the nifty book cover that I designed like my wedding cake such that the bride’s fishing pole was connected to a larger fish than the groom’s fishing pole. I think they liked that.
The second reason I provided for the fact that there will always be something furry underfoot in my house is the fact that Mark had a PhD. in biology and loved critters. And from there, I introduced each pet wed raised over about 18 years, going chapter by chapter, showing photos of my book and reading two sections.
An hour later, I reached my last slides, showing that because of Mark, and as evidenced by Winston, Snickers and Preto, creatures are still coming into my house.
As I began packing up my media and re-tangling the two giant, orange extension cords, I looked up to see a woman asking if I’d brought copies of my book. Over the next 15 minutes, I sold 5 copies, with, which a $100 honorarium was the best way in the world to wrap up my book promotion. Best of all were the comments:
“You’re a regular comedian,” one said.
“That was a great way to start our season,” one said.
“I enjoyed it very much. And I think you’re a saint,” said another.
“I think that it helps that he’s handsome,” said another woman, who caught on to the fact that most of the critters that came into the house were Mark’s fault.
Another woman said, “I was so glad you didn’t show any photos of any snakes or other scary thing.”
Another said she was on her way to see my boss’ mother, recovering from an accident, and that, “I will report favorably.”
As I was chatting, one kindly woman got me a plate of fruit and nifty chocolates that might have been petit fours. I sat down to chat with a few of the women, conscious the entire time of the whiteness of the table and the slipperiness of the melon pieces I attempted to cut with a knife. I cut and nibbled carefully as one of the women told of her dogs and cats, another about how her son had ferrets once upon a time, another about other pets. It seemed they all had had at as least one pet or another, and they were all happy to share.
It was about 2:20 when I thanked them, took the last of my unsold books, and found Mark outside waiting for me on a bench. Nearby was a member of the book club sitting on one of those walkers with a seat, waiting for a ride. She was telling Mark how funny I was, and I thanked her for taking time of out of such a beautiful day to come hear me talk. As Mark and I walked back to the car, she said something about how it was nice to have met the handsome hero of my books. “Too funny,” I whispered to Mark. “One of the other ladies said I was the hero.”
Mark and I drove the two-hour drive home and after tending to critters, Mark poured two glasses of champagne.
We raised a glass to my boss, Dina, and her mom, Pat, for inviting me to speak at the Country Club on Friday. And we raised a glass to Katie Hartwell for getting to the event early to help us set up, and for writing a nifty little blurb in The News-Herald on Sunday. We raised a glass to all the ladies of the Book Club of Grosse Ile, with an extra sip for the ones that thought I was funny. Finally, we raised a glass to the end of the book promotion. What’s next, we’ll have to wait and see.
At some point a writer has to start writing again which means book marketing must come to an end. My book Something Furry Underfoot came out as an e-book in May 2013 and a paperback in September 2013 and I’ve done marketing on and off since then. My second to last marketing event was a short, fun interview on Pamela S. Thibodeux’s awesome site. The interview was her Saturday Spotlight on September 13.
On September 26 I will end my marketing of Something Furry Underfoot at the Book Club of Grosse Isle. The Club meets at the Grosse Isle Golf and Country Club. I was invited to speak by my boss’s mother who is a member. The bummer is that my boss’s mother fell while visiting my boss last weekend and is undergoing rehab. And that means that I won’t get to meet the very person that is responsible for setting up my last promotional opportunity for Something Furry Underfoot. That hardly seems fair. More on that in my next posting.
The topic of my one-hour talk at the Golf and Country Club is: Why There Will Always be Something Furry Underfoot in My House. Surely, you know the answer to that after reading the posting about the Thousand Dollar Kitten. The black kitten named Preto is now fully recovered from his botfly bite (and the tapeworms that followed afterwards) and an absolute joy to play with.
So this is my heads up to myself, perhaps, that marketing will be done for my book soon and I will have to choose to either start another book or venture off into a new hobby, like underwater basket weaving. I’ve not done underwater basket weaving yet and I hear there’s a venue for that somewhere tropically warm. In the meantime, watch for more photos and occasional blog postings about nature, pets and life. And watch for fun stuff on my FB sites, too.