Wednesday wanderings at our animal house

This morning two adult deer were in my side yard as I looked out the kitchen window while making coffee. Last week, they had a visit in my woodsy backyard. This may not sound strange, but I live in the suburbs, not the country. Since we moved back in the late 1990s, these deer, usually between nine and fifteen in number, have roamed an area referred to as Southpark. As more houses have gone up, the deer have fewer places to go. More often, I see them on one of the greenway walking trails, yet they do still venture into neighborhoods.

Not to be outdone, we also have three barred owls that come for visit about twice a month. Their frequency of visitation is directly related to whether we spotted rabbits or chipmunks the days before. The many squirrels we have are too fast for them. The other day, only one of the owls was sitting in a Crepe Myrtle tree out this same side window. Since we have bird feeders over there, a number of smaller birds swooped down and pecked at the owl driving the annoyed creature off. Owls do fancy the occasional bird, but these folks decided not to be reactive.

We do see red-tailed hawks with about the same frequency as the owls, again related to our little rabbit and chipmunk friends. But, in addition to the birds coming to feed, we also see occasional brown snakes, turtles, and a rare opossum or two. Some of our neighbors have seen copperheads, but we have not primarily due to the number of squirrels. I read once that squirrels have a way of making snakes uncomfortable or even nervous. I think it relates to them making themselves seem larger and emitting a nervous wave of energy. But, do not quote me on that.

The other day, we had a large fox sunning in the grassy part of our backyard. He may have come before, but when we had our dog, who passed a few months ago, he would chase something like that off. That may also be the reason for the increased deer sightings. While we have not seen one, we have seen on neighborhood sites that some coyotes are wandering around. As we humans build further out into the forests, we uproot more of these kinds of animals. As for Mr. Fox, he decided to move on when we paid more attention to him.

My worst story, though, is when we heard what turned out to be an owl and an opossum fighting outside our bedroom window. We did not know the results of said battle, until about three weeks later, a smell permeated from beneath our deck. The opossum lost the battle and crawled under our deck to escape the owl who had fatally wounded it. Learning that it would take $1,000 and a day or two for animal control to get out to our house, I crawled under the house with long garden gloves and a pre-pandemic mask equipped with a hoe and a trash bag. Nasty does not define the situation very well.

My wife was happy for the removal, but she asked why I used her best gardening gloves? I can assure you the creature was not just “playing ‘possum.” I think I tripled bagged it and threw some moth balls in as well. Yuck.

So, this the end of my episode on Animal Kingdom, suburban version. What are some of your stories?


Friday food, follies and foibles – mid April edition

Happy Friday all. With no lengthy topic in mind, let me throw a few food based follies and foibles at you on this mid-April Friday.

We celebrated my wife’s birthday at one of those Japanese restaurants where the chef puts on theatre at your table as he cooks your meal. The sheer amount of food could feed three people instead of one. With leftovers, it might just in fact provide for three meals. It is good as well as fun and is a favorite place for birthday dinners.

Speaking of cooking Asian food, we were watching one of our favorite old murder mystery series we discovered courtesy of Australia named “Murder Call.” Since the murder was at a restaurant, one of the two lead detectives asked his counterpart if she was going home to order Chinese takeout like she usually does. She responded, “You know Cooking is a city in China” referencing her preference to not do so.

Even though it is not around the Super Bowl, there are a number of good commercials airing. One is about a healthy dog food in a large pouch which you refrigerate after opening. A woman is over for a date as the man is cooking dinner. Offering her help, she reaches in the refrigerator for something and starts teasing him about refrigerating the dog food. After a few seconds of this, we flip to the end scene where she has just been shown the door as he the man hugs his little dog saying something about her not being good enough for us.

On the poignant side, the regional supermarket chain Publix has the best human-interest commercials, so good you don’t know they are about shopping at Publix until the end. One that is airing now is a series of people cooking dinner for family, friends and dates. It shows them nervously trying new things on their dining guests, only to witness their guests surprise and appreciation at the end scenes of how good it tastes. My favorite is a date declaring “This is good” to her unsure cook.

Finally, cooking for your arriving in-laws for the first time is daunting. As my parents traveled up from Florida, my wife announced about twenty minutes after putting a cake in the oven, “I can’t remember if I put in two cups of flour or one,” with the recipe needing the latter. The cake overflowed in the oven and smelled terrific, so there we were on the floor, scraping off the encrusted and delicious spill-over dough which now tasted like cookies. My mother walks into the house thirty minutes later saying “Someone has been baking!” Well, sort of.

Messing up a cooking dish can be more endearing than pulling it off. It made for a great story, one that is still fun to tell. My wife tells it best as she loves to make fun of her misadventures. What are some of your funny food stories?

Touring Canada and the US with my sons (a priceless reprise)

I was looking to repeat an old music post and came across this wonderful memory. It is definitely worthy of a repeat. Our musical blogging friend Clive may enjoy some of their I-phone music recommendations toward the end.

The MasterCard commercials which speak of the cost of various purchases and then conclude with something special you bought with the word “priceless” was defining my week with my two sons. Oldest Son graduated from college in early May and we decided to take the opportunity to pick up Youngest Son from a summer college term in Vermont as a good reason for a tour. So, Oldest Son and I flew into Cleveland and rented a SUV. We had an absolute ball at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a must see, spending about four hours there listening and watching.

From Cleveland we drove into Canada through Niagara Falls to see one of the great wonders of the world. Note to US citizens, it is much better viewing from the Canadian side. From there we ventured around Lake Ontario to Toronto, which is one of the great cities on our continent. We did many tourist things, but we capped it off by attending a Second City Comedy show. This stage had been home to Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murrey, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, Mike Myers, Tina Fey and many other comedians.

From there we ventured over to Ottawa, which is a pretty cool city as Canada’s capitol. The architecture is terrific and it has a good vibe. It is also a good walking city. And, before heading down to pick up Youngest Son, we went to Montreal where we had been before. Our trip there was brief, but for US citizens who want to experience a taste of Europe, go to Montreal and Quebec City. The architecture of the churches alone are magnificent in Montreal, but there is so much more to do and see.

Youngest Son goes to college in Burlington, VT which is a very eclectic place. It reminds me of Asheville, NC which is in my home state. Since, Youngest Son is even more eclectic than all of us, he is truly in the right place. He has a favorite tea house which is where we met him before loading up the SUV. If you picture three tall guys being attacked by boxes and luggage, that would be what we looked like in the van.

We ventured south breaking the trip into two days. We went to a wonderful hole in the wall Italian place in New Jersey for dinner and it was terrific respite. Also, we stopped at a German restaurant in the Virginia mountains appropriately named “Edelweiss.” But, the best part of the two-part journey was being with my guys. We traded puns, observed beautiful scenery and just had a great time hanging out. We had some neat conversations on a range of topics.

We went through both sons’ I-Phone music playlists which was neat. Both are very global in their tastes, so we listened to great music from a Blues artist in Israel (Dani Dorchin), a Japanese singer (Yoko Kanno) who sounds like Melissa Etheridge, several rock and roll Irish bands (The Dreadknoughts and Flogging Molly, who is actually from the US, with Irish roots), a very good heavy metal band from Australia called Wolfmother, an instrumental duo with a cellist and guitarist called Montana Skies (very unique sound), and two Scottish folk bands called Old Blind Dogs and The Silly Wizards, both of whom are excellent. We went through some bigger names with Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Billy Joel and Muddy Waters to name a few, plus many others while catching some Big Band/ Ballads from Count Basie and Benny Goodman and some classical stuff on the radio, so we covered the gamut.*

The guys loved the fact I liked hearing their music and liked a great deal of it. I had heard some of it before, but this was extra special as we had so much time to go deeper into the playlists. We had a big time and it leaves me with great memories. I get a sense they feel the same. It was definitely worth the expense as what it bought was priceless.

*By the way, my daughter has an eclectic and wide range of musical tastes as well ranging from Broadway shows to country to Frank Sinatra to pop to indie rock, et al.

Roy Orbison – a few quick poignant stories

I was watching a biopic on the singer Roy Orbison who sang “Pretty woman”, “Crying”, “Only the lonely”, etc. the other night. Orbison influenced so many artists who grew up as teens listening to his great voice cover songs of loneliness, love, and lust.  Two examples that occurred in the 1980s reveal the respect others had for him.

First, several musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, kd lang, and James Burton (one the best guitarist and collaborators you never heard of) did a concert with Orbison in small venue, recorded in black and white. It is well worth the watch.

Second, several names you will also recognize joined with Orbison to form The Traveling Wilburys – guys like George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne (founder and lead of ELO). The rag tag band had the number one album right in the middle of a totally different music era ranging from big hair bands to pop groups.

But, three stories from the documentary intrigued me, making me smile and tear-up at the same time. Let me start with the saddest one.

The song “Pretty woman” was written in one afternoon about his first wife Claudette, inspired by a friend who was sitting with Orbison as she walked out to go shopping. The line of “pretty woman walking down the street” led to the song. This would be his biggest hit, but sadly he and Claudette would later divorce, reconcile and divorce again before tragedy struck. She was killed in motorcycle crash leaving behind their two kids and a still distraught Orbison.

Apparently, he was quite funny and could do all the lines to Monty Python movies and would keep people like Petty, Dylan, Lynne and Harrison in stitches during studio sessions with The Traveling Wilbury’s. Ironically, Harrison produced a movie with one the Python guys called “Time Bandits” which makes you smile throughout. Having watched footage of Orbison over the years with his sad countenance and sad songs, I would have never had guessed he was considered funny.

Lastly, kismet exists. The movie “Blue Velvet” is a cult classic, one reason is the soundtrack including several Orbison songs. One of those is “In dreams,” the first stanza of which is as follows:

“I close my eyes then I drift away
Into the magic night, I softly say
A silent prayer like dreamers do
Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you.”

Bono of U2 told the story of how he was listening to the Blue Velvet soundtrack and dreamed that night of Orbison’s songs. He said he also dreamed of a song that seemed like an Orbison song, but wasn’t. It was one he had created. So, the next morning, he wrote down and played a song that later became “She’s a mystery to me” which he formulated with guitarist the Edge later that day.

That night after a performance in England, Bono got a knock on the door and his aide said Roy Orbison is here with his wife Barbara (his second) and he wanted to meet you. Orbison said his kids loved U2 and he wanted to hear what it was all about. Bono said he would love to work with Orbison, to which Orbison asked if he had any songs they could do. Bono said, in fact, he does and played “She’s a mystery to me” for Orbison which they recorded and released in 1989.

Sadly, they were working on an album called “Mystery girl”, when Orbison died at the age of only 52. He and Barbara were in Paris and needed to go to an event in England, but Orbison said he needed to fly home for some commitments and meet her there. Barbara said when they spoke on the phone after he landed in the US that was the last time they spoke.

I was floored by this last story and truly saddened by the first one. But, I am glad that the singer of songs was a funny man. When one of your greatest songs is “Crying” which we all have done at some point, it does your heart good to hear he liked to laugh and make others laugh as well. And, for Monty Python fans out there, to honor Orbison, think of the bit remembered as “It’s just a flesh wound.” My lads could recite this in its entirety with Orbison.



Poor man’s sandwich

With my wife’s permission to tell on her, I caught her eating what she calls a “poor man’s sandwich” yesterday. Are you ready for this? White bread, surrounding layers of ketchup and mayonnaise. I will let that sink in. If she threw in pickle relish, she would have a Thousand Island sandwich.

You see my wife grew up in houseful of eight, counting her Aunt Mary. They got by on my father-in-law’s modest salary as a service representative and a large garden. So, food budgets were made to last. For example, my wife and her little brother got the drumsticks off the chicken and only one piece of meat at meals. So, she got by on things like the poor man’s sandwich.

She was also known to eat mayonnaise sandwiches. Maybe that is why she grew up so thin. Her two older brothers and sister got more of the food than the youngest two. It should be noted her aunt lived to be age 99 eating mostly a diet of biscuits as her main entree. So, homemade biscuits are truly manna from heaven and do not cost too much. And, after her teeth burned up in a fire, she would gum those biscuits to submission.

Now that my wife and I are empty nesters again, we don’t have as large a food budget or appetites. We split entrees from restaurants, we will eat a baked sweet potato or Idaho potato for dinner, we will eat lots of salads and leftovers and eat brinner (breakfast for dinner). Last night, we had quiche as we had too many eggs remaining in the refrigerator. And, since we watch our carbs, one of our favorite sandwiches does not include bread – take a knife, a jar of peanut butter and a banana and you are all set.

What are some of your poor man’s food choices from your past or today? How do you spread that food budget?

Friday – good day for Chinese food

The folklore used to be to eat fish on Fridays. I don’t know if it began as a Catholic thing, but I do know even public elementary schools served fish as an entree.

To us Chinese food is the menu of choice on Friday, most often takeout food at night. Yet, we have started a new trend to go to lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant on Friday and swap boxed leftovers at night. That will be the plan for today.

As we have aged, our appetites are smaller, so we end up sharing a lot of food. Splitting entrees and sinful indulgences like French Fries (or chips for our English friends) helps us manage our weight and budget. Cooking for two is harder than it seems, so we need to work on that more as our youngest son moved back out after his COVID retreat.

Chinese food lends itself to sharing, usually lasting two meals for two people. My wife will eat leftovers once, but twice is a bridge too far. So, ideally if we can finish up the leftovers sooner, the better it will be. Otherwise, I will be eating leftovers for days, which I often do.

Back to that fish thing. My wife grew up Catholic, but is more of a lukewarm fan of fish. She prefers fish that is not “too fishy” tasting, so mild fish is the secret. But, leftovers of fish are a no-no to her.

So, Chinese food it is on Friday. Note, we do not do this every Friday, but twice a month is not a stretch. Have a great weekend. Enjoy your food of choice. And, eat your leftovers.

This Elvis is an acquired taste, but well worth it – an encore performance

I wrote the following post about ten years ago after my wife and I saw Elvis Costello in concert. Last night, I saw a PBS special which showed Costello performing with Burt Bacharach, who he wrote fifteen or so songs with. Bacharach died earlier this month.

If you ever get a chance to see Elvis Costello in concert, please give him a shot as you won’t regret it. He has an abundance of well crafted, sometimes bizarre songs, that are very entertaining both for the music and lyrics.

When we saw him two years ago, he had this large spinning wheel of his play list of some 40 or so songs and he invited someone from the audience to do the spinning. On occasion, he would correct the spin, as he did not want to play his encore too soon. But, his small band, provides quite a big, pulsating sound and you will leave the concert spent.

His biggest hit is one of his more straightforward songs – “Alison.” His words of lament and haunting name of Alison make this a powerful song that resonates with many:

I’m not going to get too sentimental
like those other sticky valentines,
’cause I don’t know if you’ve been loving some body.
I only know it isn’t mine.
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.

A more fun song is called “(The Angels want to wear my) Red Shoes” which is about angels getting bored and wanting to paint the town again.

Oh I used to be disgusted
and now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

One of my favorites of his is “Brilliant Mistake” which is looking back with regrets over what the title implies. Here is a neat sampling of his wordsmithing:

Now I try hard not to become hysterical
But I’m not sure if I am laughing or crying
I wish that I could push a button
And talk in the past and not the present tense
 And watch this hurtin’ feeling disappear
Like it was common sense

Costello has penned some interesting songs that are quite clever in how he hides some true meaning. “Oliver’s Army” is usually on a short list of his great songs as he comes down against war, by starting out so simply:

Don’t start me talking I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I’m putting the world to right

Some other great songs that I enjoy include: “Man Out of Time” about a bigwig who no longer is such, “New Lace Sleeves,” “Everyday I Write the Book,” and “Watching the Detectives” which is played as the soundtrack for the PBS show “History Detectives.” Yet, I want to close with my favorite three Costello songs, one which he did not write.

My third favorite is his best concert song, “Pump It Up,” which he usually does after a softer song to get the crowd rolling. The words here pale in comparison to the beat, but it is a very catchy tune:

I’ve been on tenterhooks, ending in dirty looks,
list’ning to the Muzak, thinking ’bout this ‘n’ that.
She said that’s that. I don’t wanna chitter-chat.
Turn it down a little bit, or turn it down flat.

Pump it up when you don’t really need it.
Pump it up until you can feel it.

My second favorite is “Radio Radio” about how kids blindly follow what they are being told on the radio. He wants them to think for themselves. Here are a few lyrics:

Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice
’cause they think that it’s treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.

However, my favorite of his songs is one he did not write; it was written by Nick Lowe, a British songwriter – “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding.” I wrote a post early last year with this title as my theme, which can be viewed with the attached link: I won’t belabor this song, as its meaning is clear in the title. Lowe’s writing and Costello’s singing address squarely what is wrong about talking about peace not war? What is wrong about talking of love not hate? What is so wrong with trying to understand our differences, not use them to divide?

I will grant you, Elvis Costello is an acquired taste. But, listen to the music first, then listen to the words. You won’t regret it. And, please forgive me if I did not list your favorite Costello song. There are many to choose from.

I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then – an encore post

I have always been a big fan of interesting song lyrics. The coining of a phrase that says more than the few words used in the song make it memorable.The above title comes from a Bob Seger song “Against the Wind” as he laments it was more exciting not knowing some things when you were younger about love and life. The following sample lyrics are not necessarily my favorites, but they are a few that represent my fascination with good wordsmithing.

“See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded,” is a line from Jim Croce’s song “Operator.” He is struggling to find the number of an old girlfriend who ran off with his “best old ex-friend Ray.” Since it was written on a matchbook, it means it was probably written down in a bar, maybe when  she let him know she was leaving.

“Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells,” comes from Gordon Lightfoot’s “If you could read my mind.” He has several like this in the song, but to me he describes the cheesy romance novels you can buy in a drugstore where the hero saves the day. This is a melancholy song about people who can’t reclaim the love they once had, so the hero references are fantasy and not reality.

“Clowns to the left of me, joker’s to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you,” is a Stealers Wheel song whose title is the last phrase of the song lyric. The song can mean so many things, but it shows that we are in this together and we need to ignore the fools on either side telling us what to do. It is also a good metaphor for our political stalemate.

Bob Dylan wrote and sang “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry.” The song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary’s rendition sung on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial beside Martin Luther King is called “Blowing in the Wind.”  There are great references throughout this song, but I like this one the most as African-Americans have been maltreated for so long and it seemed to resonate more.

When people think of Rush, they do not first think of lyrics, but their many songs are replete with excellent wordsmithing. In the song “Free will” the words that resonate with me are “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” I found this very poignant as many do not realize that by not doing something, they are making a choice. A good example is choosing not to vote believing it makes no difference. Yet, by not voting, the lesser of two candidates can be elected making a problem worse.

Of course, no list would be complete without some reference to a Beatles song. In “Lady Madonna,” Paul McCartney sings “Lady Madonna, children at your breast, it’s a wonder how you manage to feed the rest.”  This line speaks volumes of the difficulties in raising children, but especially in poverty or near poverty when you are a single parent.

Let me close with romantic song from David Gates of “Bread.” The lyric goes “When my love for life has all run dry, you’ll come and pour yourself on me.”  This lyric from the song “If” resonates with me as we pick each other up. He has done all he can and needs help, so his lover comes and pour herself on him to bring his spirits back to life.

I would love to hear your reaction to these and for you to share some of your favorites. These were top of mind, so I have overlooked many great lyrics.

A surprise guest

My wife and I like to watch a show called “The Masked Singer,” where various actors, singers, comedians, news presenters or athletes dress up in elaborate costumes and sing their hearts out. It is a fun show as we try to guess the identities of the performers before they are unmasked when they are knocked off. It started its ninth season last night and its first reveal stunned everyone.

The gnome character was the first reveal and after guesses of Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and one other, to everyone’s surprise a 97 year old Dick Van Dyke emerged. The judges were all stunned and some were in tears. He did an admirable job of “When you’re smiling,” but after his identity was known he gave us a rendition of the Mary Poppins’ song he sang in the movie “Supercalafragiliciousexpealodocious.“ I know I spelled it wrong, but felt I would leave my attempt here.

He added to the performance by dancing with his 97 year old legs. We were tickled as much as the audience was. Thinking of Mary Poppins, the famous star Anthony Hopkins once said who cares if Van Dyke’s British accent was horrible, his was one of the most amazing performances ever as Bert the chimney sweep.

If you can find footage of his performance it is worth the view.

Friday follies – February 10, 2023 edition

It still amazes me as I type in 2023 on the date. It cannot mean I am getting any older, as I strive for the Benjamin Button strategy of getting younger with each passing year. Of course, I will not look like Brad Pitt as I look younger.

Someone once told me what the movie “Benjamin Button” is about saying it is like “Forrest Gump” in reverse. Too funny. It is not as entertaining as Mr. Gump’s movie, but it is still interesting. If Gump were run in reverse, Forrest would get his leg braces late in life and get worse after he took them off.

The comedian Larry the Cable Guy got some pushback from his fans when he used a pretty funny reference to congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s antics at the State of the Union address. Larry noted, “This pic reminds me of every comedians x girlfriend coming to their show and sitting in the back 6 days after the breakup.” It should be noted he said after the pushback he was not being critical of Greene herself. I will leave the interpretation in your hands.

Speaking of the State of the Union, Senator Mitt Romney was none too kind to the vast misrepresentation of the resume of incoming congressman George Santos. What amazes me is how such misrepresentation could have stood scrutiny of any vetting process. As of this writing, the Republican Party from his district is pursuing legal action to have him removed from office for gross misrepresentation and unreported wrongdoing. This is on top of his being looked at by the House Ethics committee.

Maybe we need folks like Forrest Gump and Larry the Cable Guy in Congress. They certainly could represent themselves better than these two congressional representatives and others who are top of mind. Maybe after an inane bill is proposed, we could hear Congressman Gump say “stupid is as stupid does” and watch it go down into defeat. Or, maybe Congressman Larry could bring the necessary bit of humor to lighten people up.

It should be noted that former comedian Al Franken was actually a very informed and credible Senator who did his homework. This was before his acting irresponsibly was caught on tape and led to his resignation. To his credit, he did resign, which is at least recognition he screwed up.

We could use fewer screw-ups, but more mea culpas would at least be a step in the right direction. It should be noted that long before he ran for president, Senator John McCain was censured for being too close to an unscrupulous banker and donor during the Savings & Loan crisis. So, there is a place for such scrutiny. McCain screwed up, paid a price but lived to serve another day.

We need our elected officials to be among our better angels not our worse demons. They at least should act with that purpose in mind. Truth, civility, diligence, accountability and responsibility are words that need to be remembered. Name calling, denigration, labelling are not admirable attributes.