A Picture of Winter

Winter scene
No, this is not the actual view out my back window, but you get the idea.

Through the lens of my upstairs back window is a picture of Winter, staring back at me like an old tintype photograph of washed out objects reduced to blacks, whites, and grays, frigid and still. I complain about winter like everyone else, in part so I feel normal, with normal-person grievances like extreme cold and icy roads.

But I love winter. I always have. Continue reading “A Picture of Winter”

Over My Head: A Halloween Ghost Story

One bag of candy.

Over My Head: A Halloween Ghost StoryThat’s all I bought to hand out at Halloween. I live on a block in Old Town with only five townhouses on one side shaded by giant old oak trees. The other side is taken up with spare brick commercial buildings, which were shuttered on Halloween night.

It’s a lonely block for trick-or-treaters, I rarely get more than two or three groups. So I only ever bother getting one bag of candy – Mini Snickers bars – chosen with leftovers in mind.

That night, I was washing dinner dishes when I heard the first knock. I grabbed the Mini Snickers and walked to the front door. Continue reading “Over My Head: A Halloween Ghost Story”

4 Reasons Why Autumn is the Best Season

red leaves on tree in Autumn
Autumn can’t come soon enough for me.

As of this past Sunday, summer officially ended.

And I’m glad.

Sure, summer’s fun. Like most people, I travelled a bit, took fun trips to Block Island and New York City, and I visited my mother a few times.

But Autumn is the best season of the year.

Why? I’ll suspend my no-more-list-posts rule to give you 4 reasons. Continue reading “4 Reasons Why Autumn is the Best Season”

Organic Farm Odyssey

Spiral Path Farm's "Open Farm Day" featured a mini farmers market
Spiral Path Farm’s “Open Farm Day” featured a mini farmers market

Last weekend, while visiting my mom in my hometown, I joined my oldest friend, “FC,” on a visit to Spiral Path Farm for its “Open Farm Day.”

Sounds like a harmless enough excursion, right? Getting there was another story.

Spiral Path is located in western Perry County, PA, about a 45-minute drive from my mom’s house. The 255-acre farm has been a 100% certified organic operation since 1994. For the past 20 years, the farm has offered “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) memberships. Continue reading “Organic Farm Odyssey”

Mosquitoes – Avoiding Summer’s Biggest Buzz-kill

Ain’t summer grand? It brings us warm, long days with lots of sunshine and greenery and outdoor fun…

"Nom, nom, nom," says this happy mosquito.
“Nom, nom, nom!” says this happy mosquito.

…and millions of blood-sucking mosquitoes.

That’s right. This Debbie Downer is duty-bound to warn you about the biggest buzz-kill of the season.

No, not me.

The mosquito, a.k.a. Culicidae or “little fly.”

But warning – the title of this blog post is misleading. This post is not terribly informative, and I won’t offer a list of ways to avoid mosquitoes, either, since I’ve recently sworn off the evils of list posts (but I do offer links to more info below).

I’m mostly here to whine about mosquito bites.

As I write this, I’m dying to scratch the latest bite on the tip of my left elbow… The one I got – along with three other mosquito bites – after I spray-soaked my arms and legs this past weekend with Off! Deep Woods® insect repellent containing 25% DEET.

Which ought to be called “On!” Because the mosquitoes in my tiny back yard pay little mind to silly insect repellent.

Before I am sued by the SC Johnson Company, let me emphasize that it was me, after all, that the mosquitoes feasted on as I pruned and weeded my small plot of ground. It’s well known that mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others.

My mortal enemies illustrated.
My mortal enemies, illustrated.

Mosquitoes love me. The female ones, that is, because they’re the ones who suck blood so they can develop their eggs. They’re so happy to have me back on the east coast. They made it clear during my first summer back in the D.C. area three years ago, after I’d lived in Southern Arizona for over a decade.

I went for years in Tucson without experiencing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are there, but only for a few weeks during the summer monsoon season, and in relatively small numbers.

So when I moved back to the swamp-like conditions of the Washington, D.C. area, mosquitoes swarmed on me that first summer like white on rice.

I’ll never forget it. I would spend maybe five minutes outside watering flowers at my new place in Alexandria, and walk inside feeling the sting of several bites.

The bites swelled, a lot; I could practically watch the pink welts form on my legs and arms.

I visited my hometown in Pennsylvania one weekend that summer. I remember one of my sisters recoiling at the sight of bug bites patterned across both of my legs like polka dots.

My legs once looked like this poor guy's back.
My legs once looked like this poor guy’s back.

“Are you sure that’s not a rash?” she asked.

“I’m sure.”

I learned to rush through my flower-watering routine outside; I used bug spray but it didn’t seem to work. Mosquitoes still bit me – they followed me inside, too, and kept biting. I remember the day a mosquito came inside the house and bit me on the side of my face.

It was my low point of that summer – I felt like I had been branded, like the big, dumb, fresh piece of meat that I’d become to the buzzing blood-suckers of Old Town.

I couldn’t understand it; I grew up on the east coast and I don’t remember ever reacting that much to mosquito bites in the past.

But while living in the desert, I learned a thing or two about allergies, and I knew that the itch of mosquito bites is your basic allergic reaction (to the mosquito’s saliva).

My working theory – unverified due to laziness – is that I’d lost much of my tolerance to mosquito bites during my years in Arizona, but that my tolerance would return over time.

That’s proven to be mostly true.

These days, I use less insect repellent and it works a little better. Or, I just cover up. In the early mornings when I come home from the gym, I make sure I’m wearing long sweat pants and a long-sleeved windbreaker before I water my flowers outside. It looks stupid, and it’s hot, but it’s been my best defense.

I’m more hopeful after the news of last week. There’s a simple way to keep mosquitoes away while you’re relaxing outside – run a fan, preferably an oscillating one.

Mosquito larva need water to develop, so avoid standing water near your home.
Mosquito larva need water to develop, so avoid standing water near your home.

Mosquitoes hate wind, and apparently they’re slow suckers whose top speed is only 1.5 miles per hour. So they’re easily thwarted by a fan, plus the fan disperses the carbon dioxide we exhale that attracts mosquitoes.

This gives me hope that I can entertain on my back patio without anxiety – I’ll just pull out a tacky drugstore-bought fan and blow hot air on my guests!

I kid about mosquitoes. But the truth is, mosquitoes carry numerous deadly diseases – malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever – that kill millions of people every year throughout the world.

Americans are not immune to the risks. Mosquitoes can spread several types of encephalitis here. West Nile Virus, though not as serious, is a growing problem since it first appeared in the U.S. in 1999.

So do make efforts to protect yourself from mosquitoes by using insect repellent, and minimize their risk by eliminating factors like standing water near your home. You can find more information here, here, and here.

Don’t just be a Debbie Downer like me. Take control of mosquito threats, and make the most of summer. It really is a great time of year!


The Squirrel Days of Summer (Photo)

Squirrel on fence -- 3 July 2013 -- circled

Forget dog days. The “squirrel” days of summer in the D.C. metro area are upon us — hot, sticky, heavy heat that knocks out even the most industrious little rodent, like the squirrel that lives in my back yard.

Here he is on my fence, where he’s normally sitting up all sprightly, his bushy tail twitching like a nervous question mark. Not today. He’s whipped, and you would be too if you walked around in this muck. Temperatures hovered around 90, and humidity hit 80%.

I felt sorry for the squirrel, but not too sorry to stick around and share his pain. The morning after I took this photo, I booked out of Alexandria and drove north to be with my mom for the 4th of July holiday.

Which means this week’s blog is abbreviated, about nothing but a tuckered out squirrel… I’ll resume with a normal post next week.

FireworksHappy Fourth of July to one and all!!


June is National I-Can’t-Handle-It-All! Month

A favorite device of freelance writers and bloggers looking for something to write about is to check calendars for awareness causes of the month.

June 2013 calendarI’ve done that in the past, writing about National Parks Month (August), and I’m sure I’ll do it again as I stretch the bounds of relevancy to fill cyberspace with my blog posts.

But I won’t do it for the month of June. No way. June is asking too much of me.

I’ve decided I don’t even like June anymore. June is not only extremely demanding but kind of a hypocrite.

June is like that toxic friend I should’ve parted ways with long ago.

Just look at this list of awareness causes I’ve compiled (i.e. copied and pasted) for the month of June:

  • Adopt A Shelter Cat Month
  • ALS Awareness Month
  • Audio Book Month
  • Cancer From The Sun Month
  • Celibacy Awareness Month
  • Child Vision Awareness Month
  • Children’s Awareness Month
  • Effective Communications Month
  • Entrepreneurs Do It Yourself Marketing Month
  • Fireworks Safety Month
  • Great Outdoors Month
  • Home Safety Month
  • International Childhood Cancer Campaign Month
  • International Men’s Month
  • Lane Courtesy Month
  • National Accordion Awareness Month
  • National Aphasia Awareness Month
  • National Bathroom Reading Month
  • National Candy Month
  • National Caribbean-American Heritage Month
  • National Dairy Alternative Month
  • National Dairy Month
  • National Family Month
  • National Flag Month
  • National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month
  • National LGBT Pride Month
  • National Hunger Awareness Month
  • National Iced Tea Month
  • National Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month
  • National Papaya Month (also in September)
  • National Rivers Month
  • National Rose Month
  • National Safety Month
  • National Seafood Month
  • National Smile Month (From May 18 to June 17)
  • National Soul Food Month
  • National Steakhouse Month
  • National Student Safety Month
  • National Tire Safety Month
  • Perennial Gardening Month
  • Pharmacists Declare War on Alcoholism Month
  • Potty Training Awareness Month
  • Professional Wellness Month
  • Rebuild Your Life Month
  • Sports America Kids Month
  • Turkey Lover’s Month
  • Vision Research Month
  • World Infertility Month

[sources: http://womeninbusiness.about.com/od/diversityeventcalendars/a/nat-month-june.htm; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_commemorative_months; http://www.epromos.com/education/calendars/]

Come on, June! Which it is? Do I enjoy my dairy this month, or my dairy alternative? If I participate in the great outdoors, aren’t I also risking cancer from the sun?

steak and seafood dinnerHow can you expect me to think about hunger when you also want me to be aware of steakhouses and candy, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and papaya, and seafood, and soul food, AND loving turkey?

Speaking of loving, how can I be aware of celibacy while also focusing my awareness on children and family? And world infertility? And on INTERNATIONAL MEN?


I love international men, June. Just ask my friends.

Here’s the thing. If you’re so hung up on “effective communications,” why do you insist on throwing this giant list of tasks and issues and food groups at me, at once?

That is not effective communications, June.

Even worse, you only give me 30 days to pay attention to all of it. You should also be National Overwhelming Month, because that’s what I’m feeling right now!

And what’s with the bathroom fetish? Shining a bright light on bathroom reading and potty training is gross.

Bacon the catOh and thanks for reminding me that I’m allergic to cats, which I love. I’d adopt a shelter cat if I could.

On top of all that, you expect me to smile? That takes some nerve, June. Especially when National Smile Month is from May 20 to June 20 – what is that? I call BS, June, because those dates don’t even constitute a calendar month!

God, you exhaust me. Every time we get together, I end up feeling this way. And all of the downer stuff you want me to dwell on, every year. It never changes.

Your obsession with safety, and diseases and debilitating conditions… Don’t get me wrong, June, I’m very sympathetic to these things. Bad stuff can happen to any of us at any time.

It’s just that one minute you’re up and the next minute you’re down. I never know what I’ll get from you, June. I’m tired of the drama.

So you know what? I think you and I need to go our separate ways. We just don’t work anymore.

My mother won’t like it, since her birthday is in the middle of you. I’ll still visit her and bring her a gift, I’ll just ignore you. Because, June, you don’t really deserve my kind regard and understanding anymore.

I’m moving on.

Jersey ShoreI’m going to skip you and go straight to July. Now that is one happy, grounded month that knows what it wants – long, hot days when people have cookouts, celebrate the 4th, and go to the beach.

It will be my favorite month from now on.

At least until the day I look up July’s list of awareness causes.


My Rant About Spring and Selfish Wildlife

320px-Hatchling_birds_in_nest_with_eggsI know what you’re thinking: One, how could I – how could anyone – complain about spring? It’s like saying you don’t like flowers, or sunshine, or life.

Two, how could I complain about wildlife? I live in the city, although there are plenty of wild animals around, if you look.

Most of the year they’re fine. But in spring, the wildlife around here just bugs me. It’s that time of year when animals are all reproductive and emo and in your face with their needs. They’re selfish.

These are my main complaints about wildlife in spring:

Bird Gangs

Many_black_birds_on_telephone_wireThe birds on my street tick me off every spring. 

I couldn’t tell you which kind, because most of the year they’re quiet and furtive and I don’t even see them. But in spring, neighborhood birds turn hyperactive and form gangs that wake me up every morning at 4am with their infernal screeching.

These birds don’t herald a spring morning by chirping sweetly.

They scream.

I like to open my bedroom window at night to enjoy the springtime air. But that also means I have to put up with these feathered-dinosaur brutes on my block. They make such a racket that I have to get up and close my window to go back to sleep. I even run a gray-noise machine in my room to counteract city noises. But I still hear the birds.

I think they know it and they don’t care.

Trashy Bird Squatters

My beef with birds doesn’t end with noise. Every spring, birds take over my small back yard and trash it. Black birds, cardinals, sparrows, and mourning doves – they spend most of their time waging turf battles for nesting spots in my dense evergreen tree.

cardinal fighting wrenI always secretly route for the cardinals – yes, because they’re pretty and because I’m shallow – and I’m glad they won their nesting spot again this year (cardinals bring it!). But in all of the tussling, my slate patio underneath the tree gets pelted with a compound of pine sap and bird poop that maybe NASA engineers could remove but I can’t.

The bird poop problem hasn’t stopped there. Lately, some bird has made a perch of the rear-view mirror of my car, which is parked in a space behind my yard in the alley.

“Perch” is a polite word for it. I’ve walked out to find my car’s mirror caked in bird trots. The offending bird somehow projectile-poops across the car door, too, blanketing it with white rivulets of filth. This is wrong.

I spotted the perpetrator one day, a dove I think. I scared it away but by then it had already imprinted on my car: car = crapper. I reminded myself that, as a superior species, I had the capacity to thwart the bird.

I started tying plastic grocery store bags around both rear-view mirrors, to create a slippery surface that the bird wouldn’t want to land on. Like so:

Prius with bags






It’s working. But the irony is not lost on me that I’m protecting my environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius hybrid with disposable plastic bags.

Obnoxious Duck Families

These scofflaws are the most irresponsible breeders on the planet. Come spring, mother hens lurch in front of heavy traffic to jaywalk all over the DC metro area, leading their jerky ducklings into mayhem without a care.

ducklings-following-mother-mLook, I’ll always stop for a duck family; if necessary, I’ll even get out of my car and be their crossing guard. What chaps me is that the ducks know this and never show us commuters any consideration.

God forbid these vagrants use pedestrian walkways and signals, or listen to traffic reports and adjust their route. No. They’ll waddle across the busiest traffic arteries with their fuzz-ball babies tottering behind, wreaking havoc.

Like one morning last spring, as I drove to the mega-congested Mark Center in Alexandria during rush hour. I watched a black SUV five cars in front of me skid to the right as the rest of us slammed on our brakes. Sure enough, in-between the cars halted at odd angles ahead, I glimpsed a brood crossing six lanes of Seminary Road.

Duck families are coercive and I resent it.

Baby Animals

They’re the worst! Fuzzy, tiny, squeaky, helpless. One will appear to you one spring day under a bush, alone, just off the sidewalk as you’re rushing to catch the Metro. It twitches and bleats.

You squee and bend down for a closer look. You steady yourself as all of your emotional armor built up over a lifetime crumbles. But you don’t know how to help the baby, so you walk away distraught.

Baby animals are sneaky and manipulative.

But if the squirrel in my backyard ever produced one of these:


Baby Squirrel








It would be game over.

I’d probably tear out half of my shrubs to build a hutch for the mother and baby squirrel. Every day I’d leave them water and a bowl of shelled organic nuts from Trader Joe’s. No acorns for my darling.

party toothpicksI’d use my hand spade to bury some of the fancy nuts myself, so the little one would learn her life skills. But I’d mark the buried spots with party toothpicks so my precious charge could find the nuts easily.

I’d spoil my baby squirrel rotten.

Then in the evening, I’d watch the squirrel hutch from the shadows of my upstairs window. Blowing my hay-fevered nose until it bled, I’d weep tears of joy mixed with shame and tinged with fears for my sanity.

And you wonder why I’m not all woo-woo about spring?


[When you’re not annoyed by selfish wildlife in spring, consider donating to a local wildlife charity that helps sick and injured animals recover and return to their habitat. Find a group near you at: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/]