Gopher, the Other White Meat

When we bought our first home, we were young and reckless.

The only property we could afford was a tiny rock-roofed crumbling stucco 1950s home sitting on a quarter acre of tumbleweeds. There was orange shag carpet covered in pet debris in every tiny room and an O’Keefe and Merritt stove in a kitchen that hadn’t been cleaned since the Eisenhower administration.

It was perfect.

It came with newly retired couples on either side of the chain link fences running the length of our yard.

They tried to digest the fact that twelve year olds had just bought the property.

I was wearing braces at the time. I can’t blame them.

The elderlys welcomed us to the neighborhood, told us about every single resident on the street, and then sat back to watch the show…for the next twenty years.

They were always leaning over the fence, watching.

We went up in their esteem when they saw us clearing the land.

They both gardened and had plenty of advice for where my tomatoes should go and how many corn stalks to a hill and when and which variety of fruit trees to put in.

I took their advice with a smile and a nod and did just as I pleased.

The one thing they agreed on was that gophers are pariahs.

And they must die.

“You can’t drown em out, you know,” began one, “those tunnels go all over the neighborhood. I have a spare smoke bomb in the shed you can use, but sometimes, I just plug all the holes in the yard and snake a hose in there connected to my truck’s tail pipe. It’s cheaper.”

“Poison,” insisted the other, “you gotta stick this stuff into a fresh hole and cover it up. They’ll go back to their dens and die.”

“Costco,” said Hubby, “Costco carries hollow vibrating underground tubes that scare the vermin away.”

“Plant garlic, dear,” said the lady across the street, “onions, marigold, and hot peppers all around your borders.”

I smiled and nodded. But none of those ideas ever worked.

Then came the summer of an epic, Egypt-worthy gopher plague.

It would have toppled a pyramid.

Our huge above-ground pool liner was ridged in the bottom from collapsed tunnels.

It’s stupid when you can trip in a swimming pool.

One morning I looked out the kitchen window and noticed the baby fig tree that we had just planted was shorter than yesterday. Staring harder, I realized the tree was moving. It gave a gentle shake, like a breeze was moving it, then dropped another three inches.

The slender boughs were being yanked down the gopher hole when I ran up to it. I gave them a hard tug, and the last of my sweet baby tree rested in my palm.

I don’t often enter wars, but when I do, victory is the only option.

There was no hope, none at all, for these enemy rodents.

I looked up and the neighbors were watching.

They admired the gleam in my eye.

We formed an alliance on the spot.

The Gopher Wars began.

I, delicate female and advocate of peace on earth, became a hunter the likes of Nimrod.

I grew skilled in the use of the box trap. These same hands that rocked the baby to sleep a half hour ago donned gloves covered in soil to disguise my scent and laid a precision ambush baited with sweet grass.

I, the mother who would not allow her son to have a toy gun, wielded the death blow to the tree murdering garden destroying vermin once they had wandered into my quagmire.

On either side of the fence, my neighbors did the same. Each afternoon we compared numbers. Each time we caught one, we carved a victory notch in our wooden shovel handles.

We buried the little rodents in their own tunnels, as a warning to other riffraff who might travel that way.

That summer, I caught 15 gophers, a personal record.

And this is how I ended up doing the Haka at sunset over a burial mound in my backyard.

Girls’ Night Out

A second grade teacher, a superior court justice, and a certified public accountant walk into a sushi bar.

“Three?” asks the hostess.

The CPA laughs and says, “No, ten of course, I calculated.”

The judge laughs and says, “You have the right to remain silent, we’ll find our way.”

The teacher says in a soothing voice, “But you’ve been very helpful, thank you,” and hands her a sticker as they pass by.

The women march straight to the rear of the restaurant because the ICU nurse, the mom of five, the high school parenting teacher, the motorcycle chick, and the RN have already grabbed a table.

The waitress walks up but gets shooed away because the two heads of HR have not yet arrived.

One represents wild animals (who gets a cheetah at her wedding, who?) and one represents pancakes (she’s on TV looking fab, and I know her!) but at Girls’ Night Out, we are all just friends, ready for our monthly round of catch-up.

You’d think we’d run out of things to talk about.

When pigs fly will women run out of words.

We’ve been closing down places for years.

“What’s new?” we ask each lady in turn.

“Nothing?” I challenge, “Then make something up, I’ll believe you.”

These particular ladies and I share matching high school diplomas. Beyond that, we are as diverse as a box of Jelly Bellies; each brings her own flavor to the table and we are never bored.

We range the political and religious gamut. Some married very young, others found Mr. Wonderful the year we all turned 40. Some are divorced and regale us with dating stories. We are home bodies and globe trotters. We’ve all ridden the monetary and health roller coasters.

There are deaths and births, haircuts and holidays to discuss.

And after all of these years, we still have issues with our parents.

Mostly, though, we are real. We can trust the group with secrets. We can count on them to care, even when the issue is quite far from their area of expertise. We leave our labels at the door and discuss stress, motivation, releasing the past and hopes for the future.

“You would not believe the mess Common Core is making at the school,” begins the teacher.

PTA President leans in and says, “Oh, our school helped to write part of that. How is it working?”

Plates of sushi rolls are landing on the table; the Ministries Coordinator hogs two just for herself.

“The Lord helps those who help themselves,” she giggles, “I think this one is called the Panty Dropper.”

Motorcycle mom is showing off her new tattoo to mom-of-five, “Just got back from our weekend to Vegas, this is my souvenir.”

Mom-of-five, recently promoted to blogger, inquires about motorcycle mom’s five kids, one of whom was just fitted with a new wheelchair, and another recently enlisted in the army.

The nurses are swapping funny patient stories and the wild and single lady is explaining the differences between Plenty O Fish and Match dot com, and her latest overnight shift on SDPD Crisis.

Our layers of labels are smashing together like funky sushi ingredients, rolled in a tight history together, with a zesty freedom flavored sauce on top.

Meanwhile, the waitress has taken the paid check, asked to refill the water glasses five times, taken a group photo for us, and cleared the table.

Don’t you hate when your guests won’t leave?

When all else fails, they put chairs up on tables and vacuum.

Then they put out the lights.

As the restaurant doors are locked behind us, we are still chatting and hugging and making plans for next month. Some of us will make it, some will disappear into the daily whirlpool and resurface a few month’s down the road with good stories to show for it.

When I finally get home, Hubby is waiting up.

“How’d it go?” he asks, “What’s the news?”

“Oh, not much,” I reply, “same ol’ same ol’.”

It’s hard to reduce a lifetime of conversation into a bento box.


Yes, Mr. Precedent

Life ain’t fair. Make a note of it.

It’s one of a great many repeat statements your kid will chant: “It’s not fair!”

Probably you say it once in a while, too, but by now the little voice in your head has made his peace with Murphy’s Law and possibly learned to laugh about it.

Or throw something.


You spend all his little childhood explaining that he has to share and take turns and not scream or throw things and then you put him into a sport.

And scream at him to grab the ball away from the other kid and throw it at some other kid and not share the ball under any circumstances unless he hears you scream from the sidelines to do it.

Tell him it’s all very fair so long as the rules are followed.

And then be prepared for him to hold you to the rules till your dying day.

My poor firstborn.

Firstborns are the practice pancake. You make it to test out the heat, the pan, and the oil and then set the burnt or soggy thing aside to start on the real pancakes.

Don’t talk to me about the angst of the middle child or the eternal childhood that shadows a last-born. Unless you’ve felt the complete unfairness of the firstborn, struggling to grow up as a guinea pig, you’ve lost me.

You are never sure what the rules are until you’ve tested them on the firstborn.

Every question in the world gets a first fly-by with this one.

We usually erred on the side of “no” in case the other four were taking notes.

They were.

You’d better believe it.

Watch your precedents. Start small.

If you’re planning to have a face painting clown and pony rides for your child’s third birthday, you’d better be ready to spring for the Blue Angels fly-over and Luke Skywalker himself serving the cake when he’s ten.

Maybe you are actually that parent. Maybe you will be filthy rich (or deeply in debt) and maybe your sweet little tater tot deserves it. But we multiplied every new situation by five and extrapolated it over the next fifteen to twenty years.

You do the math.

At first, you’re just trying to keep up with the baby photos. First kids are easy. Are you counting how many you took? It almost killed me, but my fifth has an equal amount baby mementos.

I may have had to shred some of the firstborn to make them equal.

But no one’s going to be screaming at me about it thirty years from now how I loved one kid more than the other.

Then you have to keep up with the politics. Did someone get their ears pierced? What age? Did someone get to attend the wild party as a sophomore? The freshman is taking notes.

And what about finances?

It’s scary how expensive high school is. This is “free” public education, not counting the enrollment thousands of a private school. But if your firstborn went public and your last born went private, did you really think neither child would notice?

Who gets to date and when and who had a bigger graduation party? If you paid for athletics for one child are you obligated to pay for the other if she would rather do theater? The same amount? What if one child goes to college and the other wants to travel to Istanbul?

Was there some sort of precedent set for “life goal parental support”?

Who gets a car and when, and how is it paid for?

Imagine the first wedding over here! Can we pay for five weddings? At what quality? Do our brides get more monetary support than our grooms? Why?

Will the grandchildren be held over our heads at competition level?

“Dad, you helped coach little Timmy’s basketball team, why won’t you coach little Eva, Amanda, Donny, Larry, Jonathan, Zoe and Mikey’s teams, too?”

How do you stay fair and stay alive??

The answer’s simple, honest, and very painful.

I love you.

But life ain’t fair.

Luck o the Irish

The wee leprechaun in me is jumping up and down demanding a game.

Who wants to win a prize?

Today, I’m holding a drawing honoring an Irish legacy, the humble potato.

You can “boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew…” or just take those taters and hold the “War of the Tater Tots” in your yard.

I would have preferred to send out a box of chocolate peppermint patties as a nod to ‘St. Patty’ but they don’t ship as well.

It’s even harder to ship rainbows ending in pots of gold.

Instead, you’ll receive a potato gun toy, shipped to the address of your choice, assuming your choice is a place that will ship to.

Amazon claims the gun shoots up to six feet, using small bio-degradable bits of real potato.

Check it out: Potato Gun: Everything Else.

To enter the drawing for a chance to win, scroll to the very bottom of this post and leave a message in the blog “Comment” box. Give me a topic that you would like to chat about in one of my future blogs.

Newbies can enter the drawing twice!

Every new subscriber will have his/her email added to the drawing. Enter your email address into the “Subscribe” box in the upper right hand corner of this page, and follow up by “confirming” the email that my website sends there.

(Occasionally, the follow up email is directed into your trashcan by your system. If you can’t find an email from me, take a look in there. You may have to explain to your system that we’re friends so that my emails land in the right spot.)

It’s fast, it’s easy, and at the end of the day I’ll pull a name out of the hat so to speak.

Assisting me in this will be child number five, an unnamed yet wildly gregarious and universally enjoyed six foot two 14 year old.

And he really wishes he could win this drawing.

But he doesn’t have an email yet, poor laddie.

He’ll have to go around throwing whole potatoes, I guess.

Let the Wild Rumpus begin!

It’s Lonely at the Top

I was in the kitchen all morning, cooking and cleaning and once in a while grumbling to myself. Two things had occurred for a whole week: writer’s block and me going on strike.

I was tired of cooking glorious (ie: not out of a frozen box) meals that no one was even home for. And tired of the dishes not washing themselves because no one was available to wash them. Or put them away.

We ran out of spoons.


Still no one got the message.

We ran out of all the food that you could take from the shelf and insert directly into your mouth.

After that it was, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat!” while staring into the cupboards.

I had to grocery shop and of course, if I want to know what I need besides milk (a gallon a day keeps the boys at bay) I had to completely gut the pantries and clean the fridge and undo the chaos.

I was in a zone when I accidentally did something so awesome I have to show it to you right now. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and look at this:

Here’s the background:

Problem 1: I bought three sizes of silicone muffin tins online but only use the regular size, ever. Because I’m stubborn, I kept the other two sizes for “someday” and they stare at me all the time, laughing because they got to stay but have no purpose.

Problem 2: I get the tea kettle and Hubby gets the Keurig. His cute little K-Cups fill a shallow drawer just below the beast and as he uses them up, I refill the drawer from the massive Costco sized pallet of K-Cups he bought. They roll around and you have to fiddle with them to find the flavor you think might be in there.

I talk my OCD down regularly with “Girl, you don’t even drink this stuff. It’s his annoyance.”

But there it is.

I had just had the thought, “Fine. I’ll break down and actually pay money for the little trays that hold these cuplets,” when I looked up and saw this cheeky red mini-muffin tray smiling at me.

The. End. I’m. Awesome.

And all the little cups stay facing the right way and pop right out when you reach for one.

AAAaaaaand…when I ask the next guest which coffee she prefers, I can lift out the whole tray and show it to her.

I’m going on Shark Tank with it.

Remember, you saw it here first.

In the meantime, my daughter was downstairs getting ready to leave for work. She was the last man out. I could hear her down there, speaking sternly to herself about something, and I felt so happy about it. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but knowing that my little quirks live on in my kids is a comfort.

The benign quirks of course, not the freaky ones.

I jumped right into a speech to myself about the greatness of clean kitchens and how I’m going to award myself the Medal of Honor for the last five hours of standing on my feet getting it done when in walks my girl.

“Mom, who are you talking to?”

“The same person you were of course, myself.”

I turned around, dishtowel in one hand and tea mug in the other.

She had her phone to one ear and was frowning at me with deep concern.

“Mom, you are one day closer to the nursing home. Think about it.”

And then she and her phone chatted their way out the front door.

Polly put the kettle on.

I have some heavy drinking to do.

Fans of a Feather…

I’m never going to be a “soccer mom”.

I refuse to drive a mini van.

I didn’t put my kids into club sports.

We had a brief brush with Little League once that featured my son chasing gophers in right field.

Rather than give up thousands of dollars and years of weekends in the snack bar making nachos, we waited for each kid to hit high school and then said, “Good luck with that, kid!”

Watching water polo was fun. Most of the game was under water and the ball tossed around until it went into a goal, just like soccer. I believe the rules were “put the ball into a goal” and “don’t drown”.

Fairly straight-forward.

Also, the uniforms were small and easy to clean.

Cross Country involved watching the kids run off in the distance and ended with them crossing the finish line heaving and staggering and nearly throwing up from 3.1 miles of extreme cardio.

Pretty only at a distance, this sport has only one rule: run. The faster, the better.

The good news: uniform consists of a good pair of shoes.

The bad news: my kids outgrew them every other month.

Indoor sports are nicer to spectate. Weather is minimized and there’s somewhere clean(er) to sit, albeit your butt is going to be numb in about fifteen minutes. It’s stupid. Be prepared.

Basketball moves too fast for the number of rules and strategies involved. I will still be asking “What the heck was that?” and they are already three hoops further down the game.

Also: there are more tackles in this game than football. I want to send my kid onto the court wearing full body bubble pack.

Volleyball, however, has only six kids out there in a zone they stay contained in. The teams are separated by a net, so they have to try to maim each other with the ball instead.

It’s a bit like dodgeball, only you are expected to actually stand in the line of fire and return the ball so they can try again.

When our athletic kids finally got onto a sport team, Hubby had some big league time to make up for in the stands.

Hubby knows more than the coach, sees more than the ref, and comments louder than any highly caffeinated soccer mom I know.

I was distracted by my other kid asking for a dollar for the snack bar, so I didn’t realize he was sitting just behind me, doing what I thought was the wave.

Of one.

Instead, he was trying to signal our son to hit higher over the net or some such coaching advice.

I turned around to see him raising both arms, thumbs hooked together, and bringing them down in a giant secret hand signal. It’s the exact move the audience uses to get Shamu to fling saltwater all over the “wet zone” with his flukes in the show.

I moved to the top bleachers just in case.

He was reminding the kids of secret plays at the top of his lungs.

His feet were pounding, my head was pounding.

Which was bad enough, except all the other parents were getting riled up too.

And then a mom from the opposing team stood up and may have had something negative to say about our team and Hubby may have had something to say in reply that two other parents needed to get verbally involved with which in turn inspired further parents to give their two cents on the subject and the original lady ended up calling Hubby the lowest name she could think of, off the top of her head.

Before the athletic directors and vice principals came over to have a few words about parent role models and school representation, I had slunk far across the bleachers.

I didn’t remind Hubby that “this is just a game”. When it was all over, I walked with him through the parking lot, in stitches over his new nickname: “Big Bird”.

And kept an eye out for the crazy lady who named him.

I bet she drives a mini van.

Fashion Police Part 2

I marched into a very swanky department store and found myself a Personal Stylist.

She was glam. She was suave. She represented.

She took a good long look at me and went to work. I lounged on a cushy sofa while she brought loads of adorable clothes and spread them out on racks. Some I sent back and the rest I tried on in a spacious dressing room with large mirrors and great lighting. Amazing.

I purchased over $2000 dollars worth of fabulous outfits on the spot.

None of which I was planning to keep.

I just wanted to know what that felt like; finding clothes that are fabulous and bringing them home to hang in my closet.

I took photos of my new wardrobe so I would later be able to copy the process, but it turned out to be a waste of time.

While returning my treasures under the cover of ‘closing time’, I noticed my reflection in a mirrored pillar. This pillar could easily hold a human, I thought.

What if my eyes aren’t the only ones staring back?

It’s what happens in the dead of night, when I’m loitering in an empty store feeling guilty over a stealth mission.

The next horrified thought was: are there two way mirrors in the dressing rooms?

Did some crazy person sit on a stool behind the mirror and watch me suck in my stomach and struggle with a dress over my head and laugh at my Wonder Woman undies?

Did I get right up in her face, checking for salad in my teeth?

Even if (God forbid) there wasn’t a camera involved, did this person go home every night and laugh her butt off telling stories around the dinner table?

‘Cause I totally would.

What if this were true?

I wanted to ask the grim lady behind the register, but she was frowning harshly at little return tickets, so I gave her some space.

I, of course, would never believe her anyway.

Time to go ninja and look for some clues in the dressing rooms.

Safe: the mirror is attached to the wall’s surface like a picture. You can rap on it and it will sound dull because there is a solid wall behind it.

Sketch: the mirror is installed into the wall like a window. You can rap on it and it will sound hollow because there is an open space behind it.

Safe: the store has provided cheap overhead fluorescent light. You look lousy but at least no one else can tell.

Sketch: the store has provided lovely strong clear lighting. Your skin glows, your outfit is stunning, and the security guy has a great photo shoot.

Safe: put your finger up to the glass and touch it. There should be a small gap between your finger and the reflection of your finger.

Sketch: put your finger up to the glass and have it touch it’s reflection directly. This could be a trap.

Safe: step up to the mirror and press your face against it, cupping your hands around your eyes to block the light from your side. It should be dark in there.

Sketch: Oh, the heck with it. Sneak behind the racks of clothing discards and hit the circuit breaker. With all the lights out, activate your cell phone flashlight app and aim it at the mirror. If there’s a room back there, you should be able to see it.

Or blind yourself.

Which means “safe”.

An exception to all of the above would be a small hidden camera with a fisheye behind an installed two-way mirror.

You wouldn’t be able to detect it with any of the above methods.

If you’re in this type of high-level James Bond situation and you’re sure the bad guy is back there, take the num chucks you packed in your “utilitarian” purse and shatter the mirror.

Maybe you’ll have glass shards in your hair, but you will know who’s been watching you.

Unless you missed the security cameras on the ceiling.

Or the convex mirrors in the corners.

Or the cell phone you didn’t know was on.

Or maybe the door slats are reversed and everyone outside can look right in.

I may never shop again.

Fashion Police Part 1

Here’s the thing.

It’s not so much that I dislike clothes shopping.

It’s just that I am so overwhelmed with my choices.

I will procrastinate until it’s dire straights and then fling myself into the mall hoping to find just one top that I like.

I know what I want, but no one seems to be selling it.

I decided to focus and get educated about clothes shopping because I was having anxiety attacks in the parking lot from the pressure to perform.

First I read all the books on fashion “rules”.

I studied color wheels and skin charts and body types. I read articles on the internet and browsed websites that would give you a personal analysis, clothing suggestions, accessory ideas, and even send you individually selected clothing right to your front door.

I stared down glossy magazines full of angry models.

“Why can’t the fashion industry make up their minds?” they say.

I can’t blame them.

Based on how few actual clothes they have on, I imagine they are having just as much trouble as I am shopping for jeans that fit.

My next step was to hit the mall.

I began by sitting at the coffee shop and drinking some optimism. I watched other ladies walk by wearing nice outfits and had yet again, that life-defining thought: “I could do that.”

Why? Why do I do that to myself?

But I snatched up my efficient utilitarian (“classic”) purse and began touring the window displays.

All of the latest trends were there. The mannequins had no curves and their bored expressions seemed to say, “Here today, gone tomorrow. You should’ve seen us in the 90s.”

I found a store that represented my “style”. A cross between country bumpkin and ‘date night on the bayou’. Sort of ‘mommy with an attitude’ with a touch of ‘I meant to do that’.

I forgot everything I learned about colors and fit and snatched up armloads of tops and pants in three sizes at once.

All I could think of was navigating the dressing room.

If you can only take five items into the room at a time but you need to try on a dozen, you have to hold an exchange of hostages with an employee waiting in the hall.

That’s if you plan ahead.

Otherwise, you must completely redress in your own clothes to run back out to the racks and find another size while hoping your room is still available. Do it enough times, and your hair ends up looking like you went through a cyclone, your top gets pulled on inside out and so much clothing is migrating under the stall door from the lady next to you that you are tossing refugees out like hot potatoes.

The employee will frown at you if you enter the dressing room with twelve items and come out with five.

It’s a whole different look if you enter the dressing room with five items and come out holding twelve.

My foray into the store ended like it always does: I kissed a great many frogs. None of them turned into princes. Looked great on the hanger. But I had to toss them back into the swamp.

The next step was logical. It was necessary. It may have been illegal.

But it was all in the name of retaining my “Girl Card”.