Holey Vole-y

June 29, 2010

I should be writing. Instead I sit in my office, staring out the window at a pair of voles cavorting in my front yard.  They scamper back and forth past my Havahart trap, taunting me. 

Living near open space, I’ve had my share of wildlife encounters: skunks ambling up behind the house in the early morning, a gopher snake sunning itself on the garden path, fence lizards doing push-ups on my front deck.  I’ve surrendered our walnuts and pecans to the ravenous squirrels. In the ten years we’ve lived here, I’ve yet to taste a single one.  I’ve moved my roses to preserve them from deer that forage for tender shoots along our driveway.  But this time, the animals have gone too far.

Round holes the size of quarters multiplied among the colorful blooms in my favorite garden.  Then one by one, whole plants began to disappear – sunny marigolds, blue lobelia, cosmos, and impatiens.  What could have caused so much destruction? 

“Voles,” my neighbor said.  She called an exterminator.  I set a trap. 

That day, I caught my first vole – a tiny, gray-brown, mouse-like creature with black beads for eyes. Small ears flattened against its head, its tail short and furry.  So cute, like the hamster my daughter wants.  “Can we keep it?” she pleaded.  Killing it or calling the exterminator was out of the question now.  We released it in the open space far away from our house.  I hoped it couldn’t find its way back.

I filled in the holes and sprinkled a fox-scented repellant around my flowers to protect them.  I set the trap again and patrolled my garden.  I caught three more.  Finally, I think I have eradicated the little pests from my backyard.  All my efforts have convinced them to move elsewhere…

Right into the greener pastures of my front yard. 

Those coin-sized holes now litter my front garden, hidden under star jasmine and periwinkle.  And the critters have gotten wise to my tactics: they skirt my Havahart trap, playing close, oh so close, but never venturing inside.  From my window lookout, I spy two – a courting male and his mate.  If I don’t catch them soon, they’ll have little vole babies and multiply faster than my words.

Can anyone loan me a cat?

On the Origin of Phrases

June 19, 2010

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I got the urge to flesh out where the saying,  “the plot thickens” started.  I mean why would a plot be thick?  Why not “the plot deepens?” Why not the plot twists?  I did a quick Google search and got nada.  But I did find an interesting website (www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/183700.html) that did illuminate some interesting phrase beginnings.  Not surprising to find that many common idioms have their origins in Shakespeare or the bible.  Here is just a small sampling:

‘can’t hold a candle to’

 Apprentices held candles for more experienced workmen so they were able to see what they were doing.

‘hurts like the dickens’

 Nope, nothing to do with Charles Dickens.  The term “dickens” refers to the devil, possibly via devilkins. Shakespeare used it in ‘the Merry Wives of Windsor, 1600: 

    “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of.”

Lest you think Americans have no imagination, the phrase, ‘if I had my druthers,’ originated in the late 19th century.  Druthers was first used as “drathers” in the January 1870 edition of Overland monthly and Out West magazine in Centrepole Bill by George F. Emery:

      “If I was a youngster, I ‘drather set up in any perfession but a circus-driver, but a man can’t always have his ‘drathers.”

The term druthers came later and can be traced back to 1876 in Dialect Notes:

        Bein’s I caint have my druthers an’ set still, I cal’late I’d better pearten up an’ go ‘long.”

 All this research still left me out in the cold as to where the saying “the plot thickens” came from.   It hurts like the dickens that my curiosity was not satisfied.  If I had my druthers, I’d keep looking.

Susan and The Dollar Store

June 15, 2010

I love The Dollar Store.  I am glad the nearest one is far away.  If it were closer, I would be there everyday.

Where else can I get colored paper clips for a mere buck?  Why use gray staples when my Dollar Store colored ones are more festive.  Vases?  Every size and shape.  As a confessed ribbon junkie, I am now under a self-imposed moratorium on future ribbon purchases.  Unless, of course, I find something that is too cute to pass up.

I bought our family Christmas cards there for our five kids and four grandchildren.  Unique. glittered and embellished.  Balloons for a party?  Mylar and helium inflated.   A Q-tip is a Q-tip.  Why spend $3.00 for 100 when you can get 400 for $1.00?

Now, there are a few things I would not put on my Best Place to Buy List.  My four-year-old grandson used my Dollar Store small hand trowel to dig for dinosaur bones in our back yard.  It immediately bent in two.  On a whim, I bought a bottle of red wine that tasted like grape flavored calves liver.  I used it to unclog a drain.  The kite strings broke even when there wasn’t any wind.

During my last trip to TDS, while I avoided the ribbon section,  I saw one of the saddest things I have ever seen.  A table piled high with books – fantasy, romance,  mystery,  politics, and religion – all waiting for someone to buy them.  After their hard work, what would the poor author realize from a single dollar sale?  A half-cent?

Customers walked by the table without so much as a glance.  I knew the books longed for someone to pick them up.  I stroked the lonely darlings  as I would a hurt puppy.  There, there, you poor things, I thought.  It’s not your fault.  The quality of your dust  jacket paper is one step up from newsprint.  And, your insides?  Your print bleeds and smudges while your page edges are jagged and uneven.  But, you didn’t do that.  You sweet things.  I dare not open you up all the way as I know I will break your weak spine.

I hope that your authors stay away from The Dollar Store for a while.  Do they know their books, oh horrors, have ended up in the dustbin of retailing?

The Written Word

June 12, 2010


Kindles and Nooks and the internet have changed the way many read.   I have not yet gone to electronic novel and nonfiction book reading.     Like novels, many have also decided to go “paperless” with how they receive the daily news.  Our family hasn’t yet gone “green” and we still have the newspaper delivered daily on our driveway.   Now, our driveway is both steep and a tad long, so retrieving our paper means a short jaunt down a slope.  We tried to turn our Vizsla, a Hungarian bird dog named Bumper, into a newspaper retriever.  Bumper, who never did anything without gusto, was happy to oblige.  At the age of eight months he knew the command “Get the Paper.”  He’d charge down the drive, plant his front paws on the folded target, and skid down the rest of the hill.  If we were in the rainy season, there was a chance the front page would be readable because our news was encased in a protective plastic bag.    However, during the dry season, we were often not so lucky.  I considered avoiding the problem by restricting Bumper’s access to the paper altogether, but the dog got such joy at delivering the tattered remains, I didn’t have the heart to alter the routine. 

As Bumper entered his “teen” years, Bumper discovered that after he picked up the paper, it was great fun to play chase, shake the head and “kill” the paper.   Most of the time, we’d miss only a paragraph or two from our morning read.   Bumper got cancer and retired from his newspaper delivery job.     For months, I lamented walking down the hill and stooping over to retrieve the condensed articles spouting local and world events.  Until this week. 

We have a new pup.  Our four month old Australian shepherd/cattle dog mix has picked up the torch.  For the last few mornings she has been carrying the paper up the hill.  Today, she actually picked up the printed sheets and dutifully carried her prize to the front door.  I swear I saw a look of pride glinting in her brown eyes.  I don’t think she will ever tackle the newspaper like a wide receiver pouncing on a football the way Bumper did, but Bailey will do her job with enthusiasm.  For that reason alone, I think I’ll stick with the written word.

Second story published

June 11, 2010

Another of my short stories has just been published.  “Bones in the Cellar” appears in the spring 2010 issue of Hunger Mountain, the journal of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

You can read my story on-line at the Hunger Mountain website here   

Also check out the other fine stories in Hunger Mountain‘s  YA/children’s section.