No more Banana Bread…

One of my favorite treats is eating some delicious banana bread at a country café.  My favorite type is oozing with ripe bananas, some walnuts and cinnamon.  This is now a beloved memory after I finally went for allergy testing.  I thought, like my mum, I might have a protein allergy.  Chocolate, eggs and cream gave her fantastic welts on her forehead – often spelling Mars Bar.  She would swear blind that she hadn’t had chocolate but I always knew.  Finally, she would break down after my interrogation, laughing hysterically.  One little cousin had allergies to almost everything but has grown out of some of them.  Over two years ago, on the advice of a good medical friend, I stopped eating gluten.  It was difficult but I now have a very healthy diet full of walnuts (allergic), bananas (allergic), cinnamon (allergic).  My friend was correct and I am also allergic to wheat, yeast, peaches, cashews, almond and mustard.  Who the heck is allergic to bananas??  I can’t bear the smell or texture of seafood but am allergic to nothing (unless it has a mustard sauce…)

My diet is mostly vegetarian but I have no allergy to milk or meats.  On a side note, I received a note from Ancestry DNA to say my profile had changed again.  To my surprise, I am 3% Basque, which might explain my lack of Spanish DNA.  The Basque people are ethnically unique from their neighbors, France and Spain.  They come from a very ancient group of Europeans and have more Neanderthal DNA than most (as do I).  Many years ago, on a trip to Madrid, I looked with trepidation at all the Basque terrorists on the “Most Wanted” posters, hoping that the customs officer wouldn’t notice they looked like my siblings. Perhaps I should embrace my hunter/gatherer origins and just eat the squirrels in the garden?  Luckily, I am not Epi-pen allergic but should avoid certain foods or start the allergy shots.

I was quite overwhelmed by the lovely comments on my post The Biopsy, and I am happy to say that my tardy results finally came through.  Nora, the thyroid nodule, is not malignant.   Dear reader, you may wonder why I am having so many health issues right now.  My recent Covid infection provoked some of the doctor visits but I am also trying to catch up on yearly tests that I avoided during the pandemic and before our ‘good’ insurance stops soon.  My husband retired two years before he could claim Medicare (next May) so we have taken advantage of his last work insurance.  COBRA is a US scheme that allows you to continue your last work insurance for 18 months, at your own cost. 

Recently, I saw a new doctor at our practice, and it was just to ask for a referral to physiotherapy.  She thought that perhaps my incessant coughing during Covid triggered my cervical pain and numbness again.  She said, “I see you have spinal stenosis”.  “I do?” responded Kerry, having completely forgotten about that diagnosis.  When we lived in Scotland, I became a minor celebrity at our local orthopedic hospital because of my strange spinal problems.  It’s likely congenital and what a gift my relatives have given me!  Mental illness, high cholesterol, dodgy spine, allergies and Lord knows what else.  They also gifted me great skin, good legs and an amazing sense of humor.  You take the good with the bad…  That doctor suggested allergy testing after I expressed some frustration that I ate more fiber than a heifer but still have digestive issues.

My Glorious Live Oak

When I was being poked by the allergy nurse, she asked if I would like environmental testing also.  “Why not?” said I.  This one was less fun – I could feel one prick throbbing almost immediately.  Bottom line; I should not live in a humid forest.  I am most allergic to OAK – you can see the beautiful live oak outside our house, above.  Then there are three water oaks behind my house.  Few of our neighbors have oaks.  When I came home, I pointed at Miss Live Oak and whispered, “YOU!!!”  Don’t worry I will cuddle her next week, perhaps with a mask on.  Almost all the molds were ticked – who knew there were that many??

Teddy and I were talking about getting a horse and wagon, given the gas prices, but we will have to switch to an Ox.  I am allergic to horses but not cattle.  I don’t think the neighbors would mind a lovely Ox on our shared pasture…  On a creepy note, I am allergic to COCKROACHES (and dust mites)!!  Our trusty bug guy came out last week because the cockroaches were getting out of control.  As soon as he left, dying cockroaches were crawling up walls and making me ALLERGIC!!!  There is very little dust in my house because I have OCD – et Voila, another silver lining.  I will now take bareback horse riding off my bucket list.

Walnut, Sycamore, Sweet Gum, Cottonwood and Cedar trees are on the list.  Ragweed, Russian Thistle (Que?), Sagebrush and Marsh Elder also make me itch.  Maybe Greenland might be a good place for me to live or just stay in the house as I currently do.  I am seriously considering the allergy shots because I would like to enjoy my beautiful environment more.  On a funny final note, Teddy and I were herding ducks across the four-lane road at the end of our cul-de-sac.  Our beloved Muscovy ducks at the pond have decided to visit all their friends in our street.  I stood in the middle stopping the traffic and Teddy hopelessly tried to herd them across to the pond.  At a street birthday party this week, I discovered that other neighbors have also been herding ducks/halting traffic.  So far, there are no dead bodies (human or duck) on the road and I am not allergic to either!

Google: How do I cover the smell of decomp?

The Garden of Earthly Delights by H Bosch

I hope my husband does not die under mysterious circumstances because my computer history will lead the cops to me.  On Sunday, I noticed a strong skunk smell at the front of the house.  I searched but saw nothing.  Then I went to the neighbors and asked if they had seen anything.  They thought their car had gone over some roadkill and took it to the carwash to no avail.  We laughed and I said, prophetically, “At least, I won’t have to go looking for a dead critter…” 

To set the scene, we are having a wee heatwave so it is hotter than hell and twice as humid.  Yesterday was 97F/36C and the humidity was 68 % – it has been the same for a week with no rain.  After my chat with the neighbor, I went out to the back yard and spotted them.  Decomposition flies – Gah!  They are so pretty with their sparkling iridescence.  Curiously there was no strong smell in the yard – the balmy breeze was taking it to the front.

This is not my first dead critter rodeo, so I knew that we had to remove some of the deck planks.  Teddy went out with his drill to unscrew the deck screws.  He got about half out and then had to go to the hardware store to get a special bit to yank them out.  Then we borrowed another neighbor’s drill.  Nothing was working.  Teddy looked like he was about to have a heart attack, soaked in sweat, working in Hades.  As we approached nightfall (early in the subtropics), I texted our faithful handyman to ask if he could come out on Monday.  Thank goodness he said yes.  Then I poured a full bottle of bleach on the deck and between the planks.

We both slept very fitfully and I drifted to the other side of the bed to get away from the smell coming in the closed windows.  The next day we tried all over again to remove the planks and I used every scent possible in the house which was now skunky, too.  Air fresheners, carpet fragrance, washed floors in eucalyptus, incense – it smelled like a temple or church with a dead body…  Carlos came at noon and I have never been so happy to see anyone.  This is the second time that Carlos has come to remove deck planks in our necropolis.

He struggled to cope with the scent the last time, so I said I would retrieve the corpse.  I was all set up with many bags, bleach, gloves, garden fork and very old clothes – there are silver linings to OCD!  There are also benefits of decomp flies as they lead you to the evidence.  I got straight in and pulled out the poor wee soul – it was a beautiful little skunk.  With the heat and humidity, it wasn’t all in one piece – Carlos and Teddy looked at me in disgusted awe.  “Only one of us could work on a farm,” I said.  Carlos was delighted to leave after 15 minutes and we arranged for him to come back in a few days to replace the planks.

Eventually I Googled ‘How do you get rid of the smell of decomp?’  I used bleach again, then vinegar with baking soda that makes a very satisfying chemical reaction.  Then I took bags of dirt out of the crime scene along with larvae.  I was fascinated that the beautiful dragonflies were drawn to the flies and happily ate them.  Maybe they like spicy food??  The volatile scent was still wafting to the front so there were little incense sticks were all over the yard – Nirvana.

Then I remembered my time at the airport.  Drug smugglers use coffee to hide the smell of drugs to foil the drug sniffing dogs, so the instructors get the dogs to react to coffee too.  I watched a customs dogs get excited about some luggage on the flight from Amsterdam to Houston.  They took the bag off and thoroughly searched it, only to find some regular coffee.  The passenger arrived later, none the wiser.  So, with this lightbulb moment, I went into the pantry to find some coffee to put in the grave.  It helped somewhat.  Then I went back to Google who suggested an enzyme cleaner.  We still had some left from our cat days and I liberally poured it in.  That might have helped the most. 

Skunks have an incredible defense with their notorious spray.  It is full of complicated chemicals that last for weeks and months.  They are easily predated and I have recently heard the great horned owl hooting in the backyard.  They have no sense of smell so their favorite meal is skunk.  CSI Kerry concluded that from the corpse that the owl had attempted a kill but the injured skunk sought sanctuary under our deck.  May she rest in peace.

The smell is so pervasive that I felt guilty for stinking out the neighbors even though it was not our fault.  Our houses back onto a reserve where myriad critters live in peace – usually.  My mental health started spiraling downwards.  Teddy noted that he hadn’t seen me so anxious since our time in Egypt.  On one terrible occasion we went to a fancy hotel at the pyramids to escape the eternal water/power cuts in our house.  We arrived in this verdant oasis only to find their water was off, too.  It’s laughable in retrospect but at the time I felt broken.

A few days later and my equilibrium is returning to normal.  I love my Garden of Earthly Delights and this is nature at its rawest.  Everything has to eat.  All the incense sticks gave the garden a funerial vibe and I have mourned the little skunk.  All in all, I was proud of myself for taking control and not diving into a bottle of wine to relieve the stress.  A recent bone scan showed some reduction in my bone density but normal for my age.  The doctor suggested all the usual stuff including weight bearing exercise.  I have certainly have had plenty of that this week…

Voiceovers are not my forte…

…as you can hear below. This is my homage to Janey Godley who has kept me sane during the pandemic with her hilarious voiceover videos. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. What is it about our own voices that cause us to cringe? This is a real video from our garden with two squirrels on our outside cat house, Lesley is on the roof and Danielle is down below. I placed blackberries up the stairs to get a fun video.

Perhaps a wee bit of helium would have helped? In my head I believe my funny voices and penguin walks are hilarious but you can see why Teddy is ready to go back to work! This is how it should be done – there is a couple of wee sweary words but it made me laugh out loud. Happy Memorial Weekend!

Ne’er cast a cloot ’til May is oot

The title is the Scottish version of an English phrase “Ne’re cast a clout till May is out” or in plain English – “Never take off a layer of clothing until the end of May”.  It is an archaic phrase, probably from medieval times, and there are similar phrases in France and Spain.  I was tickled by the Spanish phrase “Hasta el cuarenta de Mayo no te quites el sayo!” “Until the 40th of May, do not take off your coat”.  Every May, even here in the sub tropics in south east Texas, we always get a wee cold snap.  In April our temperatures were heading up to the high 80s and I started thinking of getting the summer clothes out.  On May 4th (Star Wars Day) the high in Houston was 90F/32C and on May 5th it was down to 63F/17C – no wonder I had to wear my favorite fleecy cat socks.  If you live in Canada or Scotland, you might be cursing me, “63 degrees sounds like summer to me…”

It occurred to me that I have very few summer clothes despite where I live.  In Scotland I had a tiny box of summer vacation clothes that lasted for 20 years.  Everything else was clothes that could be layered along with a few polar jackets/sweaters.  Our neighboring village had snow one June – WTH?  It was a cold snap and we lived on a high plateau with nothing between us and the Arctic.  At least our clothes dried quickly – sometimes hard frozen.  My body temperature runs cool like a really good car – the temperature in the house is 76 degrees and I am wearing a light sweater but my feet are cold.

I love warmth but not really strong sunlight.  Living in a forest helps because in tree shade the temperature can drop by 20 degrees.  We have a pair of beautiful water oaks who live in the reserve but their canopy covers our deck giving us delicious shade.  I thank them by spraying them up and down with the garden hose.  I swear that the Live Oak in the front trembles with pleasure when I hose her down on a hot day.  Teddy and I enjoy sitting in our rockers under the Water Oaks although I am always afraid of a Cicada falling on my head.  Their song is wonderful but they give me the jitters.  So, so glad that we don’t live in any of the States who are about to greet Brood X 2021.  For non-Americans, there is a type of Cicada that emerges every 17 years in Ohio and neighboring states.  If you don’t like Cicadas it is like Hitchcock’s famous horror movie The Birds.  In the next few days 1.5 million per acre will be emerging – that is BILLIONS of them. Apparently they taste like shrimp when cooked – I will never know…

Graph courtesy of USDA Forest Service and VOX

Postscript

The Brood X has been delayed a few days by this cold snap making the anticipation even greater.

Nature sent a gift

After the deep freeze in Texas, many of our tropical plants died. Most of mine survived because I have ruthless green fingers. Almost all of the plants that I have put in are precisely for our climate area, sub tropical forest. Our soil is poor, drought and flood are common and so if a new plant dies, I don’t plant it again. The azaleas are not indigenous but they have more blossoms than they usually do. I guess the freeze provoked some growth.

This fern was just cut down a few weeks ago and yet there is still new growth! I love my lichen covered boulders – it usually indicates that the air quality is good. The trees in our forest act as giant filters against truck happy Texas.

Our mountain laurel has three new growths – if I am very lucky they will turn into purple blossoms with a gorgeous scent. The leaves are covered in yellow pollen but they are quite healthy despite that.

Our crimson dwarf crape has survived! They are trimmed every year but should have glorious deep red blossoms in a couple of months. Thank you Mother Nature for the beautiful mood boosting gift.

On a final humorous note, I had a mad half hour after our gardener trimmed all the dead branches, trees and put down new cypress mulch. He also put down some bull rock, as you can see below, to edge the lawn. The architect of our house wanted a wavy driveway which is difficult to traverse. Teddy often gouged the lawn with the big tires on the Dodge Challenger so we added some bull rock. In this part of the world the pebbles are mostly the same sandy color but these ones were almost white. I panicked as landscaping has to follow a set of rules. Initially I thought of calling the gardener and asking him to replace them at my expense. Then I had a crazy idea to replace them with older bull rock in the backyard. After pacing and panicking, I decided that I would hose down the muddy footprints. As I did that the stones miraculously turned a sandy color… I felt like such a fool because they were just covered in rock dust! Can you imagine if I had called Adelfo? He has called me Karen for 16 years and finally I would have turned into one!

Naughty Kerry with Clippers

This is a funny little tale about my compulsion with scissors and clippers. For reference – Lourdes Water is Holy or Blessed Water from the shrine of Lourdes, France that Roman Catholics visit. Enjoy!

Pretending to be Lori Loughlin

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We Americans assume that the rest of the world knows our current social gossip and every other stupid thing that we do. As an aside, did you know that a thing is an old English/Frisian word which means a gathering?  The title of this post refers to an actress with less dramatic skills than me who has made a fortune making Hallmark movies.  How to explain Hallmark movies? Shmaltzy movies where there is always a happy ending and they use the same actors again and again.  It so confusing when you think, “wasn’t she in Alaska last week with creepily handsome veterinarian?”  Now she is in a Cajun Christmas where they all eat turducken. It’s not just Icelanders who eat gross food…

Lori Loughlin was recently jailed for a ludicrously short period of time for committing fraud to get her underachieving kids into a good college.  LOTS of money was involved and there were other famous perps such as Felicity Huffman who shamefully decided to admit her guilt and take the punishment.  Is it just me or did anyone else admire Martha Stewart’s chutzpah when she just admitted her guilt to insider trading and went straight to prison?  When released, she walked out, head held high, with a handknitted poncho.  Who knew she would be Snoop Dogg’s Bubala? If you are wondering about the Yiddish words, one of my DNA sites revealed, at Christmas, that I am now 1% Ashkenazi Jew.  I am embracing all parts of my heritage and I really love Yiddish words – they have that onomatopoeic quality to them.

Why am I pretending to be Lori Loughlin?  Having looked through the provisional list of who gets vaccinated in Texas: I am right at the bottom in Group D.  That means I will probably have to stay in personal lockdown until April or May.  Batshit crazy does not count for anything nor do dodgy cysts in lungs.  Teddy might be included in one group of essential workers because he works in Energy. 

Just like Lori Loughlin I am also going to prison, figuratively, for the next four months or so, and will I do any of the life affirming challenges I set myself? No and **** No.  I really tried in 2020.  I wrote funny blogs, I was positive, friendly, checked on elderly family and friends.  At first, I lost weight and exercised.  One of my neighbors said, ‘there was not a pick on me’ – a chicken reference.  I could not bring myself to mix socially so gave ALL of my attention to Teddy.  Sometimes I played BOO, other times I walked towards him like a penguin and tried every conceivable way to make him laugh in a difficult time.

Meanwhile I was not processing that I had lost all my contract work with no hope of any more for some years (and how that would affect my self-esteem).  I had no inclination to work with the public although I bow down to those that did.  My OCD made it impossible for me to be rational about the pandemic.  Still wiping down all the packages with disinfectant wipes, even the squirrels’ food.  After the summer my mental health faltered in increments, not helped by forgetting to eat but not forgetting to drink…

What I really want to know is, will you still write to me?  Physical visits are out but I need some contact with the world.  I might create some more Vlogs since Sit Down Comedy was well received.  It was exhilarating putting on some makeup and washing my hair – Woo Hoo!  I met one of my neighbors in the street and she seemed concerned that I would continue (post vaccination) to be social or even host parties.  I said yes but I don’t think it was the truth.  Just like everyone else, I have changed profoundly during 2020.  I hope I am not less kind but perhaps a little less compliant.  Do I really need more societal contact or do I need to live a solitary life better? 

I hate to be the one that says it but I really think life will get worse before it gets better and we will be wearing masks for much longer than we think (if we care about other’s safety).  Those vaccinated soon will not be fully immune until the second injection and if you don’t get it, will that invite Corona virus mutations?   If you are able to, just go to prison with me, and maybe next Christmas will be worth celebrating.  If not wear a mask, long after vaccination.

Sending off to Amazon for an orange jumpsuit – only method acting for me, darlings! 

Wish for a HAPPY THANKSGIVING 2021 and keep your expectations low without giving up hope.

Just call me Isobel…

Meet Fluffles, a new temporary resident in Katniss’ old house. It makes my heart sing to see something furry enjoying it. Fluffles aka Fluffless (she keeps losing bits of her tail in skirmishes) is looking out pensively asking Nut-Mom to turn off the rain. Nut-Mom has the power to provide banquets of pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds and apple cores but not weather.

Fluffles runs up as soon as I open the back door and very politely asks for a snack. Her sometimes friends are Polar, who has bright white spots on his ears, Floppy with one ear down and Big Foot. Little gray squirrels have white markings on the back of their ears so that a predator from above thinks they are bigger than they are – bio mimicry. When it is quiet, I can sometimes hear one of them ‘chappin’ or knocking on the door.

Corn-dad provides the corn cobs which I can’t stake in the ground. I know we are not alone in our lunacy because I have been searching for squirrel furniture on the web and there is plenty of it. They usually just get an occasional treat but cold weather has arrived with a vengeance. It is hard to stay warm when it is below freezing when you were just born a few months ago. They are the glossiest squirrels for miles around with white fat tummies. The video below will explain the title.

Sincere thanks to Janey Godley for keeping me amused in this crazy time!

Egyptian visitors at the pond

There has been a curious mystery at our pond for the last few weeks.  There were three little ducklings swimming alone in the middle of the water.  The Whistling ducks have gone to Latin America – would they leave their ducklings behind?  It would be strange as they are the helicopter parents of the duck/goose world.

JUVENILE WHISTLING DUCKS

Then I noticed we had a lovely dove gray Muscovy duck that I assumed was a daughter in law to the extended family.  Was she a flighty young mum, ignoring her ducklings?

UNUSUAL DOVE GRAY MUSCOVY DUCK – AKA DAUGHTER IN LAW

When I walked with Teddy to the pond on Sunday we spotted new visitors. We have a pair of Egyptian Geese which are an invasive species.

EGYPTIAN GEESE

I watched their relationship with our adored Muscovy Ducks but all seemed well.  To be honest our Muscovy ducks are bruisers, more than ready for the pot, as they would be in Mexico.  They look like those Mexican wrestlers with a mask on so I didn’t think the Egyptian Geese would bother them.  I recognized the geese but couldn’t remember what they were.  Now I realize I have seen them on thousands of Egyptian papyrus and ancient carvings.

Much like the Whistling ducks they are neither ducks nor geese but a sub category most similar to Sheldrakes. Today we had an important duck/goose update when we met one of the neighbors who has named all the Muscovy ducks and who lives at the pond. Apparently the Egyptian Geese were indeed terrorists and had frightened the Muscovies on two occasions. What!! She chased them and they seem to have left the area. If I see them again I will call the Ranger. How dare they frighten our residents!!! As for the abandoned ducklings, they are just deadbeat parents…

A few years ago we had another invasive species at the pond, Nutriamama and baby are pictured above. They are a relative of the Capybara and were brought to Louisiana for the fur trade. They breed like rabbits although they look like little beavers and can decimate the vegetation that is needed for the local species. My friend saw the Forest Warden preparing to trap them and asked him, “What are you going to do with them?” Bless her heart! It was like asking the store Santa if Santa is real. The warden very kindly told her that they were being ‘relocated’ to another area.

For some more fake news see RARE TWO HEADED DUCK below

THAT’S ALL FOLKS!!!

Necropolis

It looks like such a peaceful scene, doesn’t it? Teddy and I have used our deck more often, since the pandemic, than we have in 16 years.  The trees in the reserve have grown so much that we get nice shade cover in the afternoon.  A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a ‘farmyard’ smell but we live many miles from farms in our forested idyll.  At first I wondered if someone had put down some stinky mulch or fertilizer but it is entirely the wrong time of year and it has been 100 degrees out there.

We had a few breezy days and Teddy agreed with me that he could smell a faint odor on the air but perhaps it was the communal garbage bins at the apartments beyond the reserve?  After another couple of days, I asked him if I should do a ‘Karen’ and complain to the apartment manager.  Teddy, very wisely, suggested that we just leave it since it was almost 100 degrees and maybe the bins needed emptied.  (We have never smelled their garbage bins in the last 16 years).

The next day, I started looking under the deck but could see nothing but dead leaves but there was still this strange odor that now Teddy (probably post Covid-19) could not smell at all.  Then he started saying things like, “You know what you are like when you get obsessed about stuff…”  To be fair, I agreed with him but we had paid hundreds of dollars two years ago to remove a huge dead skunk which had been ripped to pieces by another predator from under the same bloody deck.  This new odor was delicate by comparison.

One evening we put out the night camera to see if there was an obvious culprit with a smelly nest?  They were just the usual subjects – squirrels, possums, wood rats and two gorgeously marked little skunks (alive and well).  On a forensic note, we had spotted some very pretty little iridescent flies around the deck, glowing purple and green.  We never have flies in our yard…only endless mosquitoes that have tested positive for West Nile Disease in our forest this year.  At this stage, I should note that I am an aficionado of every Forensic program, real and fiction.  Decomp and adipose are terms that I am very familiar with.

With that thought in my head, I finally snapped and said to Teddy, “We need to call pest control out”.  He looked at me as though I hadn’t been taking my medication.  We compromised on him unscrewing some of the deck planks so that I could root around like Bones.  The drill had no battery power as it hadn’t been used for a while.  In desperation, I put a blanket on the ground and got my rake under the deck and started pulling stuff out.  When a cloud of these pretty iridescent flies flew out at me, I knew I had found the evidence.  Finally I brought out a little gray furry thing and even more of the dratted flies.  I stood up and ran off squealing but then put my big girl pants on and returned with gloves, bags and disinfectant.

It was a poor little squirrel, who had left this mortal coil and decided our deck would be a lovely resting place.  I shouted to Teddy that I had found the victim but he chose to carry on working since he didn’t want to confront his wife who said, “SEE, SEE, I told you it was a critter!”  The decomposition flies were now yukky, not pretty, and I had to shake the corpse to get the damned things off.  Another friend had just told me this lovely story of rescuing a dying baby bird from their pool, putting it in a leaf lined box and then burying it in their garden with a cairn for remembrance.  Our squirrel went in the wheelie bin.

After all that, in almost 100 degree weather, I went all OCD (that’s a clinical term).  Hose, disinfectant, bleach and then I did the same for me.  All my clothes went in the washer immediately.  It struck me as ironic that there is a virus out there that is so much more dangerous than any dead squirrel.  The garden is serene again, smelling verdant and I am so glad I didn’t speak to the apartment manager…