Why Thanksgiving is stressing me out

My in-laws have yet to show up at the front door for Thanksgiving dinner, but I’m already stressed.

And when I say stressed, I’m not referring to the usual things that put my nerves on edge.

Take our dog Rodney’s incessant barking when my wife even thinks about stepping outside without him. His chaotic antics are not bothering me nearly as much as the impending arrival of my wife’s parents. Even the deer that seem to stalk me on my way to work aren’t as intimidating.

Don’t get me wrong (and just in case they read this before they get here), I’m looking forward to their visit.

Really. I am.

Adult conversation will be a welcome change from the grunts that seem to be the lingua franca among teenage boys like our 16-year-old son and the attitude we get from our middle-school daughter.

Plus, it will be nice to have a competent fix-it guy around, if only to undo my incompetent attempts at home repair. For example, I’m hoping my father-in-law will help rewire the floor lamp I took apart when all it needed was a new switch to turn it on and off. That way, we’ll actually be able to plug it in without causing a breaker to trip, leaving our family room in the dark.

So no, it’s not the actual visit that has me tied up in knots. It’s getting through the days leading up to my in-laws arrival.

My wife has been sending strong signals of what’s to come. You might even call them warnings.

At least once a day for the past couple of weeks, she’s walked down the hall on the way to the kitchen and muttered to herself, “we’ve got to clean before my parents get here.”

And I’m not getting out of helping – not even if I go on a hunger strike like our cat, Skitty, did.

My wife was the first to notice that Skitty wasn’t eating, which is highly unusual. She generally spends her days alternating between demanding food and hanging out on a perch evincing her customary sense of superiority. Instead, she’d taken to hiding in our daughter’s closet, completely uninterested in food.

After an expensive trip to the emergency veterinarian, a visit to our regular vet, blood tests, a round of antibiotics, x-rays and vitamin injections, we still could not find a cause for her hunger strike.

Then on the third trip to the vet, my wife casually mentioned that we had recently taken in a stray kitten.

Our vet had an epiphany. For lack of a better diagnosis, he concluded that Skitty was merely throwing a hissy fit over the new arrival. He said cats are “weird that way” and recommended putting her on anti-anxiety medication if her hunger strike continued.

It took a few more days but Skitty has now come to terms with our new kitten. She’s back to eating normally. The bad news is, my wife is still walking down the hall muttering about cleaning the house.

It’s enough to make me want to make like a weirdo cat and hide in the bottom of a closet until my in-laws get here.

Why our new cat chose to stick around

Last Thursday morning, our 16-year-old son took one look out our front door and said, “Better get Mom.”wpid-wp-1413459917007.jpeg

He had the right idea.

Cute balls of fluff are her purview.

Stray animals glom onto her as if she were some sort of Pied Piper. In fact, if it was up to her our house would be so crowded with unwanted cats and dogs we’d be forced to use the garage as the master bedroom.

That’s why he just as well could have asked, “What did Mom bring home now?”

A half-an-hour earlier, my wife woke me concerned about what appeared to be a stray cat. It was preventing her from taking our dog Rodney for his morning swing around the neighborhood. The cat, no more than a kitten really, was tailing them, and my wife feared it might get hit by a car. She wanted me to somehow distract the cat long enough for her and Rodney to get on their way.

I rubbed my eyes and dutifully did what I always do in a crisis — I reached for a snack.

In this case, I settled for a small bowl filled with a handful of our cat Skitty’s food. I set it outside, figuring breakfast was what the kitten wanted and was, in fact, desperate for.

I sat on our front stoop as the sun came up that morning watching that cat gobble down Skitty’s food. It was a very young, little female Tuxedo, a cat whose coat is black on top, contrasted with a white belly, chest and feet. And it was incredibly friendly.

I figured I was looking at a new family member. Our daughter and I even started arguing about what to call her.

She wanted Artemis because she’s enthusiastic about the Greek gods thanks to the Percy Jackson series of books. She’s a fangirl.

But I’ve been a Star Trek fanboy longer than she’s been a fangirl of anything. I wanted to name her Spot because that’s what Data called his cat on ST: The Next Generation.

I’m going to pretend I won (I didn’t) and, for the sake of clarity, use Spot as the cat’s name.

Spot spent the day hanging out at our house, hoovering up food and drink as if he were a journalist. (As a general rule, journalists don’t turn down free food, perhaps because we’re often one step away from being strays ourselves.)

I kept Spot’s belly full that day. I even briefly reintroduced her to Rodney, who was predictably overenthusiastic. The two,however, seemed like they would eventually get along.

I wish I could say the same about our cat Skitty.

I had cautioned our daughter not to let Spot inside the house for fear of Skitty’s reaction. So of course, Spot somehow found a way in while I wasn’t looking. But at least our daughter had the presence of mind to quickly scoot Spot back outside before the cat fight escalated beyond Skitty’s maniacal hissing.

You’d think Skitty would feel some sympathy for a fellow feline down on its luck. After all, Skitty was looking at the vagabond life herself before being snatched by our daughter shortly after she was born beneath our neighbor’s ground-level deck.

She remained, however, steadfast in her meanness in the face of Spot’s amiable cuteness.

After his encounter with Skitty’s hostility and Rodney’s relentless inquisitiveness, I suspect Spot questioned the wisdom of sticking around our house. She disappeared that night and was gone for most of the next day.

My wife worried about that cat for a solid 24 hours, but she needn’t have. Spot was back in her arms Friday evening. And now she’s adopted our “Laundry Basket of Misfit Socks” as her refuge from Rodney and Skitty.wpid-wp-1413810642456.jpeg

I’m not sure because Spot’s not saying, but I think I know what brought her back. While she was gone, she must have stumbled upon an article The Journal newspaper published last week. It was about the stray cat problem in our region, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. According to the article, feral cats are cramming into shelters around here at twice the rate of dogs.

Given the choice, Spot has apparently decided that putting up with us is a much better option.

I took some time to consider a “curious” question this week

Despite the dishes that needed to cleaned and put away, the kitchen floor that needed to be mopped, the laundry that needed to be dried and folded, the carpets that needed to be vacuumed and the bathrooms that needed to be made presentable in case the neighbors showed up, I actually took a few hours for myself this week.

In fact, I even put off a trip to the grocery store, opting instead to have a pizza delivered to satisfy our teenage son’s bottomless stomach just so l could be totally free to concentrate on the really big question of the day – is Curious George a monkey or an ape?

I hesitate to say which side of the debate I come down on. After all, I’m a journalist. We’re supposed to keep our opinions on issues of public importance to ourselves. It has to do with maintaining journalistic credibility, a cornerstone of the profession.

For example, if I were free to join a group dedicated to convincing others that George is an ape because he has no tail, would you trust me to fairly represent the arguments of those who accept him as a monkey because that’s how he’s referred to in the books?

Whether Curious George is an ape or a monkey is probably a question best left to primate experts, or better yet, “The Man in the Yellow Hat.” But that didn’t stop the debate from spilling over into my Facebook feed, giving me an excuse (not that I necessarily need one) to overlook household chores.

I welcomed the respite. That’s because my wife and I seem to have no down time. Take a typical week at our house. We not only toil at our jobs, but we also make sure the kids get to school on time, and that they go to marching band practice, theater and choir rehearsals, girl scouts, dance classes, piano lessons, orthodontist appointments and football games.

All four of us seem to go in all sorts of directions at once and I haven’t even mentioned our pets.

Our cat Skitty and dog Rodney had their annual veterinarian appointments this week. They each suffered various indignities, the major one involving Skitty and her Pet Taxi, the carrier we use to transport her.  I spent way too much time trying to trick her into getting into it. Eventually, I lost patience and had to risk her claws by simply stuffing her inside it. She meowed in protest the whole way to the vet’s office and back.

At least I didn’t have to cram Rodney into one of those things. Dogs are generally too big to carry around like a piece of luggage.

In my mind, those two trips to the vet plus all our other obligations equaled a break when I found myself alone this week.

The only thing is, I’m not sure what I’m going to tell my wife when she asks why I haven’t gotten the hammer and drill out to install the new shelves our daughter wants mounted on the wall above her dresser.

“Well, you see honey. There was this thing about Curious George on Facebook ….”

Even “The Man in the Yellow Hat” wouldn’t buy that.

Does the Ziploc bag filled with rice trick work on cars?

I should have known better than to publicly declare my car fixed without first driving it around for longer than a week or two following its last repair job.

But I did.

And it’s not.

I blame my premature optimism on the kind of wishful thinking that’s born out of a desperate need for a repair to go right. But the unfortunate fact is, my car is better at frustrating me than our dog Rodney is when he suddenly starts barking and twirling around in circles if my wife even glances at her walking shoes.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that after a lengthy repair process that included two new transmissions and an engine harness, a simple brake switch was all my car needed to fix a quirk I’ve been putting up with for more than a year.

It didn’t.

Fortunately, the more expensive repairs were done while my car was still under warranty. Otherwise, we’d be so broke I would probably be standing over Rodney’s food bowl right now seriously considering whether a little water would soften his kibbles enough to keep from shattering my teeth.

My car notwithstanding, at least the repair gods have not totally abandoned me. The new shower handle we’ve been test driving lately is showing no sign of the kind of quirk that afflicts my vehicle. By that I mean we’re able to turn the water off and on at will instead of watching it cascade unchecked as if it were Blackwater Falls. I had to install the new handle after the old one broke the day we left for a weekend getaway last month.

And just this week, I averted a cell phone disaster.

It happened when our daughter came home from school thirsty for the lemonade I like to keep in the refrigerator when it’s hot and humid outside. She somehow mistook her phone for the glass she had taken down from the cupboard and doused it.

The first sign that something had gone awry in our kitchen came when I heard her yelp for help. When I arrived she was standing in a pink puddle of lemonade, frantically drying her phone with a kitchen towel.

At first, I wasn’t focused on her troubles. I was more concerned about the floor. I had just mopped it an hour or so earlier and I was busy coming to terms with having to do it again.

A few minutes later, though, it finally dawned on me that our daughter’s phone may have been damaged. I figured that out when she complained that its speaker wasn’t working.

Her revelation alarmed me so much that my emergency cell phone saving skills kicked in. We dashed back into the kitchen and quickly threw the phone into a Ziploc bag filled with rice to draw the moisture from it.

But once we sealed the bag, we realized we had overlooked a key step. We forgot to turn off the phone. That’s sort of important if you want to avoid a short.

We had to unseal the bag, turn off the phone and then reseal it, again.

In the end, our efforts paid off. When our daughter got home from school the next day, we booted up her phone and it was like new.

In fact, the trick worked so well, I’m thinking of stuffing my car inside a Ziploc bag filled with rice.

Goodness knows I’ve tried everything else.