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.

Don’t look a stink bug in the mouth


The point is moot.

Last week, I posted online an open letter to October that prompted a brief exchange of opinions on whether to call a potential World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles the “Beltway” or “Parkway” series.

One reader (the only one, for all I know) suggested I should have called it the “Parkway” series.  She apparently took the view of those who say “Parkway” makes more sense because the Baltimore-Washington Parkway actually connects the two cities, while the two beltways don’t have much, if anything, to do with each other.

The debate over what to call such a series was fun while it lasted, but it hardly matters now. The Nationals have been knocked out of Major League Baseball’s postseason, leaving me to conclude once again that October is a capricious month.

While I still look forward to the cooler temperatures and the browns, reds, yellows and golds of autumn, October has left my 16-year-old son and me without a dog in the MLB hunt.

It has also brought the enemy back to the gates.

Stink bugs.

I found one hanging around my front door last week. And since then, a few have broken through my defenses and have attempted to set up camp inside my once tranquil home.

I like to think of myself as a mild-mannered sort of fellow, but stink bugs bring out The Terminator in me. They are to me what squirrels are to our dog Rodney, something to be mercilessly chased out of our back yard.

But since my bark is not quite as startling as Rodney’s and since my wife would likely object if I armed myself with a shotgun like Arnold Schwarzenegger does in the movies, I have to make do with a spray bottle filled with soapy water. A spray bottle may not have the same kick as a shotgun, but at least it’s not as messy.

Our exterminator (as opposed to Schwarzenegger’s Terminator) told me a few years ago that soapy water is about as good as anything else at getting rid of stink bugs. It’s supposed to clog up the bug’s pores and suffocate them.

Once doused, I generally toss their little stink bug carcasses outside or flush them down the toilet, but after what a friend recently suggested, discarding them so carelessly seems wasteful.

He said I should throw them in a frying pan and eat them as a snack as people do in other parts of the world. Apparently, they “taste like bubble gum.”

Bubble gum?

I didn’t need to know that.

But come to think of it, maybe harvesting stink bugs makes more sense than flushing them.

I’m told they are full of protein. I could even use them to add an unusual flavor to the pot of chili I’m thinking of whipping up this weekend. And better yet, I could save some money on snacks for our always hungry son.

He probably won’t notice, anyway. He’s still distracted by baseball’s postseason.