Actually I could care less

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Caring requires time and effort. It’s like filling up a bucket, except it’s filling up the mind and heart with a person, a thing, or a cause. You have to think about the object of your caring, which means shifting your brain from idle to at least first gear.

 

Science moment: Assuming you have a brain, and frankly, the fact that you are reading this blog creates doubt, said assumed brain idles at about 6 to 11 calories per hour. Actual thinking increases the amount of calories only slightly, which explains why there are so many thickheaded people about.

 

If caring were math, it would be the whole numbers, which depending on who you trust and I’m not sure it should be me, includes zero. Getting from caring to the nothingness or zero of not caring requires sliding down the scale of care like a firefighter sliding down the firehouse pole.

 

Couldn’t-care-lessness is measurable and getting there requires another simile. It’s like untying a balloon full of concern and attentiveness and forcing all of it out by stretching the neck of the balloon to produce sounds not unlike those experienced during gastrointestinal distress. Once all of that air is satisfyingly released (and you know exactly what I’m talking about), you have emptied yourself and have reached the “Om” of OMG, I couldn’t care less.

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Once this nirvana of carelessness has been achieved, you must never think about the subject again, so as to not disturb your care-o-meter. This explains why I avoid reading tabloid headlines in supermarket lines and tend to weep any time I come across bad words like…Warning! BWA! (Bad Words Alert)….Bieber, Kardashian, and Brangelina.

 

Hearing or reading about what the not-to-be-mentioned people wear, don’t wear, eat, don’t eat, kiss, or don’t kiss knocks my brain out of idle and forces me to not care about what I just heard or read. The very act of not caring about the information tires me out and often leaves me at the place where I could care less if I tried, but I don’t have the energy or inclination to do so. More often than not I exhaust myself into numbness and discover I could not care less, but this usually requires dark chocolate, wine, or both.

 

So, yeah, sometimes I really could care less.

My bucket’s list

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  1. Spend one day without getting kicked

 

  1. Find the end of the rainbow and hold the gold

 

  1. Get a handle on why my most important work always goes down the drain

 

  1. Go to the beach and keep my bottom sand-free

 

  1. Chill out with champagne

 

  1. Make people stop trying to carry tunes in me

 

  1. Take part in the ALS ice bucket challenge

 

  1. Visit the bottom of the wishing well and bring home some cash

 

  1. Learn how to empty myself through meditation

 

10. Kick one person before I die
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The Rabbit Wars: Urine, You’re Out

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The petunias in all their glory being surveyed by a wascally wabbit.

The petunias in all their glory being surveyed by a wascally wabbit.

The petunias can barely contain themselves in the flower box behind the house. Each one is a small poem written in pink, coral, or purple. And like all good poetry, the petunias both teach and delight.

 

My other yard poems are the geraniums. They have taught me two lessons. First, hummingbirds like them. Second, rabbits generally don’t. Part of the delight of geraniums comes from those same reasons.

 

Petunias, on the other hand, have taught me that rabbits see things differently than I do. To me, my white box of colorful petunias is a feast for the eyes; to the rabbits in the neighborhood, it’s a feast.

 

If he were a jackrabbit, this would be jack in the box.

If he were a jackrabbit, this would be jack in the box.

I like rabbits, and I enjoy watching them, but I don’t like them enough to let them eat my petunias. We had a long hard winter and several rabbits survived by eating the bushes in the back. The rabbits processed a good foot of each bush into scat, but I never complained.

 

Encouraged by my leniency, they thought it would be okay to eat my petunias. First, I tried soaping down the box, hoping the smell would deter them. Instead they sat in the box, munching away, with their sanitized paws. Naturally that gave me pause, so I sprinkled pepper around the box, hoping they would hotfoot out of the box and take their paws elsewhere. When that didn’t work, I thought it would make good sense to bring out the big PP, which stands for predator pee (or PredatorPee, a real company), which, of course, makes good scents for plant protection. And the best good scents for rabbits are bad scents, long-toothed and hungry bad, as in fox urine.

One of the bunnies checks to see if I am watching the petunias.

One of the bunnies checks to see if I am watching the petunias.

 

My husband found a different product that uses putrescent egg products to encourage the bunnies to forage elsewhere. The repellent works well and keeps the rabbits from seeing my flower box as an all-you-can-eat salad bar. When it rains, the spray dissipates and the rabbits come back, so it requires repeated spraying, which makes good cents for the company.

 

Probably overcome by guilt and shame for eating my petunias.

Probably overcome by guilt and shame for eating my petunias.

The rabbits still visit the yard, and I have seen them among the hostas in the early morning. We have developed a wary truce. The petunias are there to feed my soul, not their bellies. I plan to stop stewing about the flowers as long as they stay away; otherwise, I might start stewing the rabbit

The part where she discovers she dowses

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Dowsing, the idea that two disparate objects can find one another based on mutual attraction, is much like the belief in love at first sight: one person holds his or her heart in hand, feels it bending toward another and discovers the person who will make one of two.

 

Practitioners of dowsing swear that by using a tree branch or rod, they can find water, minerals, or other objects buried in the earth. Love-at-first-sighters believe the heart needs only a glance to find true love.

Courtesy of Wikicommons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

I believe in dowsing as much as I believe in love at first sight, which is not at all. Dowsers have been subjected to testing and come up equal to chance. Love at first sight is the same. Chances are it will work out; chances are it won’t.

 

After I heard about dowsing when I was a child, I found a y-shaped tree branch and searched for water in the yard. Nothing happened. It turns out I didn’t need a stick to find the water that had already been discovered and conveniently came out of the outside faucet and through the garden hose into my thirsty mouth. I was as unlucky in dowsing as love at first sight. I did, however, later experience like at first sight, which led to love, but that is a different story.

 

I hadn’t thought of dowsing for decades until the other day when I realized I was a master dowser and had been for years. My dowsing is unique in that with my handy tool I find not things, but people; and not under the earth, but atop it.

 

The object used to find these people is a wheel with about a 15-inch diameter, and once it is in my hands, I achieve 100% accuracy in finding a particular kind of people: idiots.

 

The wheel I use is conveniently attached to my car, so I don’t have to carry it about. Once I pull out of the garage, the wheel instinctively leads me to idiots in other cars who don’t use their blinkers, who tailgate, who are clearly texting while driving, and who drive too much above or too far below the speed limit, or weave in and out of traffic curious to find out if everyone’s brakes still work. Unlike traditional dowsers who are looking for a desired object, I don’t seek these idiots out; my steering wheel finds them.

 

Unlike this steering wheel, mine is attached to a car. Courtesy of D-Kuru on Wikimedia Commons

Unlike this steering wheel, mine is attached to a car. Courtesy of D-Kuru on Wikimedia Commons

I don’t use the term idiot lightly. A person has to commit driving acts that jeopardize lives to fit the category. Drivers who take the parking spaces I want are not idiots, they are merely selfish.

 

Idiot dowsing is equal parts uncanny, unnerving, annoying, and disturbing (much like the extremely long sentence that follows). Idiocy here in northeastern Wisconsin is clearly on the rise based on the numbers I discover as I white-knuckle through traffic, using my blinkers; leaving space between me and the car ahead, which is immediately filled in by a speeding, lane-jumping lunatic, which causes me to create more space, leaving room for yet another lunatic, and so on until I am back to where I started even though I’ve been driving for half an hour – much like Wonderland Alice who was told by the Red Queen, “…here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place”); obeying (or practically obeying because what’s an extra 5 miles over) the speed limit; eschewing* phone use because I need both hands on the wheel to avoid the swervers; and identifying each nitwit by calling out loudly, “You idiot!”

 

I want, as is my wont, to remain positive and to avoid letting them figuratively and almost literally drive me crazy, so I have decided to keep a notebook like birders do. Yesterday I saw three red-hooded idiots, two Toyotan morons, a brown-headed blockhead, and a silver Cadillacan cretin. Imbeciles and muttonheads are almost too common to mention, but I intend to record them all. Mark my words (or at least my errors), future idiotologists will find my records valuable in tracking the increase of dunderheads in cars in Wisconsin.

 

*Each time the word eschew is used on this    blog, both the writer and reader are granted  one piece of dark chocolate. If you don’t likedark chocolate, please let me know and I will kindly eat your piece.

 

 

 

What’s cooking?

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Barbecue season in Wisconsin begins once the top of your grill is visible above the snow drifts and ends when the snow is so high it’s impossible to find your grill out on the deck.

 

 

Take a walk around the neighborhood on a Wisconsin summer evening and you are bound to smell steak, brats, venison burgers, salmon, hamburgers, hot dogs, or lake perch smoking on planks of cedar, sugar maple, black cherry, or golden alder.

 

 

Last week after our own non-grilled dinner, I sat on the couch reading a book while my husband relaxed in the recliner working on his computer, and the grandchild conducted a physics experiment in the bathtub to discover how much sloshing was needed to saturate the bathroom rug.

 

 

The next thing I know, a sweet smell saunters into the house, sits right next to my nose, and says, “Get a load of me.” So I do, and I say to my husband, “What smells so good?”

 

 

He takes a big whiff. “Must be Ray grilling.”

 

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The smell grows stronger and I get curiousier, so I walk outside to see what Ray is grilling in front of his garage. He isn’t. So I check out in the backyard, but he’s not on his deck either.

 

 

I look up and down the street, determined to find the source, but now I can’t smell it. I go back inside to check our oven. My husband is now as old as me and like so many people his age, forgetful. But it’s not that either. I check the basement, the back rooms, the laundry room, and the garage. I can’t catch a whiff of that pleasant smell anywhere except the living room.

 

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That’s when I noticed my hat. Earlier in the day I had been going in and out to work in the yard and had set my hat on top of the floor lamp. When I sat down to read after dinner, I turned on the lights and started slow cooking my hat.

 

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This method of cooking hemp hats allows the aroma to infuse the house.

 

Four years ago I bought that hat for my first trip to Europe and wore it the following two summers from England to France to Hungary to Russia. I have always counted on it to be on top of things, usually my head, but I counted wrong when I put it on top of the lamp.

 

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My smoking hot hat.

 

The first words of the grandchild after completing the bathtub science experiment were, “What’s that good smell?”

 

That sweet smell, child, is my hat, my hemp hat.

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Oddly a hat is also called a lid.

 

I ordered a new one, identical to the first, and will save my smoked version for fishing and gardening. I learned two things from my own experiment in hat cooking: one, a floor lamp does not make a good hat stand; and two, the saying “Put that in your hat and smoke it” can be as literal as it is figurative.

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This hat is still raw and crunchy.

Trickery and taxation

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The word sounds like a barroom brawl: Bam! Booze! All! But that’s part of the con because we’re talking about bamboozle, which means pure trickery or flimflammery.

 

 

The word shows up in England at the turn of the 18th century around the same time as the window tax – one of those not so transparent laws enacted by government officials to increase revenue, which turns out to be a pain for the taxpayer.

 

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At the time, the British people considered one’s annual income as personal and private as the number of one’s underpants and certainly none of the king’s concern. The only way for the king to get a peek at how much money people had was to empower the taxmen to become peeping Toms and report on the number of windows each dwelling had. More windows meant larger dwellings, meant people had more money, meant more tax revenue. To reduce their tax burden, people stonewalled the king by boarding and bricking up some of their windows. Darkening their dwellings seemed preferable to the government lightening their wallets.

 

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Oddly (at least to me) in 1694 two years before the window tax, An Act for the More Effectual Suppressing of Profane Swearing and Cursing passed, enacting fines on swearers and cursers everywhere. Without any historical evidence to back me up, I think the lawmakers were acting preemptively since they must have known the response the window tax would elicit.

 

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But back to the word that started this post.

 

 

No one knows exactly where the word bamboozle comes from. Its first written appearance is in a comedy performed in 1703, so it must have been used on the streets of London sometime before that.

 

 

In 1710 Jonathan Swift, best known for writing Gulliver’s Travels, wrote a protest in the Tatler, a literary journal for gentlemen, lamenting what he perceived as the corruption of the English language, evidenced by “pretty Fellows” using only the first syllable of a word and leaving out the rest, omitting vowels, and inventing words like bamboozle. Swift claimed this “natural Tendency towards relapsing into Barbarity” would not end well for the words of the English language and says, “I am sure no other Nation will desire to borrow them.”

 

 

Swift is not the first language lamenter to be bamboozled by history. For several centuries now, English has been borrowed, taken home and let loose to swim in the Caribbean, play ice hockey, sport tattoos, ride elephants, wear a headdress, and dance the bomba — all before breakfast. It spends the rest of the day roaming the world, mingling with a thousand other languages, and borrowing a few words of its own.

 

 

English itself is a trickster, an ever-changing shape-shifter, untamable, as full of surprises as it is of annoyances (like like as a reporting verb), yet ever my own ears’ delight.

 

 

Bamboozle has never enjoyed the kind of popularity its close cousin cozen had in the early 1800s, but there’s something I love about those two pops of b’s exploding from my lips, ending with z’s flow of turbulent air suddenly blocked by the letter l and the tip of my tongue, as if to say, “Hold on there a minute. Where are you going, and what are you up to?”

 

 

And the answer? Spending the morning boarding up windows with the common folk, and the afternoon counting windows for the government.

Mother’s Day: In praise of benign neglect

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Mother

My mother breathed for me until I could breathe on my own, though apparently after I reluctantly squeezed through the channel into the outside world, I needed a slap on the bottom to start doing things on my own. This was to be a recurring pattern in my childhood.

 

 

Forcing me to breathe on my own was the first of mother’s insistence that I take responsibility for myself; she had her own life to live. Her job was to carry me through babyhood into childhood, where I could fend for myself.

 

She did her best: training me to sleep through the night by adding a bit of coffee to my bottle to keep me awake during the day, having me inoculated for the diseases she could and nursing me through the ones she couldn’t, teaching me to eat solid foods, introducing me to boxed cereal, dressing and shoeing me until I could make bizarre clothing choices on my own, and drilling in the necessity to shut the door when I went outside.

 

The trauma of getting me through my early years and up to the door-closing phase caused mother to forget the circumstances surrounding my birth, so the door drill was always accompanied by the question, “Were you born in a barn?” For all I knew or remembered I was, so if she couldn’t remember for me, how was I to know?

 

By the time I was four or five, I was free to leave home. I knew where the sugar-coated cereal was, and I knew that one coat was never enough; so after making sure the cereal was adequately dressed, I would eat my fill, find a mismatched pair of shorts and top, and go outside.

 

Childhood, I learned, took place outside. When adults were awake and in the house, we were told to go outside and play. Mother’s interest in what went on outside the house was limited to injuries involving a lot of blood, my own or others (if I were the cause of the blood-letting.) Other than that, I was free to roam around, engage in rock fights, create plays with my sister in the backyard, ride my bike around the neighborhood, experiment with smoking, set fires, and reassign the neighbors’ mail by taking it from one person’s mailbox and putting it in another’s.

 

For my major crimes, I was caught and punished, which kept me from careers in smoking, arson, and mail fraud. For the rest, I lived a life of my own choosing, a life largely unknown to my mother, as hers was to me.

 

Mother never felt the need to entertain me, hover over me, or know what I was up to. I discovered most of the world on my own – learned how to make and break alliances, how to climb a tree and watch the world, where to hide when I didn’t want to be found, how far I could go without losing my way, and when to come home.

 

Like so many mothers of that era, mother left me on my own for much of the time. I think of it as benign neglect, but it was really the freedom to find my way. I’m still doing that – finding my way, still making mistakes, and still watching the world.

 

Next month will be ten years since mother last breathed. Had I been able to breathe for her and keep her longer, I would have gladly done so. But that is something only the mother can do for the child.

 

Today, on Mother’s Day, I want to breathe life back into her memory and thank her for telling me to get out of the house, shut the door behind me, and go outside so I could discover the world on my own.