Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Talk Thursday: My Rights and My Wrongs

Kilometers swum in July: 32.2
Goal: 34

The big 2k swim is tomorrow night. I don't actually expect to swim 2k in 45 minutes but I'm hoping against hope I can knock off 1800. Because, really, it'd be awesome to hit 34 during the Big Swim. That would be serious grounds for a party at the beach. Well, we don't have a beach here in Dallas (unless you count the wave pool in Garland, and frankly, I don't), so I guess it will have to be a party at the pool. It's a nice pool, the SMU Natatorium. Just dodge the occasional shark and you're fine. Okay, I'm kidding about the shark. Mostly.

Up until this topic crawled across the Talk Thursday topic-o-meter, it never occurred to me that there might be human wrongs. Oh, sure, the world's full of them-let's start with slavery, religious warfare, the Exxon Valdez and John Boehner's spray tan-but it never occurred to me that there might be traits inherent in the human animal--bad ones--that just come with the package. That there could have been a clause in the Declaration of Independence that read, "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created evil; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unenviable traits, and among these are greed, wrath, envy, gluttony, sloth and the pursuit of seventeen-year-olds in skirts." (Thomas Jefferson had seven kids with a woman who was not his wife, if memory serves.) Are there such traits? And do I have them? I expect I do, except possibly the one about the seventeen-year-olds. I prefer not to get arrested when I date.

So, if one wanted to establish one's rights and wrongs, where would one start? With the best and worst thing one ever did, I imagine, or at least the best and worst things about oneself. Not only don't I know what those things are, I'm not even sure how to narrow the list. I've been busy over here. Besides, are we talking about the best thing I did as far as its immediate benefit to me? Because if that's the case, it was definitely marrying Joan. But if we're talking about its immediate benefit to other people, it was converting to Buddhism and joining OA (tie). I was, let's face it, not a very nice person before those two things came along. They came along at roughly the same time, so it becomes a chicken and egg sort of thing. Whatever, it's an omelet and I'm in it. There was Before Buddhism and OA, and there's After Buddhism and OA. Two totally different people, really.

As far as the worst: again, how to narrow the list? The worst thing I ever did to myself was believe the stuff other kids told me in school, and repeat it to myself long after I'd ceased to hear it on a daily basis. The worst thing I ever did to another person? Cripes. I have no idea. I have an entire notebook full of Fourth Step meanderings in which I tried to figure this out. Dumping my ex by a long-distance phone call? That was pretty bad. Pouring shampoo on the back seat of my dad's car because I was mad at him? Serious mess, but bubbles aren't the worst thing in the world to clean out of the back of a car. (Hint: Do not use a hose.) Taking advantage of a good friend's obvious gullibility to get her to do things I was afraid to do myself? Ulp. Yeah. That was bad. But was it the worst?

Here's a sobering thought. What if I haven't done it yet?

Good thing I don't believe in predestination, or I'd get the heebie jeebies right about now. Imagine, if you will, that it's encoded into your DNA to do one of each. That you're on this planet to do one really good thing, and one really horrible thing. You don't know what they are, but you gotta do 'em. There will be a big gaping hole in the fabric of reality if you don't. You may go your whole life without knowing, until the very end of it, when you suddenly realize that you did them both when you were six. Or you did the Bad Thing when you were seventy-four and the Good Thing when you were eighteen. Or you did the Bad Thing when you were fifty-one, and--and you haven't done the Good Thing yet. You haven't done the Good Thing, and you're running out of time, and what if it's not going to happen until after you die? What if you're going to donate your body to science, and because of you, some kid in medical school will grow up to, I dunno, cure Shy-Drager syndrome or something?

Anyway, like I said, I don't believe in predestination. And I reckon all of us do both good and bad things, just because we're human beings. But wouldn't it be awesome if, instead of yearning to be rich or thin or powerful or famous, more of us yearned to be nice or wise or smart or compassionate? If I could convince a few people that that would be a better path, I'd settle for that being my One Good Thing. I really would.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mini-Post: August Cometh

km swum in July: 30.8
Goal: 34k

WILL SHE MAKE IT? ONLY THREE DAYS LEFT!! OH, THE SUSPENSE!!! Tune in Sunday for the thrilling conclusion...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Talk Thursday: How Many Times... you need to experience it before you learn?

Well, if "it" is sitting next to the table with the screaming baby at Afrah, and then being surprised that there's so darn much screaming, I'd say, uh, quite a few. But then, it's not a big restaurant. It's not like I can haul myself into the other wing and chill out there. Anyway, Mom and Dad always take Budding Opera Singer away, eventually, and I have half an hour or so of relative peace and bouncy Arab pop music before I have to tear out of here. So not the end of the world or anything, just a startly annoyance.

On volunteering for thankless jobs, however, I apparently have a limitless supply of without-clueness. Because I keep doing it. You'll note in my last post that I seem to have this thing for stumbling into leadership positions in my various forays into organizations. Well, this one particular organization to which I belong is no exception. I can't tell you what organization it is because someone I know would then be bound to read this and sue me for libel or something. But, anyway, I have a job in this organization, and in my copious free time I do this job and most of the time nobody has a problem with it.

Once in a while, however, I run into somebody who isn't content with just letting me do my thing. Once in a while, I run into somebody who's so determined to tell me how I should do my thing that he can't see the forest for the trees, can't see the water for the stormy seas. ("One Track Mind" by the Swingers. Look it up on iTunes.) This person--we'll call him Joe Joe (Disclaimer: His name is not Joe Joe.) -- contacted me twice last week, because once wasn't enough for some reason, telling me that not only wasn't I doing my thing properly, I hadn't done it at all. He could tell, he said (interesting that he turned out to be a he; I was positive he was a she, because I figured only a woman could bitch like that; yep, that's me, the sexist pig, talking) because if I'd done my thing properly, his phone would be ringing off the hook, and since it wasn't, it must be my fault. Joe Joe said a lot of other things, too, many of which weren't very nice.

Well. I very calmly responded to Joe Joe (twice) and told him that if he were to go to a certain location, he would see obvious evidence that I had, in fact, done my thing. I couldn't speak as to why his phone wasn't ringing, but, uh, there was my thing. There was no reply. What was more, my cell phone rang some twenty minutes later. Somebody who's kind of sort of a friend of mine from the organization was calling to say that Joe Joe had now contacted him to ask him to contact me and find out why I hadn't done my thing.

Mind you, I'm at work while all this is going on. Trying to do work things. You know, like handle people's lives. Having to talk about this whole ridiculous business while balancing my BlackBerry on my shoulder and typing at the same time is not, I repeat, not my idea of fun. But, again, still being polite, I said, "Miles," (Disclaimer: His name is not Miles.) "Miles, honey, where are you?" He told me. "Can you get to (location)?" I asked. He could. "Miles, what exactly do you see at (location)? Do you perhaps see, oh, maybe, (evidence that I've been doing my thing), or something?"

Silence on the BlackBerry. Then Miles said, "Oh yeah. There it is."

"Yeah. There it is."

"Well." Pause. "That's the first time I've seen it." Another pause. "Maybe you should make it bigger."

"Maybe I should paint it orange, too."

"Well," he hedged, "it would attract more attention."

"Would you tell (Joe Joe) that you saw it?" I asked. "Maybe, I dunno, point it out or something?"


"And I'll paint it orange."

"Make it bigger, too."

Well, I haven't yet gotten around to either making it bigger or painting it orange, but I will. In my copious spare time. But two things are really bothering me about this whole exchange -- no, make that three things. One, it happened several days ago and it's still bothering me. I'm a relaxed, easygoing Buddhist. Things don't tend to bother me to this degree, so I'm not sure what's going on with that. Two, I haven't heard a peep out of Joe Joe. Generally, when somebody takes enough time and energy to lay that much of a diatribe on somebody else (and a mighty diatribe it was), you usually expect them to say something when it turns out they've been getting their way all along. I mean, I'm not naive enough to expect an "Oh, sorry" or anything like that, but is a "Hey, thanks" too much to hope for? Or even an "Oh, okay"?

The final thing that's bothering me is that I'm a frick'n volunteer. I don't get paid for this. One shouldn't rant at one's volunteers if one wants to keep them. Now I'm thinking about whether or not I should quit, which isn't where I wanted to be at this point in the life of my tenure with this organization. Plus, I hate quitting. And it would be un-Buddhist-y.

Guess I haven't learned my lesson yet.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Talk Thursday: When Next I'm President...

...actually, I should be very careful what I say about that sort of thing. I seem to have the same weird disease as my father has. I call it Civic Responsibility Syndrome. It manifests like this: Every time you join an organization you become President. I watched it happen to my dad over and over again; band boosters, soccer leagues, Kiwanis, model railroaders. In my case I've managed to dodge at the last minute and end up as vice-president, but I gotta tell ya, vice-president of a homeowner's association is not much different than president, particularly when the actual President bails on you, moves to Oregon and leaves you holding the bag two weeks before the termite tenting. Which she scheduled for Easter Weekend. I repeat, Easter Weekend. Only the biggest holiday of the whole year for the 60-some-odd percent of residents in our complex who were Hispanic, and she thought that would be a great weekend to kick them all out of their homes. Thanks, lady. Don't think I've forgotten.

I've also managed to dodge becoming President (or "chair," as it's politely called) of our local OA intergroup. I did it by hastily volunteering for something else. We have a rule that you can only hold one office at a time, so I'm safe for a while. As Bulluck said in "Deadwood," "I said I'd be the building inspector because I didn't want to be the goddamned sheriff!" But I'm on borrowed time here. Sooner or later, people will start looking at me with that godawful smile and say, "Wouldn't she make a great President?"


For this reason, and this reason alone, I never went into politics. But imagine if I had. A bipolar Buddhist blue dog Bachmann clone, making up stuff about the Revolutionary War and insisting that straight people could learn to enjoy gay sex with counseling and enough alcohol. What a fun campaign that would be. And when I won, I'd make my very first phone call to Harvard University, where, probably in a state of mild panic, I'd say, "Send me your very best professors of psychology, philosophy, religion, U.S. history, foreign relations, social psychology and cultural anthropology. No, make that two anthropologists, I want them to argue with each other. And an economist. No, two economist, and make sure only one of them is a Keynesian. Thanks. Oh, and a bottle of anything. And a glazed doughnut. To go." When my illustrious panel arrived, I'd say, "Congratulations, guys (and ladies). You're my new cabinet. Somebody fire the old one. Shouldn't there be a doughnut around here somewhere?"

Because, seriously, a president is only as good as the person he talked to last. Well, at least Clinton was. So I'd like to talk to someone last who actually knew what the fuck he (she) was talking about. I might have a snowball's chance of surviving the first year if I did that. It'd sort of be like an episode of "House." I'd walk into a Cabinet meeting and say, "Al-Qaeda is threatening to harm puppies and say bad things about the nation's children unless we withdraw our big ugly mugs from Libya. What should we do? Discuss!" and then stand back and listen to what everyone has to say. Once everybody's wound down (and I've pried the two anthropologists away from each other's throat, and one of them has managed to get in the last 'Not in my village' and the other one has tossed off a 'Chagnon proved that years ago'"), I'll have some idea of what to do. How anybody runs a country without a Panel of Learned Experts, I have no idea.

Let's see, what else would I do: I'd immediately declassify all the documents about Area 51 and hand them over to WikiLeaks. I'd tell them to make their release look like an accident and make sure my Army chief dude made some loud speeches with some nice big scary words. Then, once the tizzy died down and everybody got over the fact that all we ever did there was make top-secret aircraft and there were never really any alien bodies, I'd radio !X'to on L9 in the M-51 and say, "Okay, they bought it. You owe me 50 quatloos."

I'd close Guantanamo and turn it into a beach. It's in Cuba. It ought to be a beach. As for anybody still there when it closed, I'd get them all jobs at Disney World on the "It's a Small World" ride. That should keep them out of trouble for roughly the rest of their lives.

I'd raise everybody's taxes by the same nominal amount and lower spending across the board by another nominal amount, every year until we had a balanced budget. Then I'd ask what was so hard about this and wait for someone to tell me.

Finally, I'd tell Nancy Grace to shut up. And when she started in on the First Amendment thing, I'd tell her to shut up again.

Unless, of course, that would clinch my re-election. Maybe I'd just tell her to keep it down in there.

Fat Kids and Fat-Headed Harvard Doctors

Looks like it's gonna be a two-blog-post kinda day, because I just cannot seem to shut up about this article in Time Magazine. Or its counterpart on CNN. I've been all over both comment boards, spewing all kinds of rancor and sarchasm (that's the gap between my witty remarks and people's inability to understand them).

In case you don't have time to read the links, some wit at Harvard University has suggested that childhood obesity is actually child abuse, and if kids get morbidly obese, their parents should lose custody. Yep, better to throw them into an already-overburdened foster care system, where they would seem to run a much higher risk of being raped, beaten or killed than they would in their own families, rather than let them get too fat. Great idea. Hey, here's another one; why not take these kids and ship them off to a state run fat camp (oops. my fingers almost slipped and typed "concentration camp'; wonder what that was about) and lock them up until they're eighteen, or until they've achieved a BMI of 25. Oh, and as for parents who apparently don't know enough about nutrition to feed a kid properly, don't bother educating them or anything. Just tie their tubes and make further procreation a death penalty offense. Yeah, that would solve the childhood obesity epidemic pretty quick.

What this doctor is forgetting, as all doctors seem to forget when they're commenting in public, is that there are human beings in this equation. One of them, by the way, is a kid. And I hate to dispell this notion that kids always do exactly what their parents say, but, uh, they don't. By the time a kid is eight or nine, he or she has both A. a functioning brain and B. the capability to use said brain to make decisions separate and apart from Mom and Dad. Yeah, I know how scary that is, but unfortunately it's the truth. So before we heap all the blame for childhood obesity on Mom and Dad (mostly Mom, since it's always the woman's fault in situations like this), let's consider that kid, for a minute, shall we?

Oh, heck. Let's just consider ME.

I was the obese eight or nine year old, though honestly, if you look at pictures of me from that time frame, I wasn't really all that fat. I did hit puberty at about a million miles an hour at nine or so, going from a kid's body to a fully grown adult woman's body in about six months. What happens during puberty? Well, you grow. And you gain weight. And it's possible it would have all settled out in the right places and I'd have been fine. Not likely, but possible. Instead, the pediatrician freaked out because I gained thirty pounds in two months, my mom freaked out because my first bra was a B-cup (no training bras here, kids) and the years of being forced onto one diet plan after another began.

I distinctly recall being about nine, reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, when my mom came into my room and asked me if I wanted to go on Weight Watchers or Nutri-System. I don't think too many nine-year-olds have a very firm grasp of either one, but at least she asked? I was on Weight Watchers five times in five years and gained twenty-eight pounds. The real binge eating started during this time. I was eating steadily, doggedly, anything I could get. I'd sneak into the kitchen and eat raw cake mix out of the box. I'd steal coins out of my dad's change stash to buy candy from vending machines (nice and anonymous.) I stole food from other people's lunch bags. I even fished things out of the trash. The more my mother cracked down, forced me into exercise programs, and chirped at me about what foods were and weren't on my program, the more I ate.

And I did it on purpose. Why? Because I was furious, in the way only a pissed-off little kid can be. I knew when my rights were being violated. I knew if I kept on eating, it would make my mother mad, so I did it. Church picnics were awesome because there was no way she could watch me every minute. I'd head straight for the buffet table and watch her roll her eyes in despair.

Yes, being fat screwed up my life. Yes, I was the butt of every joke in elementary and junior high school. Yes, that sucked. But it didn't matter. I was too angry. And was I, uh, extremely sick? Let me think YES. But I didn't know that yet. I'd know it later, when I got around to joining OA. Much later.

By the time I hit high school, the binge eating had slowed down, but the damage was basically done at that point. I graduated weighing over 200 pounds. I won't tell you where I'm at now, but I will tell you that since joining OA I've lost 50 pounds, very gradually over 3 years. (Yay!) And I don't doubt that OA saved my life, because if I hadn't stopped when I did, I'd have gone over some precipice and I really don't even like to think about that, thank you.

But what I'm trying to say here is, why put all of the blame on Mom and Dad? My mom and dad did everything right. They were both thin. They modeled good behavior. They exercised a lot (especially my dad) and they encouraged (nay, forced) us to join them. My mom was on a health kick before there really was such a thing; we didn't have much sugar in the house, and a cake or pie was a rare treat (though the ingredients were always around; have you ever eaten a stick of pie crust? I have).

Kids are not mere mouthpieces for everything mom and dad do. They can and do think for themselves. And act on what they think. And that's why this Harvard doc is so off-base. He's gone hell bent for leather after the disorder and completely forgotten about the person--the real little human being--who has it. Sure, put the kid in foster care. Make him even more angry and messed up than he already is. Great idea, Doc. Call me when you get another one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mini-Post: Requiem for a Lizard

One of my cats got ahold of a small lizard last night. Don't ask me what a lizard was doing in the house. I'm sure it regrets its rash behavior. After Joan determined that whatever the cat was playing with wasn't a six-legged creepy crawly that would make me scream like a little girl, I went in and got the lizard away from the cat. I picked it up with a napkin and tried to determine how bad it was hurt.

Answer: Bad. The poor thing was bitten almost in half. Yes, I know this is just part of the food chain and all that, but I don't have to like it. Quickly I rushed outside with the lizard, put it down on the porch and stomped on its head.

After which I, uh, was sick.

Don't get me wrong. I think I did the right thing. There wasn't any helping the poor little guy and he must have been in terrible pain. He's not anymore. But it's been ages since I killed anything. When I have to deal with a spider, I usually catch it and take it outside. I'll wave off mosquitoes, but I won't slap them unless they're biting me. I'm going to have to call an exterminator here, because we've got a hornet's nest someplace near the house, but I'm putting it off. I'm trying to figure out how I can call an exterminator who will somehow get rid of the hornets without killing them. (Right.) Any Buddhist exterminators out there? Hello?

I know people kill things all the time. Bugs, mice, rats, other pests that interrupt our households. Heck, even raccoons. I know it, but I don't like it. Killing things, I mean. I won't tell other people what to do, but I don't want to have to do it. Ever. And it occurred to me that maybe the best requiem for this little lizard is that I did react so strongly to having to kill it. What kind of person would I be if I killed something, shrugged, and went on about my business? And what kind of statement would that be, to this lizard? That would be saying that its tiny life didn't matter. All lives matter, however small.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Drake Equation for Navigating Editorial Asteroid Fields

k swum in July: 9.75 (24.2 to go!)

I don't often mope around the house and eat frozen yogurt, which I'm not supposed to eat, anymore. That's the problem with OA. After a few meetings, you completely lose the illusion that eating something will make it all better. You know it won't, so it's no fun eating whatever you would ordinarily eat when you mope around the house. Doesn't stop me from doing it, just stops it from being fun. You might say OA has ruined food for me, the same way that AA ruined booze for me. Forget about me ever joining SA. But anyway: Moping about the house. If I'm doing that, and it's not a direct result of my aunt and uncle selling their house in North Dakota (still waiting for somebody to offer me that $1.8 million), then it must be that The Odds have crept up on me again.

Now, I know I'm not supposed to pay any attention to The Odds. The Odds, as Boss Jason would say, do not exist. (As C3P0: "Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3720 to 1!" As Han Solo: "Never tell me the odds!") But The Odds of successfully getting a book published around here have to be a lot higher than the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field. The Odds of just getting an agent are worse than the odds of surviving a night unprotected on the ice fields of Hoth (725 to 1; actually, Artoo, I don't think we needed to know that).

Now, I used to have an agent, so technically speaking, my odds should be somewhat better. I am, after all, agentable. So maybe only like 625 to one or something. But then, okay, let's say I make it past that first unimaginable hurdle and actually hook up with an agent. Now I'm like just one of hundreds of agented writers who have manuscripts they are trying to sell. There's only a certain number of publishers, and they only put out a certain number of books a year. So all the agents are taking all these manuscripts from all their writers and presenting them to all these editors who are going to look at, say, these hundreds of manuscripts and winnow down the pile to the, let's say, twelve manuscripts they're going to accept for publication in the year, say, 2013. And, let's say, things go well and they make a few bucks and their stockholders don't vote them out of existence between now and then, and they actually go to press with my book and it actually hits store shelves the year it's supposed to. Are you starting to get the idea?

There's this cosmic equation, called the Drake Equation, about the odds of the human race ever encountering an intelligent alien species, which has to do with how many planets there are and how many are within a certain amount of light years of travel and how many of those are e-class planets within a certain distance from their stars and not too cold and not too warm and not too violently tossed about and how many of those start communicating with radio waves and similar signals, and how many of said radio signals come into our quadrant of the galaxy and cross our wave of orbit, and anyway, after you plug in all these numbers, the answer is one. One. One lousy communicating intelligent alien civilization. I hope they are friendly.

Similarly, you could craft a cosmic equation for the odds of me ever getting a book published. You'd have to start with me writing a book that's good enough for people to actually pay money for, which I'm not sure I have, and I'm not sure I have because I'm in this mopey and eating-frozen-yogurt frame of mind, but just for the sake of argument, let's say I have. And said book would have to be represented by a fine query letter that really pops, which, again, I'm not sure I have, but let's just say I have, again for the sake of the argument. And then you'd have to calculate the number of literary agents who rep my type of fiction, and assume that the query letter would land in at least one of their laps (or on their laptops) on a day when they were in a good mood. And then you'd have to assume that, of the ones that were in a good mood, at least one of them would request my manuscript, like it, and decide to rep me. After which, you'd need to calculate the number of publishers in (just to keep this from getting totally out of hand) New York, the number of those that published suspense thrillers, the number of those that were accepting new submissions, the number of those that were willing to have lunch with this theoretical agent, the number of those that would then take a look at this theoretical manuscript, and...

And at that point my brain kind of bogs down. I mean, I can only calculate about fifteen equations at a time in my head before I get confused. But I think the answer is, uh, one. Or maybe one and a half. Or the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field.

No wonder I say never tell me the odds. Clearly I need more frozen yogurt.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Talk Thursday: The Aminal Life

Total k swum in July: 8.15 (25.8 to go!)

Well, kids, my last feral cat is gone. Her name was Frost (is Frost?) and she was a calico. She lived in the shed next to the house and showed up twice a day for feeds, and while she wouldn't come anywhere near me, she'd sometimes act like she was going to get close enough to sniff my hand. Anyway, I haven't seen her since the beginning of June, and because she was so regular, I have to think she's probably really gone this time. Gone to where? Don't know. Fatal case of truck or stray dog or coyote, I expect, or maybe an illness that she couldn't fight off. Another time she disappeared for about a week and came back dragging a back foot. It seemed to get better by itself (which was a good thing, since good luck catching her, taking her to a vet, and then catching her again to get the cast removed). But I think I'd have heard from her by now if I was going to hear from her.

So my backyard menagerie, which once numbered twelve (count them, twelve) feral cats, is down to zero. Unless you count the orange guy, who lives a few houses away and comes by for
extra meals and some loving-on. There's also a couple of grey cats that happen by every now and again, but I'm completely without any squirrel patrols, and the big ugly scary bugs that more or less never came into the house are, uh, coming into the house. (And the internal cats are completely useless, by the way; they come over and stare at the bugs with great interest, but don't do a darn thing to kill them. Cats not being Buddhists, they could kill with impunity; me, I have to yell, "JOAN!!" and try to ignore the fact that Joan stomps on them, rather than catch them and take them outside.) Yesterday I bought twenty pounds of cat food and couldn't figure out why I was doing it. Then, this morning, when I found the bin of food on its side halfway across the deck with the lid partially unscrewed, I remembered: The raccoons.

Y'all might remember last summer's bout with the cute furry and dangerous little masked
denizens of the aminal kingdom. They're attracted by the cat food, of course, and since I wouldn't stop feeding the external cats just to get rid of the raccoons, they had a nice source of food all summer long. I hadn't seen any in quite a while, though the last encounter was particularly cute; this one hid behind the food bin, stuck a paw out and scooped food out of the food bowl, pulling it behind the food bin to chow down. As if he was invisible back there.

Anyway, I thought they'd moved on to greener pastures. Perhaps it's the absence of Frost, but The Raccoons Are Back, People. And they're polluting the waterer by washing cat food. So I took the seemingly necessary step of putting out a small dish of water next to the food bowl. Maybe they'd wash in that, and leave the waterer alone. As it is, I've become the local watering hole for half the block and I'm filling the waterer every two or three days. When Joan saw this, she said, "Jen, I get that you don't want to chase away the raccoons, but is it really necessary to put out a finger bowl? I mean, what's next? Cloth napkins and a sherbet appetizer?"

My dad called me last night. He and Mom are visiting relatives in North Dakota, and my aunt and uncle had been hearing strange chirruping noises from the basement at night. My uncle finally went down there with a flashlight and a baseball bat and found not a prowler with a speech impediment but four baby raccoons. He and my dad caught them one by one and relocated them outside, under the porch. When my dad tried to walk away from the last one, it crawled out and followed him. Yep, Dad had become Mom. Luckily, the Real Mom showed up and put a stop to this nonsense in a hurry. So you might say this ridiculous fondness for pesky wildlife runs in the family.

(By the way, my aunt and uncle are selling the house in which I spent the only really happy part of my formative years. I'd kill to keep it in the family. Can anybody lend me $1.8 million and a speedboat until my first runaway bestseller? Anybody? Hello?)