A Clean House

Since Ginger came into our lives, there has been little time for cleaning. Instead of scrubbing the bathtub, I am giving her a bath. Instead of sweeping the floor, we spend time playing fetch. Ginger doesn’t like it when I tidy up. I know this to be true because she never fails to attack the broom when it emerges from the closet. Also, she does her best to shred every paper towel and cleaning rag she can find, especially when they are in my hands. During the moments when I am most frustrated about the mess, I imagine knocking the whole house down and rebuilding from scratch.

On a related note, I must admit to a mild fascination with the program, Hoarding: Buried Alive. I don’t religiously watch it, but have been known to sit through three consecutive airings unable to peal myself away. Attractive in its repulsiveness, this reality show makes me want to sanitize my entire house after a binge viewing. I cannot help but feel my skin crawling as I see our own domestic clutter. Every pile of familial detritus seems akin to the featured hoarder’s mounds of unsightly waste. In my mind, a newspaper on the dining room table will soon become the highlighted family’s buried surface they haven’t eaten off of in four years. I can imagine the fire department declaring our home uninhabitable because of our disorganized study. Our fridge usually houses only one Tupperware container with week-old leftovers, but I just know that it will soon look like the roach- and rodent-infested one on TLC’s reality show. So after turning off the TV, I will find some project in the house to furiously attack, like dusting all of the bedrooms or reorganizing the bookshelf. I exaggerate, of course, but part of me has always been a minimalist and a bit of a neatnik, and if it weren’t for my other family members, I could happily live in a small space spartanly decorated with dust-free possessions.

My husband doesn’t think watching this program is a healthful activity for me. He is already convinced that I care too much about cleanliness—that I have some sort of addiction to housework, as well as an undying need to throw things away, especially his belongings. Perhaps, he believes Hoarding: Buried Alive will only feed my compulsion, and he’ll wake up one day to discover that I have finally tossed those 20-year-old issues of Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. On the contrary, I feel like my viewing this show is beneficial in the following ways:

1. After watching, I am forced out of my chair to clean the nearest dirty/cluttered area; thus, I am moving again and obtaining much-needed exercise.

2. The house becomes a cleaner, more pleasant place to be, and he doesn’t have to lift a finger.

3. I usually find something that was lost while cleaning.

4. There are certain chores I would avoid at all costs if not for the prompting of this program; therefore we both have Hoarding: Buried Alive to thank for the reorganization of our closets. (Not to worry, somebody will inevitably mess them up again.)

5. After the initial, reality TV-fueled impression of my house being compared to a hoarder’s paradise has faded, I begin to realize that our humble abode is a pretty orderly place and abandon my more ambitious plans. Perhaps, we won’t have to resort to hiring a demolition crew after all.


Spice Pets

Cinnamon and Sugar

We own two parakeets. Their names are Cinnamon and Sugar. After hearing about Ginger, my daughter’s boyfriend pointed out that our pets all have “spice names.” For some odd reason (incipient dementia?), I hadn’t noticed my penchant for aromatic-sounding monikers until his observation. As the lively debates echoed in the kitchen, we considered a variety of names for our new puppy, including Pepper (another seasoning). The final two choices were Ginger and Rufus. The latter would have been the name of our dog had we chosen a male from the litters available.

Ginger seems quite oblivious of Cinnamon and Sugar. In fact so much so, that she has barely glanced in their direction since arriving in our home 10 weeks ago today. Her notable disinterest has me concerned. I have to ask myself, “What self-respecting dog wouldn’t have at least tried to secretly make a meal of them by now?” Is she betraying her very nature? There they sit, two little tasty treats, and she has yet to yap at them or jump up when they fly past.

Of course, should she actually succeed in eating them or hurting them in any way, I would be horrified. It’s just that Ginger is a dog, and I presume that she will act like one. A couple of days ago, she sat for about 10 seconds (a long time for a puppy) and studied the parakeets. Anticipating a leap at the cage, I watched expectantly. And then, with a cock of her head, she ran off. Clearly unimpressed once more.

Back when I worked for a pet service company, I occasionally brought dogs into our house while their owners were on vacation. We played host to a variety of terriers. These dogs were originally bred to control rats and rabbits and even bigger animals like foxes and badgers. Each and every one of those dogs of dignity made a play for the birds (a cockatiel and a parakeet at the time) within minutes of entering our home. Before bigger dogs like the German shorthaired pointer and Labrador retrievers boarded with us, I secured the birds in another room. Those hunting dogs detected their potential prey right through a closed door.

For now, the birds scoff at her as they flit overhead. Why Ginger stands for their mockery, I don’t understand. Perhaps, she is laying plans to attack after our complacency (mine and the birds’) is well-established. She did pounce on a housefly the other day. Maybe there is hope for her yet.

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile and Puppy Toddlerhood

After a couple of weeks of job applications, interviews, infections, allergic reactions, and schlepping children off to a college and an internship, I finally have time to post on my blog. It seemed every minute was accounted for by all of the above and taking care of Ginger. Despite her now reaching the ripe old age of 4 months, she is still very needy. In many ways, more so than before. Until recently, she was constantly at my feet. Now, she is a little braver and wanders off in the yard or the house, requiring me to go after her to make sure she hasn’t decided to bother a skunk, chew a hole in my comforter, or wipe her behind across the kitchen floor. (That surface has become her favorite place for after-constitutional cleansing.)

Having a puppy this age reminds me of raising a toddler. The puppy is completely dependent on me. I feed the puppy. I bathe the puppy. I calm the puppy. I play with the puppy. I discipline the puppy. I clean up after the puppy. I try to make up for lost time while the puppy is napping. The difference between now and when I first brought Ginger home is that she is so much more mobile and has so little judgment. Sound familiar, you parents out there?

Of course, there are certain socially, morally, and legally acceptable differences between caring for my puppy versus parenting a toddler. For obvious reasons, the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts will not investigate me if I:

1. Put Ginger in a crate for two to three hours and leave the house. She cries at first, I walk away, and despite feeling a tad guilty, I am pretty sure that every other puppy owner is doing the same thing.

2. Spray my puppy with a hose if she gets really dirty outside before bringing her back in. She seems to enjoy these impromptu showers, actually. I assure you I wasn’t in the habit of doing this with my children although I will admit to being tempted on several occasions.

3. Encourage my dog to rub her rearend on the grass/walk so that she doesn’t do so on my floors. (What joy is in my heart when I discover such a smudge under my clean socks in the morning.)

4. Growl at my puppy. Lately, I have begun barking and growling at my dog. No, I haven’t suffered a psychotic split or finally revealed my secret alien self to my confused family. It’s just that sometimes the only action that works to break her manic moods is to bark and growl. If I say, “No,” to her, she often just barks right back at me and continues to bite my feet. 

5. Walk her around the neighborhood on a leash. Ginger demonstrates little talent for walking on leash. My husband and I can be seen on occasion pulling her along the street trying to get her to walk cooperatively. She must look quite pathetic while we are doing it. I must confess to having used a wrist lead with my rambunctious daughter on two occasions. She completely outwitted me and escaped, but that is a story for another post.

When my children were toddlers and riding in their car seats in the back, I wouldn’t even step out of the car to cross the sidewalk and return the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile video to the library dropbox. Partly, this irrational fear arose from the fact that the Taunton Police Station was about 40 yards away across the parking lot. I imagined that I might be characterized as an unfit mother if an officer saw me walk the 6 feet to the dropbox without my children in tow.  Partly, I was truly worried about leaving them in the car, if only for 10 seconds. My husband thought I was being quite neurotic; I wasn’t so convinced.

So, I have a question for all of you dog owners out there. How long does toddlerhood last in a dog? For example, when will I be able to leave her for 15 minutes to take a shower or walk around the block and not find my cell phone charger chewed to bits?

Puppy Fears

Last week, my daughter and I decided to conduct an experiment involving Ginger. We put her dog tag with her name and address back on her collar. Earlier in her stay with us, it became clear that the clinking of the tag against the ceramic bowl was scaring her (see “On How Food Bowls Can Be Evil”). We thought that perhaps five weeks later, she might have overcome her dread of jangling noises, but no such luck. Fortunately, as soon as we removed the tag, she resumed eating from the bowl. I was relieved that I didn’t have to spend another five days convincing her that bowl was not the font of all evil.

The things/situations that frighten our puppy are both varied and bizarre. They include:

1. The food bowl when it is at my parents’ house. For some unknowable reason, she would only eat off the floor in their sunroom.

2. Rain. She would rather hold it, than relieve herself in the rain.

3. Cars. Cars are leviathans that drive by our house and might just swallow her if she gets too close. She’s kind of right about that, actually.

4. The front yard. The back yard is a place to romp and be joyful. The front yard is where dangers both apparent and hidden exist. I can’t really put a finger on why the east side of our house has become so foreboding, but I think it has something to do with the contractors who were working across the street and their tools.

5. Any dog that barks within a block of our house.

6. The air conditioning unit. The only time the air conditioning unit is scary for we humans is when it is not working!

7. Our neighbors. Any sudden or unfamiliar noise from their yard is a reason to run for the door to go inside.

8. Weed whackers, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers. I agree; these can be terrifying.

9. The vacuum when it is not running, not when it is on. She will sit quietly and wait just a few feet away when I am using the vacuum, but will avoid walking near it at all costs when it sits idle.

10. Jets that have just taken off from Logan airport and are flying over our house. I think these are frightening because she cannot locate the source of the roar. Her head begins snapping around as she checks in all directions (except up) to locate the source of the sound. She invariably gives up and runs for the door.

11. Wind. I simply have no explanation for this.

Interestingly enough, there are things I would think that she’d be wary of, but isn’t. These include:

1. Bees. She will put her little nose right up to sniff them and even tried to eat one.

2. Raspberry canes in our backyard. I am loath to reach into these to pick raspberries to eat because my arms come back all scratched. She charges through them at full speed and even chews on them. So far she has yet to suffer from thorns in her tongue.

3. The vacuum. See above.

4. Me, even when I am angry with her. I weigh 15 times as much as she does, and she doesn’t seem to be the least bit trepidatious about disobeying me. In fact, if I scold her, she simply barks at me, as if to say, “In your face, lady . . .” Kind of like my daughter did when she was two all of those years ago . . .

Ginger’s Deposits

Poop patrol

There is a new chore in our house. It is called, “poop patrol.” So far I am the only person to have completed this job. Everyone else is simply pretending it doesn’t exist despite my announcing my intentions in a very audible voice when I exit the house to attend to it. Poop patrol consists of going out to the backyard with a corn-based biodegradable bag, and collecting puppy droppings. We don’t want the excrement to accumulate back there, and using one bag to collect many samples keeps our family from contributing too much to the doggy waste bags accumulating in landfills. Alas, on the most distasteful of occasions, this chore even involves the hose.


This job is most unpleasant, so I recognize why my family is turning a deaf ear to my not-so-subtle hints. My intimations notwithstanding, they prefer not to have to perform a disagreeable task that involves feces.


I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised considering that other such distasteful chores are mostly carried out by me. Those include cleaning the toilet, scrubbing the shower, picking hair out of the drain, rescuing earth worms after a rainstorm, waiting for the cable repairman, cleaning the birds’ cage, hosing out the garbage can, and disposing of anything that is rotten in the fridge.


In my children’s defense, I must say that I wasn’t always so willing to perform disgusting jobs. One week many summers ago, I had the responsibility of caring for my neighbors’ pets when they were on vacation. On the third or fourth day, I convinced my sister, who is younger by seven and a half years, to accompany me to their house to feed the hamsters and the cat. She immediately noticed a can of dog food covered with plastic wrap on the counter. Why it had gone overlooked by me on previous visits, I cannot tell you, except that I was a kid. The counter was about eye level for her, so she was more likely to notice the unattended can of canine chow.  (To this day, she is very perceptive and detail-oriented, by the way.)  When my sister and I more closely observed what I presumed was the plastic wrap glistening, something wriggled. In fact, there were many hundreds of maggots writhing inside the transparent film and the can it covered, and they began to drop off as I picked it up. The smell was overwhelmingly that of putrefying waste, and my reaction was to scream and run from the house straight to my mother next door. She came right back over with us, most likely imagining that something really ghastly had happened during my neighbors’ absence, like the roof had leaked, a fire had started, or an animal had gained entrance and was terrorizing us and destroying their belongings.  Maybe all three, given our piteous pleas for her help.


When my mother arrived on the scene, she carefully noted the “carnage,” and said, “You brought me over here for this? You must be kidding me.” But the container was repulsive to the extreme. Surely, she didn’t expect me to handle such a cursed object straight from hell. (My enlightened adolescent self appreciated, at the very least, that I shouldn’t leave it to marinate for three more days for the neighbors to discover.) Despite my explanations of why I didn’t know how to clean it (translation, did not know and didn’t want to find out), a few short minutes later, I was dropping the can and its inhabitants into a paper bag and then wiping up the maggots that had been scattered by my startled initial reaction. My mother returned from our house next door, with some Pine-Sol® and instructed me to disinfect the entire area. Unfairly, in my mind anyway, she did not expect my five-year-old sister to help.


I imagine that my adolescent brain and time have exaggerated how truly revolting that discovery was. Nonetheless, nothing has compared since, not squashed bugs, biological specimens, dirty diapers, or puppy vomit (See “Our Trip to Connecticut and An Evil Fungus”). Compared to that can of Hades-spawned creatures from my youth, picking up after Ginger isn’t really so bad.


Directions on the North Shore of Boston

Thank God for GPS. Ginger and I took a short trip the other day because I didn’t want to leave her home alone. She sat in her crate next to me, I plugged in the address, and away we went.  I enjoy driving around the Greater Boston Area now so much more now that my car has a built-in GPS unit.


When we first moved here before I had a phone or car with GPS, I either relied on the Street Atlas of Metro Boston—Eastern Massachusetts or turned to my friends for help. The atlas was informative, but tricky for me to use because each town is represented with its own page. Inevitably, I’d end up cursing the editors for their decision to arrange these towns in alphabetical order because I’d drive off the edge of the page. The town I had just entered might be 15 pages away. Flipping pages and driving safely don’t mix, so I either had to stop and look up where we were, or guess what to do next.


Asking friends could be equally frustrating or entertaining, depending on the day I was having. All my friends and acquaintances are very giving people and always offered numerous suggestions on how to get around the area. A friendly debate would ensue on the best route. Traffic patterns and construction being what they are around here means that the time of day you leave point A to travel to point B can mean the difference between your trip taking 25 minutes or 45. After settling on the best route, a friend would give me directions something like this:


“Drive toward Lynn. Take a left right before you get to Mary, Mother of God Church. (Really?) But before that, make sure that you are NOT in the right lane because you’ll be forced to turn on that one-way street where the construction is. (Thanks for the tip.)  Go straight for a while. (A mile? A block?) When you come to the intersection where I had that fender bender last year, you’ll see a Dunkin Donuts. (Isn’t there a Dunkin Donuts on every corner?) Don’t take a left there, but drive to the next street and take a left. (Okay . . .) You’ll know that you are in the right place when you see Papa Gino’s. (Who?) Keep going. (Where?) Take the third exit off the traffic circle before my uncle’s insurance agency. (Good man, I’m sure.) If you miss that exit, just keep going around. Then go straight. (?) When you come to Thomas Middle Initial Insert an Irish Surname Here Square (What?), take the left that is kind of straight ahead. Not the really left one, but the other left that veers sort of right further down the road. (Help me.) The AOH is a little brown building on the right, set down from the road; you can’t miss it. (See you there soon, no doubt.)”


Now that I’ve been on the North Shore for nearly 14 years, I know my way around pretty well. My dog-eared map book doesn’t live in my car anymore. And if I do get a little confused, I consult my dashboard GPS. I feel like a genuine native.


You don’t have GPS? Well, drive past where they’re resurfacing the road near the Stop ‘N Shop. Make sure you’re in the second left lane that goes straight not left, and then merge right as soon as you can. The traffic circle that used to be there is now a light. There’s usually a truck parked with its flashers on across from the pub. You’ll know it when you see it . . .

Our Trip to Connecticut and An Evil Fungus

Ginger with Shaved LegEvil Mushroom Backyard Inhabitant

Ginger and I went on an adventure in which we traveled to Connecticut, stayed with extended family, and consumed fun food. She behaved herself during the two-hour car trip, and settled in my parents’ house immediately. Everything was diverting and relaxing until one little fungus with disreputable intentions, who was dead set upon ruining our excursion, reared its ugly head very early on Friday morning. During our second outing, Ginger stole around behind me and quickly wolfed down said mushroom in the backyard.


Not being a mycologist, I could not identify the mushroom in question. I do know, however, that most mushrooms are harmless, but a couple of percent are deadly. As it turns out, quite a few more will make you rather sick. Several Internet searches and phone calls to two vets later, and Ginger, my mother, and I were on our way to a local animal hospital. We arrived there within 20 minutes of her ingesting the mushroom.


First, the receptionist called animal poison control, and then the technician talked at length with the voice on the other end. Next, they whisked Ginger into the exam room, where we could hear her whining and moaning when the technician gave her a shot that would induce vomiting. Since she is still so small, and it had been by now almost an hour since she ingested the mushroom, we had to make the quick decision whether to approve further treatment. So after examining her vomitus (yes, there I was with a wooden probe inspecting partially digested puppy kibble, grass, hair, a bit of paper towel, and stomach acid looking for the wicked mushroom cap), I decided to let her stay the day.


Poor Ginger had to visit with the vet until 6:00 p.m. so that she could be monitored and given charcoal. The look of utter betrayal on her face as I abandoned her in a cage was pitiful. No stories of how the greyhound in the cage beneath her was in much worse shape since he had consumed four pounds of raisins the day before made her feel any better. I was a traitor, pure and simple.


A heart-stopping bill and four days later, and everything is almost back to normal. She is still taking some medication, but her poop is no longer charcoal black and sticky like tar. (That was NOT fun to pick up.) There is a little shaved spot on her leg where they gave her a shot and an IV, but otherwise she seems to have completely forgotten about the incident. Most likely the mushroom she ate was perfectly harmless, but I just couldn’t take that chance.

On Ants and Other Pets

Kevin and Ginger
I have always loved animals. All kinds of animals. At one point when I was a kid, I wanted an ant farm. Yes, you read that right. An ant farm. I envisioned myself spending hours watching them as they scurried to and fro carrying food, pupae, and eggs. The farm would be large and have glass walls. There would be hundreds of productive workers, and I would be in control.

When I broached the subject with my mother, she looked at me as though I were clearly insane and no doubt was wondering how I could have possibly emerged from her womb. You see, she was pretty, stylish, and talented. She made my wedding dress from scratch with no pattern and sang soprano in the church choir. She was feminine and knew what shoes to wear. She belly danced and made crafts as hobbies, and her house was always clean despite housing our numerous pets, five children, my father, and my grandfather within its walls.

I figured, why not an ant farm? I reasoned she would surely appreciate the value of studying a genuine ant society right in my own room. I would be able to see all of the activities of the colony’s industrious inhabitants. I would observe these Formicidae, take copious notes, and discover something really important. My mother, (voted most attractive and most versatile in her high school class) was no fool, and informed me, in no uncertain terms and without further elaboration, that she was not going to buy me an ant farm to decorate my room with. And she went back to cooking dinner.

Frustrated, but still determined, I returned to my book on ants (obviously, what else should I be reading?) Not too many days after that conversation, I stood in the driveway watching the insect wildlife when I saw a huge, very obviously gravid, black ant lumbering across my path. The solution to my dilemma had presented itself.  Assuredly, the source of my mother’s objection was the expense of purchasing the farm. If I provided my own queen laden with eggs and made my own enclosure, she would not only capitulate, but be thrilled with my ingenuity. I captured it in my cupped hands and ran inside. Frantically, searching for the perfect container in the kitchen cupboards and finding none, I ran upstairs to search for something suitable. First, however, I stored my ant in the kitchen sink, by removing the dishes and then plugging the drain. The heavy queen was unable to scale the slippery walls.

Desperately, I rummaged through my and then my brothers’ rooms looking for something that would properly accommodate the most awesome ant farm science had ever known. Nothing seemed like it would work. I peeked downstairs and saw that my ant had not escaped, and continued to search. Just a few minutes later, I heard a loud exclamation and the swooshing noise of the sink spray hose. Panicked, I ran to the kitchen; my mother looked at me and said, “You will never believe what I found in the sink. The biggest ant I have ever seen. That creature must have been almost an inch long.”  Crestfallen, I explained that the queen had been the proposed progenitor of my ant project. She was to have been the Eve that would have informed my intellect with knowledge on ant-kind.

“You brought a queen carpenter ant into my house?” was her simple response. Seeing the look of disbelief on my mother’s face, I slowly began to realize that she did not share my excitement about the ant farm. I think that I must have looked quite pathetic then because she suddenly began apologizing while explaining that carpenter ants are generally not welcome guests in houses made of wood. (Who knew?) Feeling a tad guilty, she distracted me with a chore or a story. I don’t remember which.

I look back on this and other instances now, and I realize how truly indulgent my parents were when it came to their children and pets. At various times my parents’ house and yard sheltered three dogs, seven cats, seventeen rabbits (not all at once), many tens of fish, and a gerbil. Not to mention the hundreds of birds my many bird feeders attracted or the frogs my brothers brought home in buckets after their adventures in the woods.

So did we deprive our children by only having one cockatiel, three parakeets, one hamster, and a 16-gallon tank of fish? Or perhaps my parents truly overindulged my siblings and me. Either way, this spring finally seemed the right time to welcome a dog into our midst.

My son lobbied for a dog for about three months when he was young. I seriously researched dog ownership and decided instead on a cockatiel, who turned out to be a wonderful, smart, and loving addition to our family. Fast forward 10 years later, and I had to break the news to my son that my husband and I had decided to become dog owners, and that we had already chosen the puppy and a name. Preparing for an explosion of pent-up emotion regarding his childhood’s being deprived of a dog, I broke the news to him while sitting in the RER in Paris as we rode to Versailles. He was surprisingly calm and accepting. So at long last, he has a dog. We all do; and everyone is thrilled, and she is settling in quite nicely. Somewhat like the carpenter ants that the exterminator discovered in my house siding a few weeks back. I finally have my ant farm after all.