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War of the Groundhogs


As first discussed in Us vs. the Groundhogs, we are at war with a gang of thuggish, overgrown rodents who have invaded our backyard.


After reading my last post on the subject, a friend suggested that cayenne pepper might scare them off. We forthwith emptied five bottles of the stuff into all the entrances to their burrows under our barn and run-in shed and then sat back to wait for them to flee.

Perhaps the cayenne pepper imparted a delicious piquancy to the-all-you-can-eat buffet that was once our backyard, because they attacked it with even more unbridled gluttony.

When my mother heard our sad little tale, she reached into her own cupboard.

“This is from our garden. It’s too hot for humans to eat,” she said as she handed me a takeout container. From a kitchen drawer she dug out a homemade mask and handed it to me.


“Wear this and use the scoop that’s inside, but wear gloves too. It will burn your skin.”

Was this a bridge too far? After all, only the most heinous and depraved regimes resort to chemical warfare…I examined my heart and felt slightly guilty when I found there – a sense of glee as I took her pepper flakes.

After a dawn blitz with the noxious pepper flakes, we held our breaths and waited for the dust to settle. From deep in the bowels of their underground bunker, we could hear the groundhogs guffawing at us with naked contempt.

I heard somewhere that human hair repels deer. Surely dog hair might be even better, I reasoned to myself. I imagined that the “Taste  the Wild” dog food our hounds eat might imbue their fur with a badass don’t mess with me kind of kick. After giving our dogs a summer hair cut, I saved all their fur and we shoved it into the groundhog holes.

For the last few days we haven’t seen the groundhogs. We’ve been cautiously jubilant. We’ve been slapping each other on the backs and heaping praise on our fierce and mighty hounds, who at long last are earning their kibble.

​How long can we hold on to our hard-won advantage? Only time will tell…

Old Friends…


Earlier this week we spent an evening with friends.

IMG_0189We were celebrating the 12th birthday of their daughter. Our girls met each other as toddlers in the Little Sisters Preschool in our old neighborhood. When I did the math, I realized our girls have been friends for a whole decade: a marvel!

IMG_8031When I was a child, my family blew around from town to town like tumbleweeds, wherever the winds and my father’s schooling or career took us. At my daughter’s age, I had moved six times and had never been in one place long enough to make lasting friends.

One of the great joys of finally settling down has been the ability to forge friendships with longevity. It makes me happy to think that my kids will have friends they’ve known since they were tiny. Although I’ll never have that experience, I am delighted and amazed to have friends I’ve known for decades.

Last week I spent a long weekend in Tucson, Arizona with some of those friends. A few years ago my college friends began getting together once a year. Three out of the four of us live on the East Coast, but Debbie moved to Alaska and has missed all of our reunions. This year, we made a special effort to plan our reunion around her already scheduled visit with her daughters to Arizona.

“Hey! I was your age when I met your mom for the first time!” I exclaimed to her 17 year old, whom I had just met for the first time. “Your mom was so sweet, she took me out for dinner for my first birthday away from home. Your poor mom! I was so homesick, I cried the whole time!”

That was then:


After our first year, we moved out of the dorms and into an apartment over a clothing store called Rosey Jekes.


If I learned anything in college, it was that a side bun is never a good idea.

This is now:


More on Arizona tomorrow…




Us Vs. the Groundhogs


IMG_0072Last year a couple of fat groundhogs moved into our backyard. I wasn’t too concerned about this development until I saw the deep burrows they made under the barn and run-in shed. Internet research alerted me to the fact that these burrows can undermine the foundations of structures to the point of collapse.


My first thought was to shovel rocks into the holes. Apparently a lot of people come up with this simplistic idea. Alas, the sages of the interwebs universally declare this to be a useless endeavor that will only cause the groundhogs to dig more holes. Furthermore, they shake their heads and roll their eyes while they do it.


Last fall I bought a solar-powered stake you pound into the ground near the burrow. The stake is supposed to vibrate in such a way as to scare the rodents away. We followed the instructions to the letter, and miraculously – it seemed to work! The groundhogs disappeared.

They disappeared because they retreated to their love nest under our barn. They made love all winter long to the sexy ultrasonic vibrations of the groundhog repeller stake. This spring they reemerged to lay waste to our yard…with four new babies in tow.

Groundhogs 1/Us 0

It was time to get control over the situation. I called up the professionals and explained the situation.

“Yes, we can certainly help you with the groundhogs,” the pest control man said reassuringly.

“Fabulous!” I said, congratulating myself on my quick thinking and decisive action.

“We have two different kinds of traps we use. We would bait either kind with cantaloupe.”


“One is a Havahart trap. It might be hard to catch the babies, but we’d do our best…The other is a kill trap – ”

I didn’t need to hear another word.

“Oh, DEFINITELY the Havahart trap is what we would want.”

“Well…the thing is: it would be illegal for us to catch and release them, so even if we caught them with the Havahart traps, we would still have to euthanize them once we caught them.”

I’m many things, but I’m not a murderer. Especially not a baby murderer…


IMG_0065 2

Groundhogs 2/Us 0

The other day my daughter tried to scare away a groundhog by running towards it. It turned on her with its big yellow teeth and snarled viciously at her, causing her to scream and run the other way.


Groundhogs 3/Us 0

Later that day my husband was heading out to Lowe’s for various things.

“Hey! If you see anything to get rid of groundhogs, buy it!”

He returned with this container.

IMG_0043He chuckled as he pointed out the claim that “the animal simply leaves.”

We spread a thick layer all around the entrances of the burrows.

“UGH! That stuff smells TERRIBLE!” my daughter managed to gasp between dry heaves.

“Let’s hope the groundhogs think so too!” I said.

IMG_0066 2


Groundhogs 4/Us 0

The Human Library


Ada reading

After my mama, the drama queen pulled out the television plug at both ends and chopped up the cord in the driveway for dramatic effect, my siblings and I were left with books and storytelling for entertainment. We had always been avid readers, but in our post-TV years, we became insatiable book consumers. Every week we would stagger out of the library, arms trembling with the weight of a teetering tower of books. Reading was a solitary pleasure, but storytelling was a communal ritual. The best stories could be told over and over again without losing their power to eviscerate us or make us scream with laughter. To this day I find myself in the middle of an experience, already weighing its merits as a worthy story and framing it in my mind to tell to my family the next time we get together.

Lately, the radio has been gratifying my love of storytelling. I’m a hardcore fan of This American Life. Ira Glass is my secret nerd crush. I adore the stories he spins in his dorky, entirely-unsuitable-for-radio-voice. I was hooked on Serial (Season 1) and waited for each episode as anxiously as a junkie trying to score her next hit. To my disappointment, I just couldn’t get into the second season of Serial…but then came the latest This American Life spin-off. S-Town is a dazzling, brilliant work of art. Host Brian Reed’s voice and intonation get increasingly awkward with each episode. I haven’t quite figured out why, but for me – his ragged upspeak somehow adds to the raw, forlorn beauty of the work.

Other radio favorites:

The Moth: the stories and the storytelling can be patchy, but are almost always compelling.

StoryCorps: When I read John Green’s Fault in our Stars I was PISSED. It was so mawkish and emotionally manipulative, yet I couldn’t help weeping as I read it, while simultaneously kicking myself in the ass for weeping. StoryCorps makes me cry every single time I listen to it, but I don’t feel like I’m being played like a cheap violin.

Last week I experienced “The Human Library,” hosted at the University of Virginia. The Human Library is an international initiative that began in Copenhagen in 2000. Today there are Human Library events all over the world during which people can “check out” humans with a story to tell. I went through a catalog of short bios and picked four different people. I was given twenty minute appointment slots for each person and visited them in various rooms on the Lawn where they were stationed for the day. The stories they told were fascinating, brutal, thought-provoking, and deeply personal…At the end of each twenty minute session, I experienced that rare and miraculous feeling of true human connection. In my perfect fantasy world this is how I would spend my days – exchanging stories with my human family.