Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Year of the Squirrel

This morning I was driving to work and as I sat waiting for the light to change, I saw a squirrel run across the road. I was impressed how it crossed between the standing cars. They say animals can learn those things. I remember reading "Watership Down" and there being something in there about the dangers of the road. (Which reminds me, I really need to re-read that book!)

I started reflecting on how important squirrels are when you live in the city. Often they are the only wildlife people see, unless you include pigeons, which some people love and feed in violation of the city ordinance and many people despise as "rats with wings". My Dad is a card-carrying member of the "I Hate Pigeons Club." I remember one Father's Day, we had just come from brunch and we passed an obvious pigeon-lover throwing out breadcrumbs, and my Dad said to them as we walked by, "I see you like feeding the rats."

I myself notice all kinds of animals, but I am as they say, "very tuned in." I've seen hawks, rabbits, raccoons, deer, a myriad of birds including Monk Parakeets, waterfowl, possums and of course squirrels -all in the City of Chicago. Year round, I always have an eye out and ear craned for a woodpecker or a hawk, hummingbird or unusual insect even.

Over the years, I've devoted quite a few blog posts to our grey furred friend. I've pondered their busy-ness with bemusement. They have vexed me with their mischief. They raid my bird feeder and maim my pumpkins at Halloween, but I really don't mind. Squirrels gotta eat.

I've often joked that "squirrels are my affinity animal" or "I was a squirrel in a previous life." I tend to be thrifty and I hate to waste anything, especially anything edible. I will take the smallest bit of leftovers, toss it in a salad and call it a meal. All our stale bread goes to the birds. I compost as much as I can. If I grow an excess of say, kale in my garden, I start making kale tarts and such and freezing them. I wait for big bags green tomatoes to ripen at the end of the season and make gobs of sauce. Still have some in my freezer from last fall as a matter of fact. So, you get the picture. I am squirrel-like in my storing of food. I think like a squirrel.

But the squirrel is such a humble animal and it has such a difficult and short life, an average of 6 years. Around these parts, they also freeze their little squirrel butts off in winter. Why identify with such a creature? I really should identify with a more glamorous or worldly animal, one that lives a long time like an elephant, or maybe a tiger or at least a more useful animal that is also beautiful, like a horse. Or maybe a dog, everyone loves dogs.

But no, it's this little gray squirrel that crosses my path on a daily basis. I've gotten to know its character far better than any of those others I mentioned- except for the dog. I have 2 wonderful dogs and I know them pretty well. But they have a cushy existence and thus far have not impressed me with their fortitude or resourcefulness. I would not trade their adoring gazes for the world, but they are ultimately, big time moochers.

Obviously I've given these little critters some thought over the years. I have quite a few stories too. I don't think I ever posted about this, but once a squirrel got into our basement and hid there. Unfortunately, Billie, our cairn terrier hunted him down, cornered him, grabbed him by the neck and shook him till he was dead. That was a BIG day here at the 2-flat. After that, Steve and I were certain that Billie had fulfilled her destiny and that if she had died right then, she would have died satisfied. And did I cry over the grave of this unlucky critter? Nope. Cycles of life and stuff, ya know.

Just this year, I witnessed a stand off between a cat and a squirrel. The squirrel sat underneath my bird feeder gorging his pie hole with sunflower seeds and about 3 feet away sat a house cat, just watching and waiting. The squirrel looked unworried. The cat, in an ecstasy of predatory glory. Another day, I witnessed the same cat chasing a squirrel across the alley. Just think, here in the city, we have a microcosm of predator and prey playing itself our under a bird feeder. Hilarious.

So what is it I admire about these creatures?  Besides their overall resourcefulness, they are brave little creatures existing in a world that is dangerous beyond reason. Imagine dealing with the hazards of city living when you have a brain the size of a walnut?

They are very organized and store several thousand caches of food supply each season. And for the most part, they remember where they put it.

They are simple little animals, but they are extremely tenacious and persevering. And they live their little lives without pomp and circumstance. They never get the glory. They are overlooked and maligned as "rats with tails." But they just go on about their business. I admire their fortitude.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reclaiming space

For years, we tossed around ideas for our small foyer/entry. This was one of those things that we have really needed as we do not have a coat closet in our humble 2-flat floor plan.

Perfectionism led us to procrastinate for quite a while. Maybe Steve should build a hall tree, maybe we should find one at an estate sales, etc...

Finally, we decided to just trim it out and add hooks. Top it off with some artwork, and this was probably one of the easiest projects we have ever pulled off. And it was an instant fix for getting coats off chairs. And now that space is actually good for something, probably it's intended purpose!

Steve got quarter sawn white oak so that the grain would match the original straight grain of old growth oak trim, which is what we have in our home.

We purchased polished brass hooks from Rejuvenation and Steve aged them using ammonia. He used 28% ammonia hydroxide, which is what is used for fuming in traditional arts and crafts furniture. He exposed it for about 5 minutes, which pretty much aged them 6 years. So they match the other brass switch plates in our home. Devil is in the details...

Bolstered by the success of this small project, I am now looking at what else I can do around here... until we are able to go crazy and make the basement into usable living space that is.

We're not going anywhere...

Simple things

Lately I have been waxing nostalgic for our days of hard labor. Life seemed so simple back then. Such finite goals...gutting and renovating a bathroom for example. And the rewards of the labor are so very tangible. I find that I like tangible things.

I've written on this blog about my visceral discovery of being so present in the moment, seeing my hands after sanding oak board after oak board one day and feeling truly connected. It was almost a spiritual experience for me. And I must say, I don't get that feeling from working with my hands on say...a computer. Talk about not being in the moment...Facebook, constant newsfeeds, email that is never those things are not satisfying to me. I find them actually extremely draining. Yet, ironically enough I sit here posting on of all things, a blog!

But I'm here talking to you who have perhaps had a common experience working on your own home and projects. And writing is my other craft, so it is a release not a chore (email) or a compulsion (Facebook).

It's easy to lament the state of things now anyway I suppose. We're worlds away from the housing boom these days. I wonder how many housebloggers lost their beloved homes the past few years. So, yes, things have changed and it does feel different.

I told Steve that I am itching for a project. We do have a "biggie" that is on the distant horizon and that will be our basement, which will require a dig out and a steel i-beam. That's the 5-year plan, which is a ways off. At this point, there are some among us, who do something drastic like buy another house and "start over." I don't see myself doing this. I've seen many housebloggers have kids and of course, then life becomes so busy, who has time to blog or DIY- as much anyway?

We haven't gone that route. Always a hesitation about the kid-thing here, so no dice. It's okay, I have a really sweet niece and nephew and I enjoy being an "auntie."

I am really so glad I documented all the work we did on this blog. It's really quite something to go back over it, which I seldom do, and think, "Wow, we actually did all that. How crazy is that?" I remember the very long days, the exhaustion, laying on the sofa watching Forensic Files together-totally zonked, slices of pizza from JB Albertos for dinner, washing dishes in the basement, sitting at my desk on Monday in mild traction... I remember how our dog Billie would lay down next to Steve no matter that he was drilling or sawing. She grew up with construction abound and remains completely unphased by such noises.

How to recapture that feeling of purpose is something I wrestle with occasionally. But, of course, we cannot go back- only forward. And it's always easy to wax nostalgic about the past. I saw "Midnight in Paris." I get it, but it doesn't stop me from doing it.

Maybe there are certain times of one's life that are the happiest. I honestly don't think these past few years with so many people suffering unemployment and hardship have been so very "happy." It's more "make the best of it" in my book. Try to enjoy, despite the horrific nightmare moment in time we have the misfortune of  living in. I guess that sounds pretty doom and gloom, but sometimes it feels that way to me. How can anyone be oblivious to what is happening around us, even if we have been fortunate enough to hang on to our jobs or homes?