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Leaving Chet Baker Behind

Monday, August 31, 2009


I've thought about it. I have this huuuuge backlog of blog topics and fabulous fotos, thanks to thanks to an eventful summer, full of travel and adventure. Laptop malfunctions that ate July didn't help. My Honduras trip still festers on the back burner. Does it make sense to blog Honduras now, when everyone who will want to visit there is waiting to see what happens with the government? Probably n0t. What about North Dakota? That makes as much sense as anything else. Besides, I've got some wonderful things to share.

For the past couple of months, I've been blogging as things happen, and I have to admit it is driving me nuts. I am an ant, and I like to have things in the pantry so I don't have to think about hunting and gathering every day. September is going to be like living in a tornado. I won't be able to blog like a grasshopper, posting every day. So, off to North Dakota and Montana.

Leaving home is painful, but the major source of pain is moot now that Chet Baker has a family to stay with in West Virginia. No stainless steel kennel cubicle for The Bacon. David and Mary Jane were thrilled to welcome him back to Camp Baker, and he was thrilled to accept their invitation. He was a completely different dog through the packing and preparation. No sulking this time! He knew he was going to stay with his beloved WV family. So he was his cheery, kissy, playful self right up until the moment we arrived at David and Mary Jane's.
Oh, he was so happeh to see his West Virginia mether.

And his West Virginia daddeh was just as happy to see him.

Chet Baker set right to work. There were chiptymunks that had not been disciplined for almost a year!
These chiptymunks need a good spanking and I, Chet Baker, am the dog to do it.

David and Mary Jane, I do not know if you are aware that there is a chiptymunk living in your kiln. That cannot be allowed. I will take care of this problem for you. He will need to be evicted, and Offisa Pupp is on the job.

No chiptymunk will go unaccounted for when I am cruising in the black and white.

At last it came time for final kisses and hugs to the puppeh. Phoebe and Liam and I smothered him in love. He followed us halfway up the walk until I told him he was going to have to stay with David and Mary Jane. At that, he tucked his tail and turned back, walking slowly back to their open arms.
He understands it all so well. Oh, yes, we were all teary, but we knew he'd have a marvelous time setting everything to order. A terrier needs a job, and there was plenty to do. David would be taking an epic motorcycle ride to Nova Scotia; Mary Jane would need extra company and kisses, and we all know who's best at that.

Good bye, Mether, Phoebe and Liam. I will be fine here. You all have fun, and I will, too.

Is My Car Gay?

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I'm writing this post (and posting it later) from Pies and Pints in Fayetteville, West Virginia. I was very glad to see that someone had added a big red tongue to the smiley faced satellite deesh in Whipple, WV.


I would put Pies and Pints' Thai Pie, a dazzling confection of curry, fresh shrimp, fresh basil and cilantro, up against any pizza on the planet, and I do include Sally's Apizza in New Haven in that estimation. This photo makes me drool uncontrollably.


Maybe I've been away from Connecticut too long. But these WV hillbillies have figured out the pizza thing in a huge way. Lest you think I am being patronizing, I will add that my ancestral people, the Zickefooses, find their center of abundance in Buckhannon, West Virginia. I am Hillbilly proud. We figger out stuff real good.

I had dinner with some of my awesome WV friends, the Fabulous Flying Heeter Family. The trip to Fayetteville was all I'd hoped.


Why Fayetteville, home of Opossum Creek Resort, site of the famed Flock confab and the New River Birding and Nature Festival? It's just 15 miles from North Beckley, West Virginia, where I bought my first new car in 14 years from Hometown Subaru. Hometown was the only Subaru dealer within three hours' drive that had a model on the lot that I wanted to buy, and would honor the Cash for Clunkers plan. Since I suspected that the bottom would drop out of this $3 billion program within the next ten days, I decided to get myself the car I wanted without further delay. **

**In fact, the program was revved up, ruined and crushed only eight days later.

I left our old green Ford Explorer on the lot with its colorful bumper stickers, its 178,000 miles and all.

Heeter just sent me some new New River Gorge stickers. And I saved my Cathedral Cafe sticker that Wendy sent. Now I have to scratch up an I Love Mountains sticker.
Me and Mini-Me, in shadow.

I made them promise not to take it to the back lot to execute it until after I drove away in my new Subaru Forester. We share so much history, and I have already bawled long and hard over that Ford three times, and I did not want to bawl again.

Saying goodbye one last time in the driveway at Indigo Hill.


Although it occurred to me to throw myself on its hood and really let 'er rip, right there in front of the three skinny salesmen taking their cigarette breaks, I kept it together.

Truth be told I am too high on new car upholstery fumes to care. To get in a car where everything works! Where both back doors open from the inside! Where the back hatch can be unlocked with a key! Where the key in ignition alarm does not ding incessantly even with the key out! Which does not stink of mouse piss! and has no candy wrappers anywhere at all, no DumDums stuck into the carpet, no slashes in the upholstery, no straw woven into the cargo zone, no horsefly carcasses stuck in the windshield crevice! No nasty stains, no mouse nests in the ceiling liner, no mousenestfluff, Hantavirus or mildew in the air conditioner, and only 32 miles on the odometer! Oh! Oh! It is too rich. No one could deserve such largesse.

A car that goes when you tell it to, with verve and alacrity and speed. A car with all-wheel drive that flies over the washboard abs of our gravel roads like silk. A car that corners instead of careens. A car with a moonroof that takes up the whole top, and makes you feel like you're flying. A car that will take me to town six more times on a fill than the old one would; that gets almost twice the number of miles per gallon that the Ford did. A car with heated front seats and sixteen pre-sets for my favorite radio stations. Little matter it that I can only receive five in Appalachian Ohio that aren't earnest Christian music. I can't use this feature, but I'm glad it's there.


But there is another side to my joy. My husband is looking for a rainbow bumper sticker, and one with a lavender equal sign. Also a Meat is Murder bumper sticker. I know him well enough to know he will apply them in the dark of night and let me drive around for days without knowing they are there. I have been the butt of endless jokes from my friends, male and female, having to do with a possible sudden midlife change in my sexual orientation. I keep checking. Despite his shenanigans, I am still nuts about Bill after 18 years together. I have unrequited crushes on Johnny Depp, John Cusack (see a slight resemblance to Bill? Like, separated at birth?) and Adam Lambert. OK, minus a half point for that last one.

Make that a full point.

OK, scratch that one. You know what I'm sayin'.

Really, I don't feel any different. I wanted all-wheel drive, decent fuel economy, six airbags, a moonroof, and a lot of cargo room. Is that gay? If any bumper stickers go on my new car, I'll make a lavender one with a rainbow on it that says, "I just like the car, OK?"

If you're as baffled as I was, just Google "Subaru Forester Lesbian."

Whatever. If you see a green Subaru rolling along an Ohio highway with a raised fist sticking out of the sunroof, that'll be me, driving out loud, driving proud.

I Jes' Love Ohio

Friday, August 28, 2009


A little country store not far from Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University, which has been ranked #1 in the Princeton Review's Top Party Schools in past years.

They've slipped recently. Down to #5. Oh dear. Not enough bingeing?

It's got beer. It's got eggs. It's got ping pong balls, and it's got night crawlers. Which two of these can be combined in a drinking game?

I owe my husband for enlightenment on what to me was merely a quirky list of availables.

Give up?

Beer pong.

Cute Cows

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One of our neighbors keeps a few cattle, just a handful. I don't know how it happens, but he always has the cutest cows, ones with faces like Halloween skulls or odd little socks. They're probably dairy/beef crosses. Abby is one such; she's got a skull face AND socks. And Abby (the kids named her) threw a calf who's even cuter than she is, and the kids named the calf Veronica.

They came back from a bike ride raving about the new calf, and begged me to come out and see her. She was worth the ride.

Veronica was having lunch, with many feisty butts to the bag. When a calf wants its mother's milk to let down, it butts her udder. The mama cow takes it with aplomb, though I've seen a big calf lift its mother's hind feet off the ground doing this.

We sat in the car and watched Veronica having lunch, and I told the kids about lactation and what was going on here.

I doubt that it will even occur to Phoebe and Liam, as it did not occur to me, to feed their babies with bottles. The natural way is the only way they know.

Pirates and Pierogies

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So up we went to our seats at PNC Park to see the real live Pirates. I think Liam would have come all this way just to ride this elevator. Willya look at the gams on that girl? Phoebe was blessed with her father's legs, just like I asked the night before she was born.

Liam was on top of the world, #1. He's clutching his free T-shirt. It was T-shirt night.

Down into the deserted stands we went.

But they quickly filled up.

The game was darn good. The Pirates even led for awhile. It was awesome, until they didn't. I am trying so hard to remember who they played. The Astros? Uhmmm. I can't remember. Oh. Oh. The Arizona Diamondbacks. That's right. There were two Diamondback fans right in front of us and they were sort of wanly yelling, "Go D-Backs!" which sounded to me a lot like "Go D-bags!" which is an unfortunate choice of nicknames, if you ask me.

My remembering sports team names is like some people trying to remember the name of a flower. I have a lot of empathy for them, so I hope sports fans have empathy for me. But I watched the whole thing, and I tried like h.e.doubletoothpicks to understand what was going on and why this or that player was being a jerk or a wussy. Or why we should roar at any given moment and express our disgust and shame at another. And after the first pitch I did not even crack the book I had surreptitiously brought to read during the game. It wouldn't have been the right thing to do.

The game went into extra innings. I looked at my watch in the 11th inning and felt my heart go into my left heel. It was 11:30 pm, we had our kids with us, and we were three hours from home. I told myself that Chet was at least probably using his doggie door, and felt better for a moment. We left, in time to avoid seeing the Pirates fall by six points. Got home, having been gone almost 13 hours. Going to a baseball game in Pittsburgh is something probably best not contemplated, it's best done spur of the moment. 11:30 turned out to be a good time to leave. The D-bags squished the Pirates something like 11-6.

It was a long drive home, but we had brought bunny nest materials for the kids, who fell asleep instantly. When we got home, we wished the kids were still little enough to carry into their beds.

I have to confess that, after the giant foam finger, the thing that made my night was the pierogie race.
Overall, I was unprepared for the zany music, the different theme song blasted out for every player, the little movie clips on the Jumbotron. The whole event was pitched exactly at my level. But the pierogie race was the BEST. Bill had been telling me for years either that I run like a giant pierogie or the Oscar Meyer Wiener and at last I know what he means. Well, you try popping out two kids and see how well you run afterward.

Liam and the Big Foam Finger

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Not long ago, Bill of the Birds got a wild hair, and he called me in the afternoon and asked me if I wanted to take the kids to PNC Park in Pittsburgh (a mere three hours away) for a Pirates game. That same night. Well, uh, sure! Sure, we can do that. I could hear in his voice how much he wanted to go. I examined my inner soul and realized that, to my surprise, I did, too. (I am not your biggest sports fan. I know that will come as a shock.) However...As summer wanes away and school grinds into gear, Bill and I jump at the chance to do special things with Phoebe and Liam. Nothing makes them happier than when all four of us are together, even if it's just on the couch with popcorn or sitting outside for dinner in the slanting light of evening. That's when their world is right.

When I told Liam what Daddy had suggested, he did one of his trademark boneless swoons, collapsing to the floor like a happy limberjack. Phoebe did her bouncy eep dance. I raced around like a shrew, madly getting outfits and snacks and drinks and coats and hats and sunscreen and throwing everything into tote bags. I apologized to Chet Baker and left a sliding glass door just a little bit open and taught him how to squeeze through it and when I was sure he had it down I told him that he'd need to use it when he needed to go pee and he said, "Mether, thank you. I can go without for 12 hours, but I would prefer not to." That dog understands. And sure enough when we got home he pranced and bounced around us and took just the tiniest of wees, because he had availed himself of his makeshift doggeh door. And we were all happy, and he was very proud of himself.

It was so exciting, approaching the ballpark. It really is just the best ballpark you could ever imagine, spotlessly clean and graphically appealing and full of pretty good if hugely overpriced food. Plus, the Pirates are there, and they are Bill's favorite ever team, even though they break his heart pretty much every day, they win just enough to keep him hooked.

We got there really really early, a half hour before they even start letting people in, because Bill wanted to watch warmups. It was so cute the way he wore his Pirates jersey and hung over the wall watching.

Speaking of cute, Liam saw some big foam fingers for sale and said in this dreamy voice, "I have always wanted a big foam finger. May I go look at them?"
At this point I got my 300 mm. telephoto going, because I didn't want him to feel self-conscious. He approached the foam finger girl.

and asked to see the foam finger.
Look! It's a giant foam finger!

At this point, Bill and I were ready to pay anything for the foam finger. I think it was the slightly knock knees. The slightest thing about my kids can make me weep.

But being Liam and being a sweet boy, he gave it back to her and came back to us, ready not to have it for his own. I love her body language here.

And Daddy sent him right back to buy it.

He is his father's son.

Cash for Clunkers: Zick Takes the Bait

Monday, August 24, 2009


Photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson. Last caress for the old car. We're on our way to the car abbatoir.

I'll be on National Public Radio's All Things Considered this afternoon, between 5:30 and 6 pm Eastern time, talking about trading in my faithful, 14-year-old, 14 mpg Ford Exploder for a sleek green beauty of a Subaru Forester. Here's the text of the piece:

As of 8 pm tonight, the Cash for Clunkers program will grind to a halt. An estimated 600,000 low-mileage cars will have been traded in; the three billion dollars allocated for owner trade-ins guzzled down like gas in an oversized SUV’s tank.

I was going to buy a used car. Just one not quite as used as mine, a 1995 Ford Explorer with 178,000 miles on it, dicey shocks and transmission, and an insatiable appetite for fuel. Before the Cash for Clunkers program hove onto my radar screen, I had said it again and again: “I’m going to drive this thing until it falls apart under me.” I was sure we’d pass the 200,000 mile mark together. After all, we’d been through a lot.

That Ford carried me to the hospital twice when I was in labor. We strapped our new babies into its back seat, fumbling with the buckles and straps. Both kids grew up in it, and the slow and steady rain of Cheerios gave over to Nerds and bubble gum, and an orange DumDum embedded in the back carpet, stick pointing up. School papers and Matchbox racers and hairbobs accumulated under the seats; stickers appeared on the windows where I wouldn’t have put them myself.

There were bumper stickers from Maine to North Dakota. There was Give Turtles a Brake! There were dog stickers and flower power daisies and Life is Good stickers and during the 2008 election there were some pointed ones that got me more than a few hairy eyeballs from other drivers, maybe even a ticket or two.

Mice lived in it off and on, including one mama mouse who had the bad judgement to make a big fluffy nest and have her babies in the false fabric ceiling, which was a tenable plan until I drove the car and parked it in the sun. It took a month for me to find the nest. You can imagine. The half-gallon of milk that tipped over and leaked one summer day didn’t help. Neither did the chicken that rolled out of a grocery bag and festered quietly in the cargo area for a week until a small flock of vultures circling low told me there was something of interest in my garage. I didn’t drive it very often, just when I needed to.

It broke down on me only once, and that was just a dead fuel pump, in a parking lot only three blocks from my husband’s office. That car took care of me. And so, between the memories and the stickers and the mingled smells and the familiar, dependable roar of its engine, it became part of our family. I would drive it until it fell apart.

Until Cash for Clunkers. Until it hit me that nobody was going to walk up and offer me $4,500 for the MouseMobile, ever. And I began to see the wisdom of starting over with a new car, no, the heady, intoxicating appeal of it. I struck the Cash for Clunkers lure like a hungry bass.

But the thought of having a dealer fill its good heart with goo and rev the engine to death; of crushing its still strong if rusty body, broke my heart. It seemed so unnecessary. Couldn’t they give it to someone who needed a car? Couldn’t we not kill it, and say we did? I felt like a heel, a faithless, thankless creep, and twice I had to pull over and bawl for awhile at the thought of condemning a perfectly good car to such a violent death.

When I finally closed the deal on my new car, I asked the dealer to leave the Ford on the lot for awhile, not to lead it into the back pasture until after I was out of sight. He chuckled. "People get attached. They do!" I sat quietly in it for one last time, breathing its many aromas. I looked at its stickered rump in my fancy new auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass, stepped on the gas and headed home.

Last look at the Explorer, waiting to be junked. Oh, I can't bear it.

The sleek new beauty, a 2010 Subaru Forester. I know, it's the same color as the old one. I''m comfortable with green.

If you would like to hear the commentary, click here.

And if you do go to listen, please hit Recommend, and leave a comment? I'd appreciate it, NPR would appreciate it, and good Web action helps me get aired the next time!

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