Monday, April 27, 2020

Mouse House

When my kids were young, I acquired a colorful little board book, perfect for little hands, about a mouse and his friend who lived together in a tiny house, called 'Mouse House', naturally. The book still lurks at the back of some book cupboard. Every time I go through the books to identify which to jettison at the local library donation box, this one always survives the culling, just because of the sense of nostalgia that it evokes.

A few nights ago, Hubby noticed a tiny gray shadow streaking past him as he puttered around the basement. He came upstairs and announced "I think we have a mouse in the house! Saw it run past me in the basement."

Eek! That would have normally prompted me to pull my legs off the floor, onto the sofa. But then, it was still in the basement.

An hour later, Hubby swore he had caught sight of it running past him in the dining room. He took out a torch and shined it behind the buffet cupboard, "It's hiding there, I saw it! Go get me a box or basket to trap it if it runs out."
By the time the requested box was brought there, the mouse had vanished from the dining room, despite our fairly thorough search of all the nooks and crannies. Time to activate Plan B, which was of course, a mouse trap.

I ventured out in the sunlight after more than a month of pandemic stay-at-home quarantine, driving down to the local Home Depot, stood in line, looking like an amateur bank robber with my new nifty cloth mask, made a beeline for the pests section of the store and grabbed a couple of 2 packs of the 'self-contained' mouse traps that promised to hide away the little critters from your sight, even as it trapped them, so that you could just discard the entire trap (with mouse) in your trash.

Next, we had to set up the traps, putting tastefully tiny dabs of 'mouse attractant' gel (peanut butter was also recommended, but Hubby wanted me to get the gel, as he thought it would be more effective.) Once in place, we set up the traps near locations that we thought the mouse might like to frequent in the kitchen, as well as one in the basement.

Day 1. No mouse. Day 2 No mouse. Was the mouse too smart to enter the trap? Was the 'attractant gel' a dud? Should we switch to peanut butter instead?

Or did the mouse just somehow make it back to the great outdoors? I shall ponder on this mystery for the next few days or weeks, or until the currently empty traps catch something.

For now, the house is still a mouse house, until I see no nibbled evidence of its existence.

A mouse was caught today in the trap. After almost 10 days with no signs of mouse, we replaced the 'attractant gel' with Swiss cheese and mozzarella, and moved the traps to a couple of different locations. Finally, success! One mouse down, we don't know how many more to go (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this isn't more than one or two mice!)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Groundhog Day Redux

A few days ago, the groundhog came back.

 It looked considerably thinner than the well-padded version that I saw last fall. It advanced to the side of the deck, near where a yellow rose bush had been planted, scraped industriously at the pile of leaves, and discovered an old pathway that led under our deck.

Drat! I thought I had concealed that entrance well enough, placing a flower pot, which seems to have somehow shifted from there to another location a few feet away. I wouldn't put it past some other critter having nosed it away from the entrance to the under-deck path, maybe even Mr/Ms Groundhog.

In the grey, indolent afternoon, temperatures were warming up at last. The rose bush had sprouted lots of new leaves, and the dogwood tree branches above sported a few hundred buds. The groundhog crept out on to the grass, now speckled with dandelions.

Time for dandelion and grass salad. The groundhog munched steadily for a while, and after about ten minutes, it had had enough, and trundled back under the deck.

A chipmunk came onto the deck and dug industriously into the large square planting box, perchance to find a hidden acorn or two. It ran past the fringetree and vanished into the earth.

I opened the sliding door and walked out to the shrub. There was a tiny hole in the ground there.
A chipmunk den- I had never thought that chipmunks live in the ground, but there it was. I looked it up and found the illustration below of what looks like a very cozy living space.

The illustration is by Meg Sodano, based off of a simple line drawing from the 1970s research that first mapped it.

I like to think that the chipmunk has a burrow that is very similar, even though there is no vantage rock pile, just a hole in the mulch.

As for the groundhog, it probably has a larger den, looking somewhat like the picture on the right, under the deck or elsewhere.
I really hope it's elsewhere, or it forebodes ill for any kitchen garden dreams!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Question of Culture

A school classmate of mine was mystified by the vanishing of yeast packets from the grocery stores near her. The pandemic has turned every homebound homebody's thoughts toward baking, which, of course, calls for enough yeast supplies to last through the next decade.

'Maybe try sourdough', I suggested, never the one to keep silent if I could google adequate advice. "This recipe for sourdough starter seems promising..."
"Yes, I already have one started", she replied, "But I'm still going to try and find some at the office, I think they had some there."
Impressed by the recipe (of King Arthur flour fame), I decided to give it a try, and dutifully dumped the requisite proportions into a plastic container, mixed it with water and a pinch of salt, marked the container with the date, and proudly took a photo to send to my friends as proof of my 'walking the walk'. I placed it into the oven with pilot light on, to provide a warm spot for the bacteria to do their magic.

Day 1- Open and stir. Day 2 - Open and stir. Day 3- Is that frothy bubbly bit on top the start of a proper starter? No, not yet (the recipe said at least 5 days). So, open and stir again. Day 3.. Day 4.. Day 5. Is it ready yet? Maybe, but this is the point where the recipe called for removing and discarding half the starter adding in more flour and water, and continuing the process.

Discard? Not on my life, no frugal housewife would do such a thing as to throw out that much as-yet-unstarted-starter. I decided, based on the urgings of half a dozen blogs, to try to make a whole wheat pizza using the discard instead of yeast. I had never cared for the yeasty pizzas that I had made before at home much anyway.

So, I mixed a batch of pizza dough up, and set it in a warm place to see if it doubled in size in a couple of hours. Alas, no such luck. It barely swelled up to a quarter more in size. I was running out of time though, to prepare dinner, so I pushed on gamely ahead, rolling it out.

M wandered into the kitchen. "Pizza!", her eyes lit up. "Can you bring me a couple of pieces when it's ready? I'll be in the basement for dance class."

Hubby wandered into the kitchen. He looked dubious at my plans for dinner. That's it- time to give him something to do other than gripe. "Please get the toppings and sauce on the pizza."I put him to work, as I finished unloading the dishwasher and started to put away the dishes in the sink.

The pizza looked perfectly respectable, and I put it in the oven, keeping a sharp eye on the cheese melting till bubbly on top. I took it out to check. The pizza seemed just a bit underdone, so back into the oven it went for a few more minutes.

Alas, even with the extra time, the verdict from Hubby and M was "This tastes like pizza roti, not pizza."So ended the grand experiment with the discarded starter and the pizza dough.

I had enough of the starter culture by this time, tasting it and finding in it the source of a certain bitterness that I couldn't mask, no matter what additional flavorings (garlic powder, cheese, etc) were added to the dough. Apparently, using whole wheat flour (especially hard red wheat) can result in a certain bitterness to the flour due to the bran. Some people like this, but it was too much for me and my family.

So, it was off to the sink drain for the remaining starter. No more sourdough dreams, just sour grapes!

I shall stick to my old tried and tested yogurt culture (smuggled into the country a long, long time ago), which I have kept going for several years, and the routine fermenting of my idli/dosa batter, which rises in about 10-12 hours pretty reliably without much fuss.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Fever Pitch

I needed to stop by a local T.J.Maxx store to pick up gifts for a friend's kid's first birthday party in the first week of March this year. So I headed out to the store after work, figuring that mid-afternoon would be a quiet time to get in and out quickly.

The parking lot was packed. I circled around trying to find a spot, ultimately snagging one not too far away. People were hauling large cases of beer from the next door discount beer outlet, so I figured that most of the crowd was there for that, maybe anticipating a game night.

I entered to the store and was shocked to see a rush of customers milling around the different departments. This was highly unusual.There seemed to be more people in the store than I have normally seen in the busy shopping weeks before Christmas. What was going on?

A couple of shoppers nearly crashed into me as I wove through to the children's clothing and toy section, quickly picked out my choices, lingered by the crockery to pick out a new coffee mug. I headed to the cash register line, breathing a sigh of relief that I would soon be out.

There was a long line, reminiscent again of the Christmas shopping line. I stood restlessly there, waiting for my turn, while a teen chatted quietly with her grandmother in Russian interspersed with English, ahead of me. The shelves were filled with Easter merchandise, even though Easter was more than a month away.

The whole atmosphere seemed tinged with a feverish urgency. I know that America is the greatest consumer nation, but this day of simple shopping seemed to take on a different cast, which I couldn't entirely explain. Rather than the joy of shopping, what I was seeing looked like a shopping frenzy of some sort.

A few days later, a similar quick stop at a grocery store for picking up a few essentials, and there was a palpable anxiety in the air. A completely cleaned out paper products aisle was the first clue to something strange going on. I was nearly rear ended on the way out of the parking lot by a crazy-eyed lady in an SUV trying to pull in next to my car. What in the world was going on?

On Friday the 13th, everything became clear. The evening news reported the first cases of coronavirus in the county and the rest was history, as the city, county and state authorities declared mandatory shut downs and stay-at-home orders from the following week.

A strange prelude to a new reality.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Colors of the Moon

After the Worm Moon, last night was the Pink Moon.

Actually, it has nothing to do with the color of the moon, which was a typically moonish yellow when close to the horizon, and whiter in the sky. The 'pink' comes from the pink of the moss phlox which blooms in profusion at this time of the year in North America, as the moon was named by the native Americans who observed the flowers.

Although, I did see one morning when the moon was an orangish, dare I say it, pink, that made it look like a sun rising in the west. A red moon setting, while in the east, the sky was just beginning to tinge a pale peach near the horizon of treetops.

 I spent a few fruitless days trying to capture good photos of the moon with my phone, here they are, in no particular order.The pinkish one was taken on April 7, the ghostly smear early this morning (April 8), which turned to astonishing brightness as the storm clouds of last night moved away.

And click here  for a professional photographer's better picture of the Pink Moon, taken on April 7, 2020, when it would have been almost full.

Thursday, April 2, 2020


To wear, or not to wear a mask, that's the question...

With the current Covid-19 pandemic protocols of extreme hand-washing (20 seconds each time, 20 times each day or more), social distancing, shelter-in-place or lockdowns, the one thing that the western world has been wary of, is the dilemma of wearing a face mask or not, to help protect against the spread of the virus.

The authorities have been insistent that no masks are needed for the common man or woman in the streets. "It takes away precious resources for health professionals",  "It encourages carelessness.", "It may not be as effective if improperly worn.", go the usual reasons. All true, in some ways, especially if referring to the 'blown fabric' special masks that are reserved for doctors, nurses and other providers who are working with patients in very close proximity of their bodily fluids.

That's not to say though, that ordinary masks are anything, pardon the pun, to be sneezed at. These are the ones improvised or sewn from fabrics at home, that sewers and crafters have been madly making, in hopes of supporting the front-line medical providers in this new war against virus, since the news has been proclaiming their desperate and unmet needs for PPE and N95 masks. ("Knit balaclavas for soldiers fighting in the Crimea", comes to mind).

Eastern cultures such as China, Hong Kong, Singapore and others, have no problems with masks worn against air pollution, which can do double duty against germs. They happily wear them to protect themselves, there being no cultural interdictions, and in the process, are more likely to protect others, since masks of that variety are best to keep one's droplets to oneself.

Currently, the problem with mask wearing in the West is more cultural than medical, but soon, even
that may change. Recent studies in the wake of the coronavirus spread show that the virus may be able to spread even from simply breathing or speaking, let alone coughing or sneezing, and this, combined with the fact that many carriers are asymptomatic, is likely to end up persuading authorities that it's in the public interest to promote, maybe even enforce mask wearing.
 'To mask is the new black!', some ad campaign is sure to suggest. #BeBest might become #BeMasked.

P.S. I haven't started churning out new fabric masks for the family yet, am waiting for the official decree before I do so. But I do have a link to likely mask patterns saved away for the day.

Update: The official word is out, as the PA Governor has now tweeted that the general public should start to wear fabric masks to help slow the spread.  I made my first mask of the day from an old T shirt and elastic earlier, for hubby to go out grocery shopping, need to get to work on the ones for M and myself now.

Also: this CDC link has multiple types of simpler masks, the easiest being the no-sew version at the bottom of the page.