TODAY YOU GET a tidy list of verbosity on cats, piano, frogs (they own me) and more. It’s really just a random assortment of moose oddities — where I’m the moose. If the moose thing is perplexing, just hoof it on over to this essay and give it a read.
Anyway, it’s all heck on the critter deck, so let’s get this thing rolling along. By the way, I pretty much only mention frogs once, and it’s just a quickie note in passing.
THE CRICKETS JUST off the back deck are so loud they’re overwhelming the soft orchestra and hops of the frogs. (See? Quick!) But they are there. The frogs are always there — and the inside gang (of a distinctly non-frog variety), well, they are just plain everywhere.
My doggy companion Linus (codenamed Snoopy) is cuddled in a chair next to my desk, quietly grooming his tail zone, and the kitten duo Jasper and Juniper (codenamed the bear cubs) are clumped together in the closet. I can hear them purring.
Merwyn, the smartest chihuahua I’ve ever known, is sitting on a book: Andrew Morton’s biography of Monica Lewinsky — and she’s staring at me. Sitting on a book doesn’t make her smart, and probably on that book in particular. But it’s true: She is indeed quite smart, and she is, in fact, sitting on a book.
Then there’s Meesha, a Queensland Heeler and chocolate lab mix, who has been nursing the kittens for the last couple of months. Her udders welcomed a break, so she’s peacefully snoring under my desk with all four legs leaning up against the wall.
And Linden, a chubby black chihuahua type, is spread-eagle on his back in the middle of the room. There’s a fluffy pillow just two feet from his head, but I suppose nothing beats a hardwood floor when you’re the hero of your own dreams and fighting off warrior ninja squirrels and baby lizards.
This should add up to two cats and four dogs. The other six cats are distributed around the house in various hideaways.
And the husband — a furry creature in his own right — is watching the original Jaws movie on his iPad and saying things like, “Dude, seriously? But the fin is right there!”
Yep. This is my family, and I’m not sure what to think about that.
MY 46TH BIRTHDAY is on Thursday, and it also happens to be Hobbit Day and the first day of autumn. But you’d never know summer is almost officially over. Let’s just say hot weather and endless sunshine are not getting Christmas presents from me this year.
Okay, now for some insect chatter.
My new favorite insect is the praying mantis. Actually, two praying mantises in particular: the one that sat on my back deck for a week and stared at me through the sliding glass door while I worked at my desk, and the super teeny one I found on my dog’s back while
he was they were sleeping on my pillow.
When I opened my eyes a couple of mornings ago, I saw a folded orange hair staring at me from the backside of Linden’s lower pelt area. I have orange hair, but it’s just half an inch long, so it wasn’t from me. And when the hair repositioned itself for a better look at me as I yawned and stretched, I saw super duper, extra teeny eyeballs moving in tandem with its head.
That’s when I rolled off my bed and screamed. The little hair gal wasn’t bothered by this, though, and stayed put on Linden’s backside, oblivious to why her furry bed was so warm.
Curious, I picked up the twosome and rushed them outside, not quite knowing whether I was looking at a baby praying mantis or (hello, living nightmare) a baby scorpion. My husband found a scorpion in the shed a few years ago, the only one we’ve seen here. But once was enough, because 1) they freak me out, and 2) when I was living in a grass hut in Guatemala and woke up to a scorpion on my pillow, I nearly died.
Just add about a thousand exclamation marks to that, thank you.
When I rotated Linden in my arms for a better look at his companion, so that his head was pointing at the mulch field and his tail zone was pressed into my chest, the hair creature turned her head in my direction, and then her body turned and the whole thing realigned itself with me. I thought this was rather interesting, so I rotated Linden ninety degrees to the east and watched in amazement as the creature did it again. Then I rotated the dog to the west, and I’ll be darned if she didn’t do the same thing again.
We did this wonderful little dance a couple more times, much to Linden’s delight. Haha, no. Chihuahuas do not experience delight. He growled at me. But I wasn’t quite done yet, so he hung in there for another couple of minutes.
Next up on the creature inspection list was studying the insect’s curiously arched shape. She looked like an elongated banana with a rotating head and eyeballs, and she had six legs. Spiders don’t have six legs, nor do scorpions, which are pretty much spiders with armor and terrifying pincher things. And her behavior was oddly familiar. But she wasn’t green like the grownup version that camped out on the deck for a week — and that’s when I had a panicked flashback to the grass hut and took a deep breath and blew her into a rosemary shrub.
Which I regretted in about two seconds, thanks to Rich’s sudden interest in the commotion on the deck and his declaration that I had just murdered a freshly born praying mantis that only wanted to introduce herself and say hello.
The next hour was spent looking for my discarded little friend. But trying to find a baby praying mantis the size of a folded hair in a rosemary shrub was impossible, and so I gave up and said a prayer and went inside and ate breakfast and decided that praying mantises are my new best insect friend, and may I never harm one ever again.
Now, let’s swing things over to piano.
AS YOU PROBABLY already know, I acquired a crusty old 1948 piano on Valentine’s Day, brought it home thanks to the very generous help of some neighbors, and then stared at it for a month.
But I really, really wanted to participate in an online Baroque piano recital and found myself a nifty little one-page gavotte (French folk tune) to learn. I barely knew where Middle C was located, but by golly was I determined to teach myself piano and learn this piece in less than a month — and I pretty much did.
It took a few weeks, and the outcome was decent. But my piano was so out of tune I decided not to upload a recording of my playing and ditched the recital. It was a pretty nifty experience, though, observing how my brain went from detangling notes, one wobbly finger at a time, to anticipating what comes next and flying through the entire piece with only a few hesitations.
Then I stopped. I found the gavotte to be rather grating, and since I haven’t played this piece in months, when I tried playing it the other day it was like learning it all over again.
Lesson learned: Without practice and upkeep, the ability to play music will leave you. The muscle memory that allows your fingers to gracefully slide through a piece needs lots of nurturing. But the ghost of the music you once knew but stopped playing will sometimes linger, such as the two pieces I learned in the 1970s for a piano recital when I was a little girl: Ode to Joy and Greensleeves. All these years later, I can chicken peck a rough sketch of them with my right hand.
Anyway, why I chose this particular Baroque piece has a nifty backstory. Someday I’ll share it with you. This one-page gavotte will forever be the composition that got me started as an adult learner of piano. It’s Bach, however, who is teaching me how to read and hear music and how to find my fingering.
(Spellchecker likes stodden, and I like stodden, but I can’t find a definition. Maybe it’s time to create one, since I’m certain I’ve used it before in a similar fashion.)
THIS ONE KIND of rambles, so brace for impact. Haha, just kidding. They’re all Long John Ramblers.
A couple of weeks after my piano arrived, I treated myself to a super inexpensive piano tuning kit. But first, I pulled my entire piano apart and vacuumed and scrubbed out the thick layers of long-deceased dust bunnies and their offspring, and I reshaped some of the felt so the keys didn’t feel so heavy when I played.
When I was done (days later), I sat down in front of my stripped and very clean piano, pulled the tuning gadgets out of the velvety gadget bag, and stared. Darn, my piano has a lot of strings, I told the dogs — three for just about every key, and there are 88 keys. You don’t just throw yourself at a piano and start tuning, so I watched some YouTube videos and did some reading, and felt my forehead bead in sweat.
Did you know each piano string has about 160 pounds of tension, and old pianos tend to break strings more easily than new pianos? And sometimes the strings snap and slice your face open and blind you? Pleasant to know, yikes.
So I put my shoes on, told the dogs not to eat the piano innards, and drove to Starbucks. The gal at the drive-through window knows me — it seems I’m a regular patron — and asked how I was doing, an open ticket for all kinds of blabbery. But I played it cool and acted brave and nonchalant, and I told her as matter-of-factly as possible that I’m getting ready to tune my piano, as if I tune pianos all the time.
She raised her eyebrows and said, “Gah!” And then she handed over the goods, and I cried all the way home. Gah! indeed.
Months later my piano still hasn’t been tuned. That’s okay because I found a workaround: Stay away from the lower and upper registers, which is exactly what I’ve done. This is why I’ve only learned the first half of Johann Sebastian Bach’s first invention. The second half digs into the left hand more, and one key is so low I can hear dead people groaning in their graves when I play it.
I’ve got the right hand all figured out, all the way to the last note. But since I’m very single-point focused and don’t multitask well — it’s an autism thing and a stubbornness thing — I haven’t wandered away from Bach, even with Christmas approaching and Rudolph and Santa songs waiting to be learned. Honestly, though, I’ve been quite satisfied playing just the first half of this piece with both hands, and then letting my left paw rest in my lap while I play through to the end with my right one. I play every day, multiple times, and never tire of it.
But there are fourteen more inventions to learn, followed by fifteen sinfonias. The complete collection is neatly bound in my beautiful Henle edition on my music desk. And I intend to master all of them, even if I need a couple of additional lifetimes to make this happen. (The music desk, by the way, is where you put the open sheet music on your piano so you can play. It’s just above the keys. I thought I should mention that.)
So, today I pulled out the tuning kit, and one dang, darn string at a time I’m going to get this crusty old dame singing like a pretty songbird.
My piano was terrorized by young children some years back. It’s never going to be pretty. And songbird is a bit too hopeful. But if it ends up sounding better than a cranky harpsichord that was abandoned in a barn during the French Revolution, shot up nice and good during World War II, and turned into a mouse condo for the next seventy years, I’ll call that a roaring success — and then I’ll go to Starbucks and celebrate.
ABOUT TWO YEARS ago, when we were driving home late one night, I spied three sets of teeny glowing eyes near the train tracks and pulled over to the side of the road. Since we’re rural, I never leave home without a headlamp strapped to my head, and so I rolled down the window and turned on the light and there they were: an adorable family of two orange kittens and their mama, also a kitten but months older.
Two anxious nights later, we managed to trap the entire family and brought them home, and they’ve been with us ever since. We named the teeniest kitten Ezra, his older brother (presumably from an earlier litter) Turtle, and we named the mama Apple. It’s Ezzie, though, who is responsible for teaching me piano.
Every time I sit down at the piano and start playing, Ezzie slinks over to the bench and looks up at me and starts purring. As I continue to play, he jumps on the very top of the piano and slowly steps down onto the keys on the far left of the keyboard — the dead people turning in their grave keys — and works his way up to Middle C with an arched back. He then steps over my hands and tiptoes a full octave to the next C, climbs down into my lap, and then leans into my belly for some petting.
He never varies from this routine. Ezra never jumps up on the right side of the piano, and he never strolls the keys past that C. And just about the only time he doesn’t do this while I’m playing is when he’s in deep sleep or cuddling with one of the bear cubs. So, if I want to play the piano, I either have to put Ezzie in one of the bedrooms and close the door, or simply continue playing. Since he tends to cry when he’s alone behind a closed door, I almost always choose to continue playing — and that right there is how my cat is teaching me piano.
This may not seem like he’s teaching me anything other than patience, but it’s because of this almost constant distraction while I’m playing that I learned how to stay focused and keep my place in the music. He also taught me how to play without being able to see the notes, thanks to his habit of head butting me when he stops at Middle C to say hello. And he taught me how to feel the keys and know where my fingers belong when I can’t see my hands.
I’m not kidding. My cat Ezzie has vastly improved my piano playing. You’ll need to see him in action to know just how this comes together, but for now I’m asking you to trust me when I tell you that my piano teacher is furry, pawed and uses a litter box.
And I’d also like you to trust me when I tell you that I just got up for a little break and brought a fan in from the deck — I’m surrounded by eight animals in my small study, and boy is it getting stuffy in here. And guess who I found swaying back and forth on the back of the fan? The grownup praying mantis!
Well, I’m done now. Verbose oddities, indeed, eh!
DID YOU ENJOY my essay today?
Would you please spread the word and share my moose blabbery with others? I’m relying on your social media friends to help me grow an audience. I really love writing, and I especially have fun sharing my stories with others.
But social media gives me the hives. It’s way too social for me. So, I’m turning to you for some help.
I’m delighted with my handful of subscribers — and I’d be thrilled to share my work with even more eyeballs. They don’t have to be people eyeballs, you know. Plenty of animals read books, so maybe share this essay with your horse or your French poodle, or maybe even an insect friend.
I’d love it if a stick insect were to read the book I’m writing — once it’s done, of course. That’d be awesome.
Anyhoo, on that rather hopeful note, I wish you a wonderful rest of your Sunday!