Kish and I try to be environmentally sensitive people.  We recycle religiously, we walk rather than drive if possible, and we generally try to do whatever we can to reduce our carbon footprint.  That includes buying products that purport to be protective of the environment.

Sometimes, though, the environmentally sensitive products have . . . issues.

IMG_6422Recently Kish picked up compressed hardwood firewood for our outdoor fire pit.  The product looks like a kind of blond, fibrous brick, so it’s not exactly as attractive as old-fashioned logs.  It’s considered “environmentally responsible” because it’s made from leftover wood, so it is a recycled product of a sort, there are no additives, and it purports to burn hotter and produce less smoke, ash, and creosote.   We’ve found that it’s perfectly serviceable in the burning department, although it lacks that natural wood snap and crackle.

So, what’s the problem?  The packaging for these wooden blocks says they should be stored in a dry place — which is perhaps the greatest commercial understatement since the Coca-Cola Company admitted that New Coke was off to a rocky start.  What the package should say, in huge letters, is:  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU STORE THIS PRODUCT OUTSIDE OR EVER LET IT GET WET!!!  Because, as we discovered to our chagrin, if you do expose the product to moisture, the “compression” element of the product goes poof, and you end up with split shrink-wrap packages from which mounds of sawdust, wood chips, and tiny splinters have erupted and spilled everywhere.  And good luck cleaning up the dust and miniature toothpicks that somehow immediately find their way into every nook and cranny!

I guess it’s a small price to pay for less creosote.

The Door

IMG_6456Russell graciously gave Kish and me some of the artwork that he created this past year at Cranbrook, and I lucked out with this new piece for my office.  It fills a gap on my wall that appeared when one of my colleagues fell in love with some of Russell’s other work that had been hanging there and decided she just had to have it for her home.

I’m not sure how long this piece will last before someone else decides to make a bid for it, either, but I sure will enjoy it while it’s here.  I don’t know if Russell gave it a title, but I have mentally dubbed it The Door.  I just love the color, and composition, and ambiguity of it, with Russell’s riff on the Michelin Man standing in a way that suggests both uncertainty and fascination and peering out onto an open but unknown vista that could represent Opportunity, or Promise, or the Strange New World, or just about anything you want.

I’ve got this new piece on the wall right next to my computer monitor, and it makes me smile with pleasure every time I walk into my office.  That’s what art should do.

The Kasey Kough

Kasey likes her walks, but they come at a price.  Nine times out of ten, she ends up with what I call the Kasey Kough — a kind of weird, rasping, unnerving throat noise that makes everyone think that she’s got some kind of soon-to-be-fatal doggie disease.

IMG_6449The problem is this:  Kasey can’t wait to get outside for her walk, and she strains mightily against the leash to move ahead as quickly as possible.  Unless you sprint down the stairs and trot along as she moves from here to there, as unpredictably as the tail of a rattler, you’re going to apply some resistance to the leash . . . and therein lies the rub — literally.

Kasey apparently has the most delicate throat in the canine kingdom.  If you tug on the leash even slightly, it provokes an apparent throat muscle collapse that causes her to start making a kind of retching, throat-clearing sound, as if she’s trying to get rid of a hairball or is about to shoot a phlegm wad across the street.  It’s a disturbing noise that causes passersby to look at us with some suspicion, as if we’ve just come from the nightly dog-strangling session at our house.

When Kasey gives us the Kasey Kough, Kish will give her an on-street throat massage to try to restore whatever throat integrity Kasey once had.  Sometimes this technique works, but mostly it doesn’t, and Kasey keeps hacking away.  Often the wracking heaves don’t end until we’ve turned the last corner on the way home.

It’s always a relief to know that she’s survived another walk.

Modern Snooping

My grandmother had a relative — I’m not sure I was ever told who, exactly — who was an impossible, totally unreformed snoop.

Every time this woman went to someone’s house she would find an excuse to use the facilities and then surreptitiously wander through nearby parts of their home, opening desk drawers, rifling through the contents of wastebaskets, and checking out closets, hoping to find something of interest.  She viewed herself as a kind of community detective, and If she was ever found on her information-gathering jaunt she would just claim, however implausibly, to have gotten lost on her way back from the bathroom.

IMG_6417For this nosey busybody, the Holy Grail of her quest for confidential information was the medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom.  She viewed it as a kind of ultimate window to the soul that could reveal all kinds of inside scoop that might be worthy of a little gossip around town.  The pill bottles, patent medications, trusses, and other devices that might be found all were little clues that could help her to spin a well-weaved tale about whether Esther had a heart problem or Harry was hitting the bottle a little too hard.

The march of technology has closed some windows for the snoopers among us — the death of the party line phone probably caused this particular buttinsky to weep bitter tears — but of course new windows have been opened.  And I found myself wondering:  if my prying relative were around today, would the upstairs medicine cabinet still be her goal, or would she have concluded that other places would yield more of the kind of juicy tidbits that inveterate gossips crave?  No doubt she would have concluded that you could tell a lot about a person by seeing what’s in their freezer, or the programming they’ve DVR’d.

But I’m guessing the new dream destination of the scandalmonger, were she still among us, would be the home computer or the smart phone.  She’d have developed some rudimentary hacking skills in hopes of checking out what she could find under the history or bookmark tabs of the internet portal, what email messages had been sent, and whether there were any especially incriminating selfies kept in that iPhoto library.

These days, medicine cabinets are for pikers.

In The Mosquito-Free Zone

The other day I was bitten by a mosquito.  No big deal in the Midwest, but then I realized it was one of the few mosquito bites I’ve gotten this summer — so few, in fact, that getting even one is a notable occasion.

That’s doubly weird, when you think about it, because we all know that mosquitoes thrive in rain — and this summer central Ohio has gotten far more than its fair share of wet weather.  With the repeated, soul-deadening drenchings we’ve endured, week after week, you would think that the Columbus area would be a mosquitoes’ paradise.

IMG_6347According to Orkin the pest control company, however, Columbus is far down the list on the peskiest cities in America — where hot, humid, mosquito-tormented Atlanta leads the way.  And in central Ohio itself, the only area with a mosquito problem significant enough to require spraying is Dublin.  In the north areas of Dublin, traps set this summer caught “abnormally high” numbers of mosquitoes, whereas traps in other parts of the central Ohio area caught substantially fewer of the blood-sucking fiends.

It’s logical, I think, that a more urban setting like German Village would have fewer mosquitoes, simply because there is less standing water and fewer of the desolate, boggy areas that mosquitoes crave.  And Kish and I aren’t going to many of the activities that make people prime targets for Anopheles and Aedes.  I’m convinced, for example, that you get more mosquito ear-buzzings and bites per minute at a kids’ night Little League game than any other venue, and with the boys out of the house we haven’t been to one in years.

Mosquitoes are a traditional part of a central Ohio summer, but they are one that I am happy to do without.

Strawberry Shortcake

IMG_6344I’m not a dessert person, for the most part — but I’ve always had a soft spot for strawberry shortcake.  It’s the first dessert I remember eating at a restaurant, on one of the many occasions when Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me out on a “Sunday drive” to one of the small towns in northern Ohio.

So, when I see strawberry shortcake on the menu, the memories kick in and I’m always tempted to try it.  I gave in to temptation last night at the Sycamore.  They do it right, with freshly baked, light, crumbly shortcake, succulent sliced strawberries, and a creamy topping.  It’s the perfect end to an excellent summer meal.