How many comfortable felines does it take to patrol a barn? Is four enough?

Life as we know it
And: Till death us do part (including, or not including: Our pets, ourselves)

DebK of Rosemount: “Taxman and I have a mixed marriage: I like house pets; he doesn’t.

“Through the 46 years of our marriage, he has yielded many times to my contentions that (A) dogs enhance household security (even when they’re snoozing in their owners’ bed) and (B) cats keep rodents from invading one’s residence.

“Relocating to St. Isidore Farm required some extension of my primary lines of argument to cover the staffing of farm outbuildings. Though he’s given in to the benefits of having dogs and cats in the house, Taxman at first tended toward laxity where rodent infestation of barns was concerned. He was content to allow old George, our nearly toothless old Russian blue, to wage battle against mice (and perhaps even the occasional Rattus norvegicus) who set up housekeeping in the sheep barn and chicken coops.

“The building of the new barn, a smallish structure that might almost be taken for a garage, brought a dramatic alteration in Taxman’s thinking. The red paint was hardly dry on the siding before he had okayed the acquisition of four free cats whose purpose would be to protect his farm vehicles and implements from the kind of poor treatment they’d suffered in the old barn, which was (as I alluded earlier) seriously understaffed.

“Everything seemed to going according to plan — excepting the astonishing cost of vetting the ‘free’ felines — until shortly after Thanksgiving, when Taxman began having difficulty with the automatic barn door-opener. The first repair sets us back $250, which injury was compounded today when the very same repair was required. The damage to our finances motivated Taxman to delve into the causation of the problem.

“With the four resident mousers looking on from the top of the workbench, where a heated cushion provides all the comforts of home, the technician invited Taxman to take a close look at the wiring that powers the electric eye/sensor gizmo and at the telltale fecal deposits in the area around the frayed wiring. ‘You’ve got a rodent problem, sir,’ he said.”

Life (and death) as we know it
Including: Our pets, ourselves

The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Oblivious Buzz.

“We’re invited to a 95-year-old’s birthday celebration tomorrow. This guy is no sputtering, muttering slow-motion version of humanity, but instead will probably be the life of the party.

“The event has made us introspective of our own longevity. We wondered out loud about how many birthdays we could reasonably expect to have. Ten more, maybe? Fifteen, if we’re lucky. We’re both at a higher number than either of our parents achieved.

“It was a disquieting conversation, but one that ended with us agreeing that the one who should be worried most by our early demise should be our lounging, pampered Buzz the cat.”

‘Twas the season!

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “With our large family scattered around the globe, installment celebrations have become the norm. This year was a record-breaker. We had eight installments of Christmas over a period of 17 days.

“It began on the 21st of December, when our oldest great-grandchildren, ages 4 and 9, came from Wisconsin. I have no doubt that the biggest attraction is the train around our Christmas tree. They call him the Train Grampa for good reason. He runs that train for everyone who walks through our door, young or old. Heck, he runs it when no one walks through the door.

“When the Grampa and Grammi from Oz arrived, he acquired an international audience. My daughter and son-in-law are devoted new grandparents, and several times a day they talked Facetime to their 2-year-old grandsons, one in Colorado and one in Australia . . . each time giving the Engineer another chance to run his train. It was wonderful to watch their expressions in real time, but the ‘Woo-Hoo, Clackety-Clack’ of my husband’s train roaring around the Christmas tree will be reverberating in my ears until next Christmas, I am sure.”

Our times
Heaven Help Us Division

The  Monkey Lover’s Wife of Northfield: “With apologies to Sports Illustrated (who has a weekly feature with this same title), this week’s sign that the apocalypse is upon us.”

The vision thing
Or: Our theater of seasons

KH of White Bear Lake: “Subject: A Little Help Here, Please.

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“Sometimes, in Minnesota, in January, it takes two suns to warm up the morning.”

Their theater of seasons

Mounds View Swede: (1) “Subject: Five day-after-Christmas blossoms.

“I took up my son’s neighbor’s offer to look at his flowers and found these blooming in his yard in Milwaukie, Oregon. He told me what each was, but I promptly forgot. I was just happy to see flowers blooming in December.

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“He grows ever-bearing raspberries, too. Ours were done in early October; his were still at it.

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“I would like to know what plant this is. I don’t think such grows here in Minnesota, but it reminded me a bit of Queen Anne’s Lace.

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“As usual, the great diversity of nature and blossoms through the seasons and different climate zones provides delight to witness and to share.”

(2) “Subject: Six fungi photos.

“While photographing the flowers in Oregon over Christmas, I also noticed a lot of fungi growing on the branches and stems. I’ve always ignored them before, but once I started looking at them, I decided I should pay more attention to their variety and forms.

“I was struck by the variety I was finding and how different kinds all grew together.

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“If there are fungi enthusiasts among our readers, I hope they will enlighten me about these.”

Ask Bulletin Board

Here’s Cheesehead By Proxy, “back in northern Minnesota”: “Literally, I am back in Northern Minnesota, after a trip to California to visit our son and the family.

“I saw two types of flowers out there that I can’t identify. Maybe your readers can help me out.

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“These tall spikes with red-orange bracts of sorts rose up from yucca-looking plants in the Big Sur area along the coast. They were probably cultivated. The hummingbirds liked them. Anyone with an idea of what they’re called?

“This was the other unusual flower I spotted, growing in a garden in tiny Harmony, California, population 18.

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“Can anyone help me identify it?

“Harmony proved to be a great little artsy place to stop on our trip, with local pottery and blown glass to admire and purchase. The area was settled by Swiss immigrants who at one time produced and shipped out great quantities of butter and cheese from the creamery. William Randolph Hearst of Hearst Castle (and publishing) fame, was apparently one of the creamery customers.”

Keeping your eyes open

A photo by Tim Torkildson, titled “Sunday-morning sunlight through my patio window.”

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BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Is that a clown-faced jar we see there?

And another memoir from Mr. Torkildson: “I went to high school in the late 1960s. My high school, Marshall-University, close to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, was integrated by court order in 1969 — but segregation lingered on in the school cafeteria.

“You either got the hot cafeteria lunch, or you brown-bagged it. The students who enjoyed a hot lunch were seated in the airy and spacious portion of the cafeteria, with wide clean tables and comfortable chairs — the padded kind they had in the school library. The brown-baggers were relegated to a drab and airless alcove stocked with dispirited gate leg tables that tipped listlessly to one side. [Bulletin Board muses: They listed listlessly?] Cobwebs hung from the flickering neon lights overhead. The chairs were splintery wooden relics dating from the Dakota War of 1862. There were cracks running around the concrete floor that formed a rough map of Antarctica, if you peered at them long enough. And since I was one of the brown=baggers, I had plenty of opportunity to trace out the outlines of the Ross Ice Shelf and the Weddell Sea.

“My mother did not believe in spending 75 cents each day on a hot cafeteria meal for her children. Not when a loaf of Wonder Bread cost a quarter and a huge wedge of Oscar Mayer beef bologna cost just under a dollar. My sandwich featured no sort of window dressing, either. A smear of oleomargarine was it. Lettuce? Tomato? Ikke en sjanse. Along with the sandwich, which never varied the entire time I was in high school, she included an apple and a Twinkie or Hostess CupCake. While Mom was a dab hand at picking out most produce down at the Red Owl each week, she never seemed able to select a decent crispy apple. Mine were always mealy and brown.

“There was no use in complaining to my mother about the monotony and blandness of my bag lunch. Such complaints met with a loud snort, followed by a spirited discourse on how she grew up eating, for her lunch, a piece of stale bread smeared with bacon grease and then covered with scallions when they were in season. Did I wish to emulate her harsh childhood tiffin? It could be arranged . . .

“I did, however, receive a quarter each day to buy a small carton of chocolate milk at the cafeteria. But that did not allow me to sit with the ‘in’ crowd. I tried doing it — we all tried, us brown-baggers, but were immediately put in our place not only by the smug and supercilious expressions of the warm-lunch gang, but even more so by the teachers who patrolled the lunchroom. I remember Mr. Patten, the algebra teacher, asking me, in a tone of voice that brooked no contradiction, if I wouldn’t feel more comfortable sitting with the other kids who brought their lunches from home. I meekly agreed and scurried back to my place.

“Just exactly why this unjust separation existed, I have no idea. Some of the brown-baggers I ate with explained in hoarse whispers that the school made a huge profit off of each hot lunch they sold: The graft was tremendous, and financed teacher trips to Jamaica and the Riviera. So naturally we students who chose not to subsidize this boondoggle were tossed into outer darkness with our bologna sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs. But these were the same pimpled rumormongers who also claimed you got V.D. from sitting on the wrong toilet seat.

“Nowadays, a half-century later, I will still make myself a bologna sandwich for lunch on occasion — but you can bet your bippy I gussy it up with sourdough bread spread with plenty of aioli and stacked with slices of red beefsteak tomato and romaine lettuce, not to mention a baker’s dozen of Kalamata olives on the side. And I have found nothing better for dessert in the intervening years than a good old Twinkie. But don’t tell my doctor.”

The kindness of strangers

KMarie: “Subject: Paying it forward and paying it backward.

“I made a New Year’s resolution to help my daughter’s two toddlers get to library story time, and we went last week. Afterwards I took them to a local restaurant for lunch. Two-Year-Old and I took a walking tour of the restaurant, including looking at the toy-grabber machine in the corner. Then we ate, and while we were eating, one of the two ladies sitting across from us left her table, drove off, then came back to her meal. That was odd, but we found out later why. When I went to pay, she came over with two of the cutest stuffed animals, a monkey and a sloth, for the toddlers. She said she had seen us looking at the toy-grabber machine and didn’t want me to use that, as she didn’t think those toys were good for kids that young. So she had driven to Walmart and bought the stuffed animals for us. Two-Year-Old thanked the ladies sweetly in English and sign language, and One-Year-Old thanked them in ‘Swahili’ and sign language.

“This kind act from a stranger reminded me that I had received a $10 bill at a holiday fundraiser luncheon to be used to ‘pay it forward.’ I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten about it and used it to buy coffee the other day. My daughter told me that while this lady Paid It Forward, I Payed It Backward.”

Everyone’s a copy editor!
Spell-checkers Revenge Division

Steve Nichols of Woodbury: “Subject: Something doesn’t smell right here.

“From the Pioneer Press, Sunday 13th, Sports section, Gophers’ win: ‘Washington and Rutgers’ Montez Mathis were assessed fragrant fouls and ejected for a skirmish in the second half.'”

Our birds, ourselves

Al B of Hartland writes: “J.R.R. Tolkien wrote: ‘Not all those who wander are lost.’ Tolkien must have done a Christmas Bird Count (CBC), where things (leaves, clumps and clods) look more like birds than birds do.

“During a 2017 CBC, the idiot light indicating low tire pressure refused to disappear from my car’s dashboard, although the tires had been checked and not found wanting air. It was 18 degrees below zero. I went walking around outside counting birds because my personal idiot light was on.

“I do several CBCs each year. Rituals are important, so I count birds with an idiotic verve. I hoped a rickety day turned into a bird-studded one. The cold, snow and binoculars presented a cartoonish scene similar to the video a friend made wherein he used a frozen banana to pound a nail into a board at 25 below.

“I hadn’t walked long before a friend questioned my sanity: ‘Are you nuts?’ He’s a caring guy who was gobsmacked. He wondered how I could count birds, as they weren’t numbered or wearing nametags. I counted without a whimper. Stoicism is a classic attribute of my people. I was properly attired, so I didn’t shiver like a Chihuahua displaying a keen awareness of the tenuous world situation.

“Not all birds want to be counted. They are happy to remain shrouded in a veil of anonymity. I was taken with a lovely red-winged blackbird I encountered. I thought of ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by the poet Wallace Stevens: ‘It was evening all afternoon. It was snowing and it was going to snow. The blackbird sat in the cedar-limbs.’ I’m not sure what that means, but I like it.

“Watching birds and counting birds go together. We like things that can be measured. When I read a book, it has page numbers. I count birds because I’m still trying to figure things out.

“Do I have any advice for those doing a Christmas Bird Count at -18? I do. Keep your hat on.”

Gee, our old La Salle ran great!

LeoJEOSP: “Subject: When radios were furniture.”

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Indignities of age

Stinky Bananalips of Empire: “Subject: My Rosette Story.

“First, a little background: I turned 50 in December 2016, and only four days later, the falling apart of my old bones people had warned me about began — including, among other things, an epic fall in March . . . on clean, dry pavement, no ice or loose gravel; just a huge wave of gravity came up and sucked me down.

“I was really looking forward to turning 51 in December 2017, because I was going to have a normal, boring, no-falls type of year.

“Christmas Eve 2017, a mere two days after turning 51, my mom came over for dinner. I met her at the door, took some Tupperware from her, and promptly tripped on my front stoop — again, not slippery, and I’ve been walking through that same door for 20 years. I felt something twinge in my lower back (that took three visits to the chiropractor to fix), but the worst casualty of all was that I dropped the rosettes, and 75 percent of them shattered into a million tiny crumbs! I felt so bad. I had watched my mom make rosettes so many times over the years, one at a time, and in an instant, I wiped out all that hard work.

“Christmas Eve 2018, my mom came over for dinner again — this time with rosettes from the bakery. She loved telling us how much she got those bakery ladies laughing over my ruining of last year’s rosettes; I’m probably going to hear this story forever from now on.

“I have a friend who likes to remind me that I don’t need to hug the ground so much, so maybe 52 will be my no-falls type of year, if I can manage to listen to her.

“Thanks for letting me share.”

Band Name of the Day: Rodent Problem — or: The Pimpled Rumormongers

Website of the Day (if you’ll indulge us): Our Twitter feed (where we post some Bulletin Board-esque observations).