The Suitcase Lady


May 26, 2020, 9:11 pm

I recently read about a delightful way of social distancing in a restaurant situation. The Izu Shaboten Zoo in Japan has scattered capybara plush toy animals on chairs in their cafe. Capybaras were chosen as they are one of the most popular animals at the zoo.

What, you may ask, is a capybara?

Weighing in at about 110 pounds and natives of South America, capybaras are the largest living rodents in the world. Do not be turned off by the word “rodent”. These animals are charismatic; they look like giant cuddly guinea pigs, who are, in fact, their closest relatives.

Capybaras have been called the rodent version of the hippopotamus as they chew their veggie food while swimming in swamps. Being semi-aquatic, they are always found near water. Webbed feet and eyes on top of their super-sized heads make them well adapted to the watery life. They can dive and stay underwater for five minutes and even sleep underwater, nose up. But these creatures are no slouches on land, either, and can run as fast as a horse.

Capybaras are extremely social animals, living in groups of 10 to 20. They also mix well with other animals. This trait has earned them the nickname of “moving chairs”. All sorts of birds, monkeys, rabbits and even other capybaras have been seen hitching a ride on their host’s back.

Check out these pictures of the social distancing capybaras.

Other restaurants around the world are using mannequins and blow-up dolls to achieve the required open spaces. I’ll take the capybaras any day. Who wants to dine with a bunch of dummies?

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May 19, 2020, 8:53 pm

When it comes to cookies, I’m having a distinct feeling of deja vu. Life often tends to go in circles.

I stayed at home with our two children until the oldest was in kindergarten and the youngest turned three.  Then he and I set off to the same preschool; he as a student and I as the school’s art teacher. Altogether, I spent six years as a stay-at-home mom, and I’ve never regretted delaying the start of my teaching career. Our days were busy, happy and filled with small routines.

Cookie day, for instance, was Tuesday. Every week I would make a big batch of “lunchbox” cookies. That adjective was to distinguish them from Christmas cookies, the fancy ones that were only baked for the holidays. We would rotate among peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodles and their ilk.

And every Tuesday I would remind everyone that no more cookies would be baked until the next Tuesday, in other words, pace yourself. Yes, I was one of those mean moms. To this day, neither of our children have to wince when they get on a scale.

When the news of the virus struck in March, I found myself to be just like a stay-at-home mom…only the children were missing. Once again, I have the gift of time, and cookie day has returned. It is still only once a week, but not on any set day. And I still make simple lunchbox cookies even though we never eat them after lunch but only for dessert at night.

So if you also have been given that precious gift of more time, here is one of my favorite recipes. You can’t go wrong with a recipe from the 1959 Electric Company Cookie Book. It’s described as a refrigerator cookie, but after wrapping the bars of dough in foil or plastic wrap. I put them in the freezer to chill down. Just slice and bake as needed for cookie comfort.

Butterscotch Snaps

1/2 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, almonds or walnuts
Cream butter. Add sugar. Cream well.
Add egg and vanilla.
Add flour, salt, baking powder and ginger.
Add chopped nuts.
Shape dough into two rolls or bars. Chill or freeze before cutting in slices.
Bake at 375 degrees about 10 minutes.
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May 12, 2020, 9:13 pm

On Mother’s Day, I looked out the window and the first thing I saw was snow. How could this possibly happen? There is an unwritten rule in Wisconsin (the lower half) that no snow occurs in May. We can accept snow until April 30; May snow is a travesty.

The second thing I noticed after the abominable snow was a black cat in our front yard. My heart sunk to my feet. I do not need another cat. I just spent four years worrying about four homeless cats wandering the neighborhood in danger from speeding cars, dogs, birds of prey, coyotes and sub subzero temperatures. We have finally succeeded in turning three of these cats into happy, loving, vet-cared-for and safe indoor felines. Our inn is full, and available time to clean out litter boxes is maxed.

When in despair, I turn to my loving partner. “Look outside”, I said, “you won’t believe this, there’s a cat in our front yard.”

My husband checked out the view and confirmed that, indeed, there was a cat. He also told me that all was well. The “cat” was a metal scare cat that the wind had ripped off the cat pole next to our mailbox. It had miraculously landed bolt upright on its feet. Apparently, these scare cats really work. I was most definitely scared.

The day was uphill from then on. Both an oriole and grosbeak returned to our yard from their winter vacations. My husband got the downed cat securely fastened back on its driftwood pole, the snow stopped and our cats spent the afternoon purring and napping. Life remains good.

All who wander are not lost.


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May 5, 2020, 9:26 pm

Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the first birds to return north from their winter vacations. Their cheerful oak-a-lee songs can be heard when snow is still lingering on the ground.

Starting early this spring, our yard has been exceptionally graced with huge flocks of blackbirds and the air is filled with their vocalizing. On a recent morning we looked out our window to see more than the nursery rhyme’s “four and twenty blackbirds” enjoying the seeds in our bird cafe. I counted 27 redwings, but that might be too low. All the birds were males, and that set me to thinking.

I know that male Red-winged Blackbirds are extremely territorial. Each guy stakes out a territory, sits on a reed or stalk, fluffs out his red epaulets and sings like crazy. Multiple females, who resemble brown sparrows, will heed the call and nest in the male’s kingdom. So why did we have a flock of guys happily having a breakfast meeting?

A search revealed the answer from the bird specialists at Cornell University. “Even during the height of the breeding season, the males forage in flocks in neutral territory.” To keep things peaceful, they hide their red epaulets leaving only a thin yellow line.

On the same day of the blackbird breakfast, we were eating dinner and listening to Radio Swiss Jazz. The song “Blackbird” started playing, and I remarked to my husband how much I liked the song. Since Radio Swiss Jazz is listener programmed, I also commented that many others must be fans of the song as well…it is played several times each week.

My musical knowledge being very limited, I decided to look up the song’s history and got a big surprise. “Blackbird” is a Beatles song written in 1968 by Paul McCartney. Here is how he explains the lyrics:

“I was in Scotland playing my guitar and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you are only waiting for this moment to arise’, was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird.”

Sir Paul also admits purloining the idea for the melody from J.S. Bach’s Bourree In E minor.

I feel it fair to note that our backyard Red-winged Blackbirds’ songs are all original material.

Click here to hear a lovely version of the song. It’s a message for our times.

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April 28, 2020, 9:01 pm

I am not a daredevil or risk-taker. I have all the points on my driver’s license intact. But everyone who likes to drive should drive 100 mph a few times in his or her lifetime.

The first time I hit 100 was in northern New Mexico in the high plains. I was on a straight as an arrow road with 100% visibility in all directions and not a car or person in sight. What a thrill to put the pedal to the floor and watch the distant mountains ahead loom larger. This experiment in speed only lasted a few minutes.

My second triple-digit experience occurred in West Texas. I had just passed a sign reading “Watch Out For Wild Pigs”. Other than my husband napping in the passenger seat, I could spot no living things in the vast flat landscape.  I hit 102 before sanity returned.

But driving over 100 is not always a pleasure. Take, for example, the German Autobahn, which is emphatically not for the faint-hearted. The Audi’s, Mercedes’ and BMW’s are going well over 100mph while constantly zigzagging between lanes. At the same time, older, smaller vehicles in the traffic mix are struggling to maintain 50 mph. In between these extremes are the type of cars we always rent, four-cylinder compacts such as Fiat 500s and Opels.

Autobahn driving is driving on steroids…hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, senses on full alert. Despite my best efforts to keep up, I would glance in the rearview mirror to see an Audi or its ilk on my rear bumper, its driver fuming to pass.

The best part of driving the Autobahn is seeing signs for the approaching Netherlands or Danish borders where driving sanity will instantly return. I’m truly not an adrenaline junkie.

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