Monthly Archives: November 2010

Ms P. and the Rats of NIH(M)

I’m a birder. A lazy birder, but a birder nonetheless. It is part of who I am and has  been for more than half of my life.

One huge aspect of birding for me is feeding the birds. I have many bird feeders — two Droll Yankee tube-like feeders: one serves up tiny nyger seed that the finches love and one doles out larger seed such as sunflower, cracked corn or safflower. I also have decorative bird feeders — one looks like a birch log, but is ceramic. Another looks like a church, with a roof and clear plastic sides which hold in the seed — which I am surprised has not been chewed apart by squirrels yet. Then there are the suet cages and nyger seed socks.

I don’t have all of these feeders up at the same time. That would be unwise in Bethesda. I’d be the crazy bird lady. Recently I had one Droll Yankee feeder filled with sunflower seed and one nyger sock in back by the bird bath and one nyger sock outside the attic window.

One day I noticed that the nyger sock in the backyard had a huge hole in it. I wondered what animal had made this hole. I suspected it was a squirrel, but knowing that squirrels don’t particularly care for nyger seed, I was more than a little worried we had another rodent problem.

A few days later I looked out the window and saw the culprit. A large brown Norway rat. It was just after dinner and this rat was helping him or herself to the nyger seed. It was actually kind of cute — if you forget all the bad rat stories. But I was dismayed. I thought we were done with these things.

Years ago we had rats in the ductwork of our addition. Dean and I both noticed a funky smell coming from the heating vents in the sun room — it reminded me of the elephant house. When we discovered that it was a nest of rats, I was horrified and would never ever have admitted our discovery to anyone. I was embarrassed and ashamed and it lowered my self-esteem for a while. Dean, being the son of a dairy farmer, took care of it and we hoped we were done with rats.

The following January, however, we came home from our annual Christmas in the Midwest trip to find a rat had gotten into our house and was trapped in a mousetrap behind our stove. Dean took care of it, too. I was ready to hire an exterminator, but Dean felt that he knew what to do as well as any exterminator, so I believed him.

The next year was the year of cicadas in our area and when the cicadas died out the entire neighborhood had a rat problem. It seemed that the rats were displaced from NIH because of construction there. They didn’t care where they lived because they had a bounty of cicadas for several weeks, but after the cicadas were done with their (very cool) life cycle in our area, the rats had nothing to eat, so became a nuisance. I finally lost the embarrassment I was feeling about the rat problem we’d had — especially since other neighbors were admitting to having had rats in previous years as well.

Everyone dealt with the rats in their own ways, some hired exterminators while others, like Dean, took care of it themselves. The worst part of the rat problem for me, however, was having to give up feeding the birds. I had a slight meltdown when I realized I’d have to do this, but Dean said that maybe it would not be permanent. I held on to that hope.

We went a few years with no apparent rat problems — I even was able to feed the birds again until this year when I saw the rat eating the nyger seed.

So now I’ve had to store my bird feeders for good. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feed birds in the backyard again — certainly not at this house. I think I can still feed them at the attic windows — but it’s not really the same. I’ll not be seeing any more Rose Breasted Grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seed outside the window in the back yard.  I can still provide water for the birds and I have started looking more at planting more bird friendly plants in the yard. But I feel as if a part of my personality has been lost for good.

C. S. Lewis, Jack Kennedy and Me

47 years ago today the world lost two men who would posthumously have a great impact on me. One created a world in which I found great comfort as a teenager and young adult and the other, well I sort of made up a world for him.

I know that Jack Kennedy did a lot of good, had some wonderful ideas and was a much-loved President, but to me he was something other than that. I remember a coloring book I had when I was very young. It was of the First Family and had drawings of Caroline and her pony and Caroline and her younger brother, “John-John” in the White House gardens. The book probably also had drawings of Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy playing with their children. I remember feeling drawn to the coloring book and often made up stories that put myself inside the pages with the Kennedy children. I suppose the fact that JFK was the first president I remember had something to do with it, but he represented all leadership for me — so when the principal visited my kindergarten class on the first day of school, I thought he was our President. I thought of him as the father figure for the country — even the world.

Years later I learned that the Kennedys lost a baby girl the very day I was born and I often mused that perhaps God had one soul left to give a family on August 23, 1956 and somehow my parents won the baby girl lottery. I wondered what it would have been like growing up as Caroline and John-John’s older sister.

Then, of course, is the cafe table in Heaven where Uncle Don and Jack Kennedy sit — another source of comfort for me, especially this year now that my dad has joined the table.

C. S. Lewis, of course, created Narnia — a world on which I obsessed for several years. When I first discovered Narnia I wanted to meet or write a letter to C. S. Lewis to thank him and was devastated to find out he’d died years before I discovered his works.

So, as usual, I think about these two men on this day — the on anniversary of their deaths.

Suburban Parking

One of the many things that surprised me when we moved into our house in 1993 was the fact that we had to buy a parking permit to park on the streets of our neighborhood — including in front of our house. Residential parking permits (as well as visitor permits) cost $35 per vehicle and are good for two years. Cars without parking permits can be ticketed, and often are.

I understand the reason — we live near a hospital with limited parking areas as well near NIH — which also has limited parking spots. People working at or visiting these locations would park in our neighborhood, taking our parking spots if parking restrictions were not enforced.

That knowledge does not make it any easier to take though, especially when the parking permit office is not very conveniently located and has short hours. And then there is the red tape.

This summer I noticed that our car’s parking permit had expired in March. In addition we’d not yet gotten a sticker for the car we inherited from Dean’s mom. We were using the visitor pass for the third car which was a bit of an issue when we had visitors, or when the neighbors wanted to borrow the pass because they were having more than one visitor.

So I made plans to visit the parking permit office and get a permit for the car. I knew I needed the license of the car and the registration and needed to fill out a form. I got a little lost going to the parking permit office, but eventually found it. If you’ve ever been to a DMV you’ll get an idea of what this office was like on the inside. Also a Greyhound bus station. Two surly women sat behind windows in a cluttered, florescent bulb-lit office.

When I approached one window the woman at that window was about to go on break, so I had to use the other. I handed over the paperwork and after some typing, writing, looking up things on her computer, the woman behind the window asked for my driver’s license. I handed it over and the woman looked at the paperwork and back at my license and said. “You don’t own the vehicles.” I explained that they were in my husband’s name and she replied, “But you don’t have the same last name.” I agreed, but showed her that our checks had both of our names on them. She said that the owner of the car would have to obtain the permits. Or I could bring a copy of his driver’s license. She did sell me a visitor’s pass though.

Several weeks later, after our vacation, my first fall trip to Illinois, and a healthy dose of procrastination I went back to the ugly office with the surly workers. This time I was prepared with a copy of Dean’s driver’s license. It went smoothly this time — the woman behind the window was not surly in the least. It may or may not have been the same woman.

I got home, put the stickers in the cars, and announced my success to Dean.

“But what about the truck?” he asked, “its permit has expired too.”

Crap.