Squirrel Armageddon

evilIf we were having coffee today I guess it would be high time I told you about my experience with Squirrel Armageddon.  That’s right.  I’m talking about evil, vindictive squirrels.

I was reminded of this the other day when I saw some television commercial that featured a number of squirrels all gathered in a tree and they were ganging up on a guy and pelting him and his car with pine cones.  It is amazing the horrors that can be dredged up from something so mundane.

Years ago in Austin, Texas I lived next to a park that stretched along a creek in a narrow band for about a mile or so.  Most weekends I’d take a walk down the length of this park and back.  My garage apartment was right at the edge of a wider area of the park that was nicely wooded and included tennis courts and a playground and at the end of my walk I’d usually saunter across this area back to my place.

One quiet Sunday I was finishing my rounds and as I entered the far edge of the playground I heard a loud noise over near my house.  My next-door neighbor’s dog was chasing a squirrel in the yard.  The squirrel managed to get away but not before it let off a loud frantic alarm screech.  In seconds, in every tree in the park, every squirrel in the area descended and started chirping and flicking their tails, not at the miscreant dog mind you, but at me.  The dog was long gone, show’s over for him.  These guys were all focused on yours truly, the only other living thing in the park.

I don’t know if you’ve ever really heard a squirrel alarm, so I found one on YouTube that sounds pretty close to what I remember.  https://youtu.be/i6IR0JmfkvQ … fast forward to about 43 seconds in.  Close your eyes and let it sink in, then multiply it by hundreds and add in spooky echoing effects from all the trees on an otherwise still Sunday morning. Yeah, I think that would be pretty close.

Don’t forget, they were focusing all their attention on me, every last one of them, their tails flicking, their evil, dark squirrel eyes sizing me up, re-positioning themselves to continue focusing on me as I warily crept across the park, at this point uncertain if the intimidation might possibly turn into action.  I have to admit I thought of that fearsome bunny in Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

This cacophony continued until well after I fumbled with my keys and entered the safety of my apartment.  I’m sure great-great grandchildren squirrels in that park still recount tales of their ancestors fighting and winning the battle of Sunday morning.  Brrrrrr.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  http://thefensk.com for more information.

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Ahhh! Spiders!

spider2If we were having coffee today I’d hope I didn’t gross you out but I want to talk about spiders.  Well, to be honest, I just want to tell you about finding spiders.  It’s really no big deal.  One of the coolest things I learned in the Girl Scouts was finding spiders.  (Yeah, that’s right, Girl Scouts, I was a Girl Scout, but that’s another story).

I was reminded of this recently when I found one of those clip-on-the-brim-of-your-hat flashlights.  It’s great for taking out the dog at night.  As she was sniffing around trying to find that one, special, ideal little spot for, well, you know … I was looking around.  I saw these little lights shining back at me.  Tiny little lights.  One here, two there, another one over yonder.  And I thought back to learning this trick in the Girl Scouts.  [Okay, when my daughter was a Brownie I was a troop leader for camping trips and we had to attend troop leader camp training.  If you are a troop leader, you are a Girl Scout, okay?]

Anyway, if you hold a bright flashlight right between your eyes and shine it out six to fifteen feet away, slowly sweeping the beam, you will soon be aware of these tiny little bright lights peering back at you.  Sometimes you might hit a dewdrop reflection but the brighter more distinctive lights are spiders.  Or to be more accurate spider eyes. These spiders are actually saying, “here’s looking at you, kid.”

Their retinas reflect light like a cat’s eye, but they’re a little different in that they direct it directly back at the source.  During the Apollo missions, they deployed laser reflectors on the surface of the moon that do the same thing. If a laser is pointed at the right coordinates, the light will bounce back right to the source (moon landing hoaxers forget about this simple proof we were there).

Anyway, the hat brim light is in the perfect place to do this same trick.  Actually, it’s ideal because it is stable and very bright.  The little lights can quickly disappear if the spider turns away but the coolest thing is when they are on the move and you see that little light dancing over the uneven ground of the backyard as they make their way through the grass.  It’s a fun trick to show kids (which is why they showed us this in Scout camp training). If for some reason you don’t believe me, you can hone in and get close and you’ll see it.  Even a very tiny spider causes a profound reflection.

WARNING: If you are deathly afraid of spiders never do this!  You will never go outside again!  Ever!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Find info about him and his books at http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Update

pinkribbonIf we were having coffee today, I’d be inclined to give you a little update.  About two months ago  I posted about going to a local animal shelter (Avoiding Shelter) while looking for our son’s lost dog.

I included a sad story about a dog named Daisy being surrendered while we were there.  Although we were very moved by the experience and thought about rescuing her, we found out she was quickly adopted and were hopeful that she had found her forever home.

I’ve found out a little more about her in the meantime.  This shelter posts pictures of the pets that they have.  I had still been periodically looking for my son’s lost dog (still lost!).  A little over three weeks after we had seen Daisy at the shelter, she popped up again on the shelter’s website. I called and inquired about her.

“Is there anything wrong with her?”

“Not a thing.  It’s people that are her problem,” the nice lady at the shelter told me and gave me a little more info on her past.

The owners who originally surrendered her in February had no real explanation. They’d had her for four years and had adopted her at the shelter.  After that, she was quickly adopted, then returned after ONE DAY.  That was the day we saw her. Another couple adopted her pretty quickly.  As the story goes, they tried to sneak her into their apartment but weren’t allowed to have a dog and of course, they didn’t get away with it. After three weeks they either had to move or get rid of the dog.  That was when she showed back up at the shelter and on the website.  So, within five weeks, Daisy had been surrendered at the shelter three times.  This last time she was fostered and I had a good long talk with her foster mom.  She too was at a loss to understand Daisy’s problem finding a home and was quite fond of her.

I think you can guess the rest of the story:
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She’s a bit blurry-eyed … I woke her up for that picture.  She’s spent a little over a month with us so far. She’s an outstanding dog.  She’s five years old, is house trained, is completely obsessed with our neighbor’s chickens, guinea-fowl, and ducks (who all seem to love to visit, hopefully eating ticks in our yard), and is trying to figure out how to be friends with our existing clowder of cats.  She’s trying, but the cats still want to keep her at paw’s length. The vet says she is a beagle/spaniel mix.

She is just now starting to really feel at home with us.  I don’t blame her for some of her confusion.  She’s bursting with love for just about everyone she meets.  I hope she doesn’t do that with burglars. (“Hi, take anything thing you want!”)
When she’s really happy to see you, she doesn’t just wag her tail, she wags the entire back end of her body.

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in NC.  My lead picture is still a pink ribbon.  My wife is mending and I want to thank all of you who responded to my last posting.  Please give to breast cancer research … even a little goes a long way.

WeekendCoffee Cancer Fight

pinkribbonIf we were having coffee today I’d apologize for my recent absence. We’ve had a lot going on these past few weeks and it was difficult to find the time to sit down and share a little of what was going on.

What’s the deal?  The BIG “C” is what we’ve been dealing with.
My darling wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and we’ve been completely absorbed with a wild mix of office visits, biopsies, blood draws, mammograms (and more mammograms + ultrasound + more X-Rays),  bad news, and finally surgery.
Worry is the worst of it.  We worried about the diagnosis, about the prospect of surgery and its many possible complications, and we worry about the reality of a lifetime of changes.  Worry alone is enough to wear anyone out.
She had a double mastectomy almost two weeks ago.  Big reality check:  It basically involves not one but two amputations.
Let that sink in for a minute. Amputations.
It has been both physically and psychologically taxing for her.  She feels she has lost part of what makes her a woman. Think about it.  We live in a society that is obsessed with breasts and here she is losing hers in her own private war on cancer.  Me? I am just busy trying to be there for her while at the same time trying to keep the animals fed and the house in some vague resemblance of order.  I also help her keep track of her meds and monitor her symptoms, and of course, I have to manage her drainage tubes.
I try to reassure her that, in my mind, really, what makes her a woman is HER.  She’s still there completely, along with all of her love, her intelligence, and especially that feisty survivor attitude. To me, THAT is what makes her a woman, not those appendages. She’s my other half and she always will be.  Sure, I’m a man.  I love breasts … especially hers.  But I’ve psyched myself to hate the cancer that was in them.  For me, it was a no-brainer.  I’ve still got HER and that is all that matters to me.  I am inspired by her inner strength.
I’d long heard the term “breast cancer survivor”… but now I have a much better understanding of what that means.  I’ve seen these first phases of it first hand.  We were told that the second she was diagnosed she joined the ranks of survivors.  I also know there is a vast sisterhood out there of her fellow survivors.  It is astounding to learn how many lives have been touched by breast cancer.  Survivors are everywhere. My hat is off to all of you.  Every single one of you deserves everyone’s total respect: this is a sisterhood that needs to be heard.  As I sat in the waiting room at the Duke University Medical Center Breast Clinic during her breast biopsies I realized this affects young and old, all races, all sizes, all religions, rich, poor … it can affect anyone, every day, every month, every year.
I also understand now that “breast cancer” is not a singular entity.  That is a highly generic term.  I’ve learned that every single patient has their own version of the disease, with its unique currents and whirlpools in the stream of life. Specific treatments of even similar ‘types’ of cancer cells can take many twists and turns. She’s still in the early stages of treatment.  The pathology of her cancer cells shows a certain promise of optimism for a long-term cure but the jury is definitely still out and we are sitting in a darkened waiting room of an uncertain future. It will likely be weeks before we know the plot of the next chapters of her story.
I told her last night she is a Warrior Woman in her new lifelong battle with cancer.  Her scars are battle scars. Together we are going to beat this and kick this cancer’s ass.
So, dear coffee friends, that is the reason for my absence the last couple of weeks.  Please donate to valid breast cancer research charities, like The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  I like them because a very high percentage of the money they receive goes to research.
Please reblog this or tweet and retweet links to this post.  Please share your own stories in the comments.   We have got to win this fight.

WeekendCoffee Dance

audIf we were having coffee today I’d have to tell you about my daughter’s recent award.  Well, it wasn’t a formal award.  It was more a bit of recognition from one of her students.  As you can see from this picture, it was an homage in the form of a 10 reasons list.  It brought tears to my eyes.

I posted this on Facebook at first.  It got a lot of likes and a few comments mentioning that we, her parents, had done such a good job.  Sure, we enrolled her in dance.  We paid for it. We rallied through rehearsals and competitions. We volunteered where we could and continued to encourage her.  But, seriously, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a good metaphor.  Beyond all of that, lies the truth. She worked hard.  She formed and molded, she learned, she studied, she practiced, and she focused.  She did everything she could. This is all her.

We’ve seen a lot of dancers come and go, a lot of them very dedicated dancers too.  A very few have progressed to the level Audrey currently enjoys.  In short, most of those past dancers burned out.  Audrey continues to flourish.

I’ve seen her take recital classes of tiny dancers, four and five years old, who most teachers feel lucky if they manage to go through most of the motions and make her dancers actually dance.  They stand out.  Where others see a bunch of little kids who find it hard to keep focused longer than five minutes, Audrey sees a class she can teach and then she motivates them to learn.  She is a master teacher, one who makes it fun while instilling knowledge and skill.  Little students love her and older students love her even more.

It hasn’t been easy for her.  She’s short.  The common perception about “tiny” ballerinas? It’s a myth. Ballerinas need to be at least four or five inches taller than she is.  Almost always.  But she learned and practiced and applied herself.  And she thinks dance, a skill she very early figured out makes her an exceptional choreographer.

She’s done some remarkable things too.  Did you know that she was the first person at Duke University to earn an official Bachelor’s degree in Dance?  The first.  Their department had a dance minor for a long time and she was a dance minor her first year.  But while Audrey was there, they upgraded the program and she was the first declared dance major.  She’s concentrated on teaching but has had some great experiences professionally dancing in a few companies.

Teaching dance pays okay, but most of the time it’s a part-time job.  She’s compensated by teaching a lot, sometimes at as many as five or six different studios.  That, my friends, is true dedication to her craft.  I frankly don’t know how she keeps her schedule straight.

So go back and reread that list after reading this short essay.  One could easily change “Jazz” and put in “Ballet” or “Modern” or “Tap.”  THAT is my daughter.  Her mother and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer and “dance dad” living in North Carolina.  You can get more information at http://thefensk.com

Still Basking

img_6284If we were having coffee today, I’d realize I hadn’t seen you in a week so I guess I’d simply have to mention my latest review.  It’s a little bit of a redo since I’ve already posted about it but consider this: the review was so good, I think it deserves two posts.

If an author is a scone, reviews are the butter and jam.  They are a source of validation, although they can sometimes be the source of consternation.  The best reviews are unsolicited, but writers can also submit books for review.  I hope that doesn’t surprise you but surely you didn’t think those newspaper or magazine book reviews were random, did you?  It is always a gamble.  Not every book is for every person so you never quite know how your book will be received.

In a way, this was a random review since the reviewer expressed interest in the book.  Some reviews, like on Amazon or other sales outlets are pretty much a surprise. “Oooo, look, a new review!” I’ll say when I notice it.  But when you submit to a reviewer the waiting game starts.  There is a period of anticipation as you wonder, will they like it?  Will they not like it?  Will the simply post something like, “Meh … yeah, it’s a book,” or “wow, what a lot of words.” But wow, when it is finally out and you read things like, “Thomas Fenske is an incredible talent and an author whose work radiates throughout,” it tends to make one’s heart beat a little harder for a few minutes.

But that’s just me. You can check it out for yourself here.

I guess it sounds like I’m reviewing the review, but really, I’m humbled by the reviewer’s reaction and elated. I want to share it from the highest mountaintop.  But I guess quietly talking over a steaming cup of coffee will have to do.  Now, for some reason I’m hungry.  Scone?

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in NC. He encourages you to leave reviews for your reads … they are important to an author.  A simple review on Amazon can be a big deal to the success of the book.  It doesn’t have to be long, “really enjoyed it” will do.  Even “Meh” helps … it’s something of a numbers game.
Check out his web page at http://thefensk.com

Avoiding shelter …

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the lost dog.  It belongs to my son’s family, slipped out a week ago when a gate was apparently left ajar.

Sadly, Bert is a bit long in the tooth, an older dog with a variety of mild illnesses.  Partially blind, not too worldly.  Poof.  Gone.

We’ve joined the search, but I’ve been here before and it is harder than trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.  We’ve all done all the usual things.  It is just amazing how completely they can disappear in such a short period of time. I half-expect them to show up on the island of odd socks or the valley of the missing coat-hangers.  They disappear that completely.

They live three towns west of us, and the shelter for that county/town is on the eastern side of town; it is actually closer to us than it is to them.  So, we’ve been going to the shelter.  There are no happy dogs or cats at the shelter.  Excited, yes. Running the gauntlet in the hall of the German Shepherds is evidence of that.  There was no Bert, either.

When we first arrived, there was a woman there with a quiet dog sitting patiently by her side.  I thought she was perhaps in the midst of adopting.  Quite the opposite.

As we returned we witnessed her handing over the leash and walking out the door.  The dog moved to follow her, was stopped by the leash, looked back and then forward at the closing door, a look of total confusion on her face. Then we could see a distinct look of realization and resignation flash over her face.  Welcome to the shelter, right?

We just lost a dog last July, by natural causes.  We have ten cats.  We are overrun.  But we were sorely tempted by this dog, Daisy.

We followed up on Daisy’s status.  She was almost immediately adopted.  We’re both happy for her, but we’re also just a little sad.  We got totally involved and invested in that few seconds.  But we’re both hopeful that she found her forever home.

Bert’s still missing.  We’re checking the shelter online now.  They update their webpage hourly, which we know for sure now.

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You can find out more about Thomas Fenske at http://thefensk.com … the Kindle version of his novel THE FEVER is on sale for $1.99 for the rest of February.

Shoutout Sunday

It’s not just me, others are catching THE FEVER too.

Books by Marianne Reese

My Shoutout this week goes to author Thomas Fenske. I caught the reading fever from his book ‘The Fever’. Here is my five-star review:

I had the “I can’t stop reading this book” fever! An enjoyable read with a great storyline.

The protagonist, Sam, is obsessed with the lore of a gold mine and spends countless days/hours in his quest to find it. The characters were all likable, and I loved the uniqueness of their names.

This story is a reminder of how catching ‘the fever’ can consume your life, impact your relationships, and affect your moral compass. It also touches on the preparation needed when delving into an expedition full of unknowns.

Here are links to Thomas Fenske’s Amazon Author site and web-site:

https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Fenske/e/B0184BAVFU/

https://thomasfenske.wordpress.com/

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February Sale

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I am please to report that my novel, THE FEVER, has been included in booksgosocial.com‘s Amazing February Sale Guide.  My book will be on sale through the end of the month ($1 off).

You can check it out, along with the other Mystery and Crime titles here: BGS Sale Guide/Mysteries

The full Sale guide is here:  BGS February Sale Guide

This is a great chance to Catch THE FEVER and support other independent authors.