Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Cat Videos: Feline Ennui

Trying to salvage something of the week, whipping Marlinspike Hall into shape for the weekend, and wouldn't you know the Feline Remnant declared themselves unhappy and bored.

"Stop revarnishing the Rembrandts and tend to Our Ennui," came the subtle command, transmitted in Fierce Tail Wags and Marmy's unique Hiss-and-*Ack*::*Ack* vocalizations.

Since Marmy had endured a vet visit yesterday... Since Buddy feels himself starved because he's in yet another growth spurt... Since Dobby is... Well, since Dobby *is*... I dug up an old DVD that we'd purchased years ago as a Xmas Pet Stocking Stuffer.

It's called "Feathers For Felines:  A Double Bill Creature Feature For Cats." All natural sounds, and you can set it on an eternal loop, should you want to drive your household permanently crazy.  Otherwise, it runs about two hours.  Mostly birds at feeders and in a typical back yard environment, it also features geese, chipmunks, squirrels, and one very weird frog swimming in a cement pond.

It's certainly not an intelligence test, and it doesn't captivate all cats.  My dear Sam-I-Am could take it or leave it, and Uncle Kitty Big Balls never did figure out that the images and sounds came from the television.  He would try to vault through the window, as he knew for sure those birds were real.  He thought we were under attack and the whole thing made him anxious.  So I'd tucked the DVD away...

Uncle Kitty Big Balls
(Little Boy)

The Blue Jays are the real attention-getters.  Spines straighten, lips are licked, paws reach out, butts quiver.

Buddy the Freakishly Large Kitten and Marmy Fluffy Butt are the hunters of the crowd.  Marmy was a street urchin, abandoned with her brother, pregnant, and completely wild.  We took her in because she was the spitting image of Pitiful, her tiny body stretched to the point of bursting, eyes infected, sneezing, and bitchy as all get out.  She wasn't, and isn't, an itty bitty kitty that endeared herself to strangers, so, yes, she knows how to hunt.  And Buddy?  Well, he's a Maine Coon, and from what we can tell, stalking and hunting are hard-wired activities in the creature. We've decided that the best description for Buddy Boy is that "everything is a game." *Everything*.  You may need to stretch your big toe something fierce... to him, it's an invitation -- to pounce, to subdue with a tackle, to consume, even.

As you stroll around Manor grounds, you'll likely hear screams:  "It is not a game!  It is not a game!" [The most fun, for me, is trying to put anything away.  A tee shirt, say.  I manage to put it on the proper shelf, turn to fold another, and wham!  Buddy has it by the sleeve and is rounding the corner at full speed, eyes lit up with glee.  "I've got it!  It's mine, all mine!"

Dobby is very sensitive (Oh, hush.).  He likes the entertainment but is worried, constantly worried.  Is Buddy behaving or is he going to bring these giant birds down on my pea-sized head?  Marmy, how are your eyes? don't get to close to the screen!  Is that wily squirrel really in the Boob Tube or should we post a sentry?  Dobby paces the battlements, the weight of the world's welfare scrambling his sweet brains.  One belly rub to the rescue!

Dang.  He can be really disconcerting, Dobby.  I just looked up to see him intently watching Buddy watch the birds.  Laser focus.  Creepy.

Huh.  Buddy is the only one who repeatedly checks behind and alongside the telly for any varmints that may have leaked out.  An indication of his kitten status, I s'pose.

Anyway.  I had fun watching them watch the birds. (And each other.) Hope you do, too. [I'm trying to correct this, but for the moment, the audio -- mostly chirping birds, with occasional responses from Buddy -- has disappeared.]

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Behaving Badly

I'm so thankful for my well-developed sense of humor.  You guys need to leave Allen West alone.

Over time, we've all been trained to navigate life by icon.  Mad men rule, really.  The last few days, I've come to dislike brands and very dense signifiers, and not only because they're the ruination of language and conversation.

I'm supposed to use two kinds of eye drops to treat glaucoma.  Both cause redness, stinging, and blurry vision. My vision is further impaired by cataracts -- gifts, we believe, of corticosteroids.  My new eye doc wants to remove those suckers and also perform some kind of stabbery to the back wall of the eye, to help reduce eye pressures.

Problem is, I tend to "forget" the drops, entirely, or, magically, just the one with the worst side effects. My forgetfulness dates from around mid-December 2011, when I scored my best eye pressures in years during a week when I'd only used one of the two drops due to mail order pharmacy confusion. "Hmm," I said to myself.  "And huh!"

Checking out the calendar for upcoming krapola, my appointment with NewEyeDoc waved and blew me a kiss.  She'd scheduled it with the hope that all the bone infection nonsense would be resolved by then, and that we could concentrate on recovering and preserving vision.  This was to be our pre-op planning time.  I don't know how comfortable she will be proceeding with the infection still active, or whether she wants to wait until after the spacer removal (also known as The Gift of Flail).

Clearly, however, it was time for me to start using the drops as prescribed.

And so I've been blind as a bat and crabby as can be, either as a result or as a highly unlikely freakishly malicious coincidence.  "Crabby" is all wrong.  Forgetful, trapped in a headache, spiraling blood pressure.  We don't know why my blood pressure shoots up on these drops, but it does.  I don't know whether the jangling::clang:clang::screech of my headache is related to the elevated blood pressure or just a haphazard kiss of the divine, but the message received from the accumulated misery is... don't move, don't turn on that light, don't try to make the lines of the novel separate, enjoy them as a crossword puzzle!

[Above all, if anyone offers to help you, scream "No!" as if the notion were ludicrous.  Be sure your voice is heavy-laden with annoyance.  Poor Fred.]

Yes, I could make this another Poor Fred post.  Instead, unless you think I need the impetus of more debasement, I'll make today a new day.

For years, Fred and I have struggled to conquer the complicated notion of "when does Retired Educator Prof-de-Rien need and want help."  I think there is an elegant solution that ought to be self-evident.  I need help when I ask for it.  As for how that help should look?  Well, again, I refer you to the asking component, which should contain all necessary specificity.

Ah, yes, perhaps I should refer you to the famous laxative post.  Otherwise, you'll be left with this:  I want WHAT I want, WHEN I want it.  To put it any other way would be dishonest.

Let's imagine {guffaw} that I make a list of things that need to be done around The Manor, things that I am not physically able to do.  Shoot -- given last night's post -- let's just use the example of putting birdseed into the feeders.  It's important to me, but Fred also enjoys the birds, and we both are hoping that the bluebird romances of last year will be rekindled so that we'll have babies in the nesting boxes.

So, one month ago, noticing that the feeders were empty, I put "birdseed" on the grocery list.  And I continued to put "birdseed" on the list, the lists usually occuring biweekly, until this past Sunday, when I not only put it on the list but put yellow Post-Its bearing the same message all over the bathroom mirror, on Fred's computer monitor, and around Ruby the Honda CR-V's steering wheel.  You may be assured that verbal reminders had been issued with great regularity and -- really -- with relative good humor.  I mean, needing birdseed is not like needing a laxative, you ninnies!

The listings, in sequence, looked something like this:

The conversations about birdseed also followed a progression.  Beginning with Fred's "You should write it down on the list," and ending with Fred's "Oh, you still want birdseed? That was on last week's list, I thought."

I was very proud of him when I saw the 50-pound bag of seed nestled among the ten 40-pound containers of cat litter.  And when I found him weeping into his pillow, a heating pad on his lower back, I told him how moved I was by his purchase.  "Arggh and arggh," was his predictably selfless reply.

But he was clearly just angry yesterday, when I rolled up to his carpeted and paneled Man Cave, cleared my throat and said, "You know, it's great that the 50-pound bag of seed is nestled among the ten 40-pound containers of cat litter out in the laundry room..."

"I know.  I haven't had time to put any outside..."

I had gone too far.  In my defense, I was frustrated by my failure to accomplish one single solitarity bit of anything.  Of course, the fact that I turned on my partner at that moment doesn't say much about my character, and I won't defend it, either.

[All references to ADHD and youknow and blahblahblah have been removed to preserve normal brain function in both Author and Reader.  Efforts to foreshadow -- beyond the reference to the laxative post -- were abandoned.]

At midnight, I heard grunts and the sound of pouring grains. The crunch of dirty gray crocs on flagstone walkways. The blare of Fred standing in the moonlight, face open, face up. If we had modern doors, I would have heard them slamming, all modern-like, and -- seconds later -- locks locking.

There was good-natured fighting and some fierce short chases, flits, really, among the chickadees this morning. We still have some suet up, so the nuthatches did their breakaway thing, snacking -- snarkily -- upside down, while the other birds fought. A titmouse stood up to a woodpecker, or tried.  We've never had mockingbirds before but now have two dedicated couples who share the chore of dive-bombing humans, even those bearing seed, so we are hoping for little mocklettes.

No bluebirds yet.

I most enjoy watching the nuthatch.  Jerky, quick, assured, intelligent. They "creep" but are not creepers!
Very tame.  Also, stubborn.  And did I mention that they're often upside down?

Why not take a few minutes and watch one now?

  • Tool use in birds is rare, but the Brown-headed Nuthatch will use a piece of bark as a lever to pry up other bark to look for food. It may carry the bark tool from tree to tree, and may use it to cover a seed cache.
  • Nests of Brown-headed Nuthatches are regularly attended by extra birds, usually young males. Whether these helpers-at-the-nest are older offspring of the breeding pair is not yet known.

A Year Ago: Bed 5, Round 4

first published on 4/12/2011

I had my first opportunity to serve as Ambassador of Ketamine yesterday, a duty that I discharged with vigor, if not honesty.

About a half hour before being escorted to the treatment area, ketamine patients are instructed to stop by the outpatient pharmacy, sidle nonchalantly on up to the counter and hit the pharmacist up for 10 mg of Valium.

I think nonchalant sidling is akin to the skedaddle of the detritus loving Fiddler Crab.

You ask for your Valium out of the side of your mouth;  You cover your purchase with a bag of sour Skittles and maybe some Milk Duds;  You pay your dollar, pop your pill, and go wait to be called for treatment.

So I'm in line, humming, fondling the candy.  There is a guy in a wheelchair taking up a lot of time -- like, they tell him it will be a few minutes before his medication is ready, and he says okay, I'll just wait *here*... but, like, I can't get to the counter because he is entrenched, waiting *there*... 

Jeez, people in wheelchairs think they own the world.

Fred does his clear-the-throat routine.  That doesn't work because, heck, we're in the middle of a hospital where half the population has tubes running down their throats and the sound of raspy retching is the sound of normal.

I finally just call out over the guy's shoulder -- "Yo!  I'm here to get my one-buckValium and to pay for these Skittles and maybe some Milk Duds before I go fall in my K-hole, yo, y'all."

At which point the guy in front of me practically does a wheelie.

"You, too, huh?  This is my first time.  I'm really nervous.  Does it really work?  What are you getting it for?"

Aw, fudge.

I'm nervous, myself, and this is my fourth treatment.  And I am not feeling chatty, or excited, or even vaguely benevolent.

Nonetheless, I proceed to be a fine ambassador of subanesthetic ketamine infusion therapy for intractable pain.  My routine is peppered (and salted) with plenty of "it varies from patient to patient..."

"Is it working for you?  How long does it take before it works?  Is it scary?" And so on, and so forth.  I meet his Blessed Mother, who has blue helmet hair and clearly thinks I might be one of them "drug atticks."  He rolls up his pants to show me his red lobster legs, trying to convince me that his pain is horrible, that he cannot sleep, that he's tried everything.  I tell him he is obviously a cry baby, signal the money-grubbing pharmacist tech, peel off wide, and catch my neatly packaged diazepam on the fly.  Fred tucks the candy into his backpack, I leave an IOU tucked in the Bowel Program For High Quadriplegia aisle (next to the cards and magazine rack), promise to settle accounts "next time," and we leave that big old cry baby and his helmet-headed mama with mouths hanging open, sucking in our dust.

When I am assigned an area back in the treatment room -- Bed 5 -- guess who is put in Bed 4?  You guessed it!  And his mama, too.

Big fat paralyzed cry baby seems to know every doctor and nurse who strolls by... and for some reason, people seemed to be taking their lunch-break power promenades down Ketamine Alley, peeking in at us weirdos and our wheelchairs, canes, catheters, ports, and world-weary loved ones valiantly trying to stay awake as lights and sounds dim, then mute. Fred and I listen to my neighbor bitch and moan as a namby pamby, softspoken, I-think-I-can-help-you type doctor attempts to tweek his spinal cord stimulator so that the cry baby can sleep long enough to have a wet dream. The doctor leaves him with several programs to try and some inspirational thoughts by Jack Handey.

I am the last person to be hooked up, even though I have the largest dose to be given.  As usual, when I start the infusion, ketamine greets me with one of its more dependable effects -- a kind of sepia treatment, a brownish, sometimes greenish, tint or wash that rubs out details and crosses soft edges.  That, and hearing so acute that I perceive Fred thinking of ducking out to grab a sandwich -- and his loud, booming hope for a kosher dill on the side.

Big fat paralyzed red-legged mama's boy cry baby, like many of us, has brought music to listen to in the form of an MP3 player.  In fact, I had spent a fair amount of time during the night making a playlist specifically for the Ketamine Experience, hoping to avoid Jimi Hendrix and the Banner, "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and stuff like the giggle-inspiring "Illegal Smile."  Me and my 54 songs were ready for Round 4, all negativity purged, insipid pop privileged over mind-bending instrumentals, rock classics, and Mozart.

But now, in the cozy environs of Bed 5, there was this competing roar that I couldn't at first locate and never managed to silence.  That's right -- the cry baby's music (if it can be called that! sniff:sniff) vibrated all over the damned place, bleeding from his earbuds.  His taste in songs seemed to be limited to groups formed by cousins.

I apparently don't rise above a whisper during ketamine infusions.  Fred has to lean in close to hear me and says that I perpetually inquire as to whether or not I am being too loud, and seek reassurances that I am not, in fact, shouting. 

So there was that to contend with -- supersensitive hearing and leaky earbuds.

And yes, once again, I became hyperconcerned about a little old lady who was stashed in the last bed on Ketamine Row.  She was moaning so, and weeping.  Would these people never shut the hell up?

Part of the reason I was late getting started was that they accessed my portacath for the first time. Thankfully, that went fine, despite the nurse's contention that it was still too "infected" to use.  The problem is now relegated to one tiny area of the incision, through which pokes this recalcitrant little stitch that refuses to "dissolve" and be absorbed by my body.  Every few days or so, I clip the ends, and to keep things free of pus, crusty critters, and squishy maggots, first thing every morning and last thing at night, I douse the area with cognac and smear bacon grease over the wound, concentrating on that problematic corner.

Sorry.  That's what I felt like telling the nurse every time she inquired whether or not I was applying neomycin, keeping it clean and covered, etcetera.  It seemed she asked a hundred times and that was before the pharmacy even delivered the right dose of ketamine -- they had prepared a bag of 50 mg when I had graduated to 125, and the time required to correct the error was sufficient for her to worry enough about my site to page the doctor for "clearance" to use the port.

Clearly peeved at having been pulled from his clinic patients, he glared at me (not her, mind you, but me), poked at it meaningfully with an ungloved index finger, and declared it "perfect."  Before dashing back to the crowded exam rooms and stacks of charts, he gave me a short pep talk, even using the word "miraculous" to describe the relief that would be coming my way any day now.  Fred had a sneezing fit in the middle of the doctor's testimony, and I thought I saw the word bullshit fly out of his delicate aquiline nose and dance in the air before diving into his fine linen handkerchief.

If you are dying to know whether I got any pain relief from Round 4 of subanesthetic ketamine, you're not alone.  So am I.

At 4:10 pm, I had no pain in my feet, no pain below my knees.  I laughed, I smiled.  I announced it.  And then it was gone.  No one reacted to my news, so I am not sure whether I actually said it out loud.  Even when I retold the tale on the ride home, Fred didn't think I was serious.

When people describe how heartbreaking it is to have pain relieved only to have it return?  There is no melodrama there.  It really does tear the heart asunder -- bundles of ischemic cardiac muscle fall apart, shred, and twitch in extremis.

To answer the question, then, I don't know.  I might have dreamed it, I might have hallucinated it, but at 4:10 pm, I had no pain in my feet, no pain below my knees.

All I can conclude is that maybe we are nearing the right dose of ketamine... I heard the nurse and the doctor discussing something about adjusting the rate but not the dose, but I am not sure they were talking about me.

 The big fat paralyzed red-legged mama's boy cry baby next to me?  When they inquired about his pain level following the infusion, he crowed -- "Zero!  Zero, man, zero!"

His little blue-haired mama looked confused, but pleased, and announced that they were gonna go get them some Taco Bell.

My next treatment is set for next Wednesday at which time the dose will be 150 mg.

"cocorosie K-hole {independent} music video" uploaded to YouTube by ensnyggflicka on Dec 4, 2006

Tiny spirit in a k-hole
Bloated like soggy cereal
God will come and wash away
Our tattoos and all the cocaine
And all of the aborted babies
Will turn into little bambies

Wounded river push along
Searching for that desert song
And mozart's requiem will play
On tiny spearkers made of clay
Tell my mother that i love her
Martin luther you're an angel

Charming monkey saunter swagger
Drunken donkey limbs disjointed
Your chest is a petting zoo
Mexican pony fucked up shoes
I dreamt one thousand basketball courts
Nothing holier than sports

Dragonfly kiss your tail
Precious robot built so frail
Universe of milk and ember
Your hot kiss in mid december
What's god name i can't remember
Trough the crack eye lovely weather

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next": youknow and blahblahblah

i was having a hard time today, with youknow and blahblahblah.  i felt confused, too, which made youknow and blahblahblah easier to deal with, in a way.  i could just sort of give up, youknow and blahblahblah,  because who would know, anyway?

then i went looking for beauty, but my eyes were youknow and blahblahblah, so i had to turn out the lights and lay in the dark, rubbing dobby's belly.

dobby said, "one word about youknow and blahblahblah and i'm outta here." so he was able to stay, get a belly rub, and a sleep.

marmy went to the vet.  i wanted to go with but got the old "oh no you don't have to..." which is his youknow and blahblahblah.  they said she did not have an eye infection and sent her home with antibiotics.  sigh.  the vets see fred and hear the dulcet tones of the cash register.

she's been hiding in the base of the cat tree all day.  it's a cat tree house, made of good carpet, shaped like a tree.  and -- like i said, before i started worrying that you'd think she was stuck outside in an actual tree -- she's been hiding in its base ever since her return from the animal doc.

fred filled the bird feeders for me.


i went looking for beauty and there is beauty's set up, in seeds put into five feeders, waiting for the sunrise.

tomorrow morning, after a night of youknow and blahblahblah, will be one of the last crisp mornings.  italian roast with half a scoop of so-so espresso, not an ideal combination for a café press, but i've tweaked it to my liking.  some milk.  a spot in front of the window, or maybe, depending, out on the deck.

there will be all night radio, like the past two nights.  i want to read but i can't because, well, youknow and blahblahblah.  while in 19th century istanbul, yashim the eunuch sits on his divan and waits.

it has been and i suspect will be, for a few more days, a very jd salinger bit of time.  i am feeling very populated by the glass family, very zooey, very franny, very buddy, missing seymour.  the twins?  oh, wait, walt's dead, and walker is a priest somewhere.  shouldn't they all be dead by now? 

hanging with my kind, i flatter myself, at home, in bed, cozy with spiritual malaise and a sophisticate's neuroses.

Oh this happiness is strong stuff. It’s marvelously liberating. I’m free, I feel, to tell you exactly what you must be longing to hear now. That is, if as I know you do, you love best in this world those little beings of pure spirit with a natural temperature of 125, then it naturally follows that the creature you love next best is the person—the God-knower or God-hater (almost never apparently anything in between), the saint or profligate, moralist or complete immoralist—who can write a poem that is a poem. Among human beings, he’s the curlew sandpiper, and I hasten to tell you what little I presume to know about his flights, his heat, his incredible heart.

Monday, April 9, 2012

ManorFest 2012: Growing Pains

I'm making Mom's Best Peanut Brittle.  Don't get excited, it's just a recipe title.  We're testing out some of the suggestions from last week's ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars.

When Fred and I take up scrapbooking, we are going to have whole pages dedicated to the ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars.  So many fun mementos.  To me, these things are keepsakes, little plastic and paper memories to cherish, garnished with cheap metals.  To Fred, they are trophies. "In lieu of a Death Certificate," he says, the jokester.

ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars were sponsored by Haddock Home and the logo was therefore imprinted on every leaking pen and environmentally disastrous styrofoam cup. (Corporate is still trying out monikers... I think Haddock Home is superb, very inviting, non-threatening.  Infinitely better than Hail,  Haddock, the Captain's favorite, or Hershey, Haddock, & Heinz, Inc, the top choice among the pungent Venture Capitalists down at the end of the conference table, right next to the main garderobe drain, the one that empties directly into the familial cesspit.)

Haddock Home name tags, alone, could take up a whole section.  You know the kind with the clear plastic cover that won't stay folded over, with the hot-glued pin that's usually a bit askew?  No, not the easy self-adhesives.  Or the new magnetic do-dads.  Not even the ones with the swiveling clip, for those days when you're not covered in pockets, or when your one badge-bearing pocket is right over your left nipple.

So much frustration, so early in this doggone post!

Don't you love finding the right words?  Those name tags were "pin-style name badges."

Yes, I did spend five minutes in the world of office supply terminology, but then, Abbot Truffatore and The Boys are in the mail order office supply business... so I have an advantage.  I get to sample their Monastery Fudge, along with a cup of their Monastery Coffee, whilst pumping the novitiate for the mystical secrets of staples, paper punches, and correction fluid.  It turns out there is no great incense-imbued Catholic Office Supply Doctrine of Transubstantiation. The Papal Bull on the topic is simple and clear:  Buy Bulk.

Photo from Home Sweet Homewrecker 
Crap.  Speaking of transubstantiation, I decided to use already roasted peanuts in the brittle... Oh, stop laughing.  Yes, I burned them.  Okay, so next time, they won't be added until my candy thermometer hits 250.  Now, what do I do with 40 gallons of burned brittle?

We are still -- as in always -- repairing walls in certain medieval sections of Marlinspike Hall.  Maybe in some of the drier areas, we could substitute my burnt brittle for daub -- you know, the classic wattle and... brittle?  Fred and Sven Feingold have come up with some amazing innovations in our efforts to maintain The Manor in authentic ways without killing ourselves in the process.  You will remember from your last encounter with the wattle and daub technique that the final lime plaster -- a lime and sand mix -- sometime refuses to adhere to the daub.  Bianca Castafiore once ended up with a weekend pass to the Mental Hospital as a result.  Well, Fred and Sven, Bianca's latest Domestic Interest, discovered that adding cat hair to the mix roughens it up enough that it sticks, and even looks naively artistic, kind of Country Bumpkin Cool.  There is, of course, a story behind the discovery, but since the cat in question survived the dip-in-the-daub encounter, healed up nicely, and, with therapy, will overcome his stress-induced flashbacks, we'll settle for naming this new and improved building resource Dobby Daub.  You remember Dobby, yes?  He is the little star-faced one, here seen in his Early Runt Days, when any cat could take a casual chew on his ear.  He's never quite lost that look of quiet desperation, and since the Daub Debacle, it's only become more pronounced.

We're trying to get Haddock Home, or whatever they end up calling themselves, to market Dobby Daub, but the most we're getting from their R&D Division is the offer of a table at ManorFest 2012, where Sven can give trowelling demonstrations and The Castafiore can show off her parging techniques -- who knew she had such a sense for texture?

As for me, my role is as the much ballyhooed Cat Hair Collector, which is what I think I've always been, anyway, except that now I have to carefully wash, dry, trim, separate by donor, and then store the silky feline contributions, a process which may soon get me my own weekend pass to the Mental Hospital.

No, You Smarty-Panted Reader, we cannot substitute the hair from any of the OverSized Herds for that of the Feline Three. (As the Hair Collector, that was my first thought, too!)  It has to do with both aesthetic and maintenance issues, as well as the hair's behavior around various oils.  A long, thick hair from Marmy Fluffy Butt's tail, for instance, can absorb twice its weight in wattle oils (an odd mix of timber resins and termite sweat), whereas an even thicker strand of Big Bo-Buffalo hair will *repel* the gooey mélange, resulting in something comparable to a curdled custard.

Forgive me if I seem obsessed with Things Culinary.  The ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars have imparted a new, laser-like precision to my thoughts.

Unbeknownst to us, ManorFest 2011 was evaluated by the research firm Press Gainey, which is broadening its area of expertise from Optimizing Health Care Delivery Systems to Mucking Up Obscure Regional Celebrations  So it was that Haddock Home reps informed us that, according to Press Gainey results, it's not enough to offer slabs of beef, piles of fried chicken legs and our famous grilled gizzards, alongside samples of all that can be stuffed into the pork chop of an oversized pig.  Our festival goers are a famously hearty people, but we've left them, they tell us, intellectually hungry.  Now, according to The Wrinkle-Free Suits, it's the "experience" we are supposed to offer, not just a wealth of artery-clogging proteins.  Open kitchens.  Demonstrations of technique.  Celebrity cooks (we cannot afford chefs).

And it all must be done by the dictates of Value Based Purchasing.  We are literally fighting over who gets to attend the four-hour long VBP webinar.  The Abbott and I are of the opinion that Fred ought to have the honor, as he was the only one in our Management Tier to know what ROI stood for.  Bianca blushed when she was asked, thinking of Antoine Rigaudeau ("le roi"), her longtime love interest, now retired, and true source of her basketball expertise.

(Ah, my affection for the out-of-context!)

Anyway, what it all amounts to is that Haddock Homes is smiling at us with big, white teeth, and dictating major changes in how we do things in festival season, using our beloved audience of locals against us.  During a multimedia Press Ganey Performance Solutions presentation on expanding the cultural minutiae of the ManorFest 2012 Food Court, we heard, in a hundred different ways, all bulleted in lists,  that watching meat turn on a spit was hardly entertainment.  What the...?

Our rallying cry, back in the privacy of the Medieval Kitchinette?  Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?

And we threw our plastic name tags down upon our eco-friendly tamped earth floor and gnawed on cold turkey drumsticks!  Well, Fred and Sven did.  La Bonne et Belle Bianca and I had ginger tea and scones.

Given no choice by the Powers That Be, we're adapting.  We're coming around.  We're getting with the program, seeing the light, and learning the words to the anthem.  (But if you suggest to Fred that we are becoming "team players," you'd best run for the monastery, and hope there is enough room for you in the sanctuary.)

The peanut brittle is actually a good product to promote -- we're using preferred local ingredients, from the artisinal processed white sugar to the hydroponic vanilla bean pods. (We make some striking naturopathic vanilla extracts using vodka. Who needs vaccination when you could have vanilla vodka?)  But preparing sticky brittle outside, in the heat of our high summer?  Do you want to answer people who inquire about the black specks in their portion?  Shall we add an entomologist to the staffing for that exhibit?

We could always go gourmet, and claim it's chunky black pepper.

I made the mistake of wondering out loud about the feasability of brittle during a mindnumbing afternoon ManorFest Planning session, and a corporate wonk spoke up, as if in response, suggesting that we also take on chocolate covered Big-bottomed ants for the kids.  She bolstered her argument with a handout touting insects as low in fat, high in protein, and tasty as all get out when toasted.  I could have kissed Fred when he said, "Yeah, well, there's an obesity epidemic among termite eaters!"

It's tough being clever in mindnumbing late afternoon conditions.  Surrounded by wonks.

Er, the termite is a fatty snack, in comparison with its edible brethren.  Chewier, too.  It's even possible to extract termite oil.  We're thinking of making that a Marlinspike Hall Cottage Industry during the cold winters.  If we ever have another cold winter...

It's also something that may be therapeutic for the recovering Cirque du Soleil and Carnie Addicts who are housed in one of our best barns, now an accredited rehabilitation facility.  Termite oil, bottled in sapphire blue miniature carafes, might be a way for the Rehab Barn to become self-sustaining.

You know, in case they ever weary of Haddock Corporation "guidance."  Sigh.  Growth is hard.

Meanwhile, back at the ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminar, we continued to devolve in our discussion of Insects as Food.  Foreheads glistening with excitement, looking very much like they'd like to prendre une pause and go mate in the corner, the Haddock House team began making the cost analyses that would "drive" our production.  Nary a thought seemed to be given to Quality Control -- that piddly detail would be left to us, of course.

Meaningless issues like safe storage and preservation. How long can a Japanese Beetle be kept on the shelf without becoming so dessicated as to lose its cloying flavors?  Should we value texture (meaning crunch, mostly) over depth of infused flavors?  (Think garlic, anise, and papaya marinated worms, because, let's face it, worms are pretty flat, flavor-wise.)  The Abbott swears by a Mexican delicacy, caballito del diablo, dragonfly larvae, consumed alike.  That's a whole nother ball of wax.

Ethical issues, too, were blithely tossed aside by Corporate reps, you know, things which pretty much separate the toss-the-screaming-lobster-in-the-boil versus the stab-it-first-with-the-ice-pick crowd.

Bianca had to leave, nauseated merely at the thought of spending all of June catching and parboiling enough local social insects to feed the throngs in July and August.  Hand clasped to the base of her throat, The Castafiore teetered out of the room on her red-soled signature Christian Louboutin's -- the 140 mm., of course.

I'm not a fan of the round toe, and decided to sit and think about that, hoping that my colleagues would construe my far away look as one of dedication to the ManorFest Cause.  I may not be able to sport shoes any more, but no one shall rob me of the capacity to daydream about five-and-a-half inch heels.

O, God.  That's another bug, of sorts.  The Cause.  (Not the heels.)

We are to be aligned with A Cause that is yet to be determined.  None of our suggestions even made it on the White Board. (Fred and I stuck with our favorite cause, Personal Wealth.  The Abbott suggested a fund be established, in perpetuity, for the maintenance of the Holy Foreskin, which the monastics are charged with protecting. Before she wove her way back to our quarters, Bianca voted for joining forces with Save The Operatic Ta-Tas, a charitable organization dedicated to big-chested operatic sopranos. You know, the Brunhilde types, whose "body habitus" prevents decent mammography.

We were not invited, however, to the Vision Quest Seminar where The Cause will be chosen.

Harrumph, and pass the vanilla extract.