The Retirement of the Great Huntress

My old cat played games with me during the gas shortage crisis of 2021.

You see, there’s so much rain. So. Much. Rain.

And during the rain, mice enter my home. They zip in through little holes and the main door when we leave it open for the pets.

It used to be that my cat, Dolce, would catch the mice before they even entered the house. The Great Huntress, as she demanded to be called, left little body parts around our property like an untidy serial killer. Sometimes a pile of feathers. The remains of a vole outside the front door. “We need a little mousie chalk outline,” I would yell to Stephanie. She disposed of the bodies.

No mouse dared to sleep in our house.

Now, she’s about to turn 17 and her main activities are sleeping in sunspots, eating, and demanding pets and treats. She pops up onto the couch beside me as I knit and snags my hand with one long claw, pulling it toward her head. “Oh, you want lovings,” I cry, delighted even as she scratches a red line across my knuckle. I plunge my hand into her soft belly fur and ruffle and rub and give her the pets she desires. Then, I return to my knitting, rejoicing that she chose me to snuggle and injure.

The Great Huntress has retired.

I suspected mice were back when I heard strange clunkings and clankings in the kitchen late at night. The whole family curled together in the bedroom. Another thunk alerted Dolce. Ears pointed and eyes narrowing, she stalked out into the kitchen. A small crash and a scurry across the floor told me the hunt was on.

The next morning, a mouse laid dead in our master bathroom. Sprawled at the base of the toilet, it appeared to have died more from fright than anything else. I didn’t study it for tooth marks. Like most retirees, the Great Huntress couldn’t resist a chase, but she’s not up for the down-and-dirty part of the job.

One mouse means more. Sure enough, mouse poop hid in the cracks and crevices of the counters at the edges of baskets and under towels. Yuck!

Time to pull out the live mouse trap.

A little peanut butter baited the trap. I settled it on the favorite mouse route and turned off the light that evening. The door slapped closed about ten minutes later.


Padding out into the kitchen, I turned on the light. Dolce stood over the green tube, reaching her paw out to knock it into the middle of the kitchen floor. As far as I can tell, slapping the trap across the smooth floor brings her more joy than catching the mice these days. It’s like a labor-saving device. She looks up at me as if to say, “Did you know? It’s miraculous! It catches the mice and then I can play with them for hours!”

Ah, the wonders of technology!

I left her playing for a moment while I retrieved a dishtowel. Dropping it over the top of the trap, I scooped the whole thing up and put it on the dryer in the laundry room.

Wrapping the trap with a towel protects surfaces from the mouse droppings. Plus, the darkness keeps the mouse calm.

Dolce sprawled across my space on the sheets when I returned to bed. So satisfied with herself. Looking at me as if to say, “And that’s how a professional does it. Thanks for cleaning up.”

I know. I’m fooling myself to think she thanked me.

When I woke up the next morning, the mouse and I took a drive while Dolce cuddled with Stephanie. We circled around until I found a sort-of deserted area just over a mile away from our house (the minimum distance required to keep the mouse from finding its way back). Saying a prayer of blessing and encouragement, I tumbled the animal out of the tube into the grass.

They gave me the little mousie finger and sprinted off.

When I live-trap these mice and relocate them, I know that I’m sending them out into the arena for their real-life Hunger Games. However, in my area, finding a field at least a mile away from any other home is a challenge I’ve yet to overcome so they have a good chance of relocating into another house. We humans packed ourselves into these hills, all of us wanting our one-to-three acre plots. My best hope is that the mice get to live their regular little lives, eaten by a fox or some other mouse-eating varmint instead of slinking into a house that uses killing traps.

Especially the sticky traps. Don’t use those! What an awful way to go!

Back home, I washed the mouse trap in water with dish soap and bleach, and soaked it overnight.

The telltale sound of mice thumping into the dog food bowl woke me in the dark. As I tried to go back to sleep, Dolce alerted us to the hunt with a series of peeping meows and the uncertain crackle of a cat trying to sneak through a series of plastic bags and broom bristles.

Losing speed and grace in her old age was what sent the Great Huntress into retirement, so I shouldn’t be surprised at waking up. However…

Trying to stay sleepy, I wrestled her out of the broom closet (more of an alcove. There’s no door) and dumped her back on the bed. She cuddled in, content to allow the mouse to zip back to their hiding place.

Mice show up in pairs, so I knew I had at least two more catch-and-release adventures ahead.

As I caught-and-released, repeating the process over several days as mouse after mouse appeared, the gas crisis showed up. I laughed when Stephanie told me about it. Surely, this wasn’t so dire.

The next morning, I drove my mouse out in a new direction.

I go in new directions so they can’t find each other and share information on how to return.

Along my route, a line of traffic at a gas station trailed into the highway. A group of computer hackers (what do you call a group of hackers? A nerd of hackers? A code of hackers? I should know this!) had broken into the system of the local gas supplier and somehow prevented the gas from arriving at stations. Panic spread across the region. Trucks and cars blocked the opposite lane as I passed them. People filling their tanks and piles of red gas cans packed into the beds of pickup trucks. One video shared online showed a woman filling a plastic bag with gasoline, dragging it back to her car while sloshing gas all over the ground.

I reflexively checked the gauge. A little over half a tank. I work from home and rarely drive, filling my tank once a month instead of once a week. They were predicting the pipeline and subsequent delivery system would be resolved by the middle of the next week.

The mouse scuffled across the rocking floor of the trap, clicking the plastic back and forth. I pulled through a side road and lingered at a lonely stop sign to grab the mouse and tumble him out onto the grass.

That damn cat! I thought. She could catch these mice herself instead of waiting for the trap to contain them, waking me up with the scratching slide of the plastic across the floor. I’m spending all my gas driving these mice into the country!

Now the mouse-release adventure became a saga. Would I run out mice or gas first? I combined trips. Release the mouse on the way to the chiropractor, but not so near the chiropractor he would show up at that house. Release the mouse in the park as I walk to the library to pick up books I had on hold.

When I dropped off the last mouse into the grass next to a highway exit, the gas tank was just under half and the waits at stations reducing from hours to minutes.

I won this round, little mousies.

Now stay away from my house! Don’t you know there’s a retired assassin inside?

I hope she cuddles with me tonight!

Gender Is A Spectrum

I went to a business mixer a week after the immunity kicked in from my completed vaccine. It was the first evening I’ve been out networking in at least two years. I was nervous; I didn’t know what to expect. There were so many people on the lawn of this gorgeous event venue. I pretended we were all attending a garden party, and resolved to make friends.
As I talked to a couple of fellows, I thought, “Oh! My people! It’s so nice to have a regular conversation with another gay person.” And then they would mention their wives (once she was standing right next to him!).
I felt good about my response as I managed to keep the surprise off my face (except maybe I got surprised eyes? I could have had surprised eyes), thinking “Gender is a spectrum. Gender is a spectrum.”

You see, I’ve met so many gay straight people.

So. Many.

I came out in the fall of 1992 and, along with the election of Bill Clinton, the state where I lived passed an amendment to their constitution which allowed active discrimination against gay people. While I navigated the waters of my new community, I watched my friends hide their sexuality from their families and co-workers. Immersed in the theater, my circle contained more out gay people than others, but the norm was still to hide ourselves.
Because of this, I learned quickly about “gaydar,” that mysterious force which points you towards other lesbian and gay people. Those little tells that reveal the possibility of a connection. While people might be out to their inner circle of friends, they rarely outed themselves to their family and workplace. That path still contains the possibility to destroy familial connections and livelihoods.
As such, at parties and while we watched talk shows, we would guess who was gay and hiding it. Soooooooooo much fun! Celebrities, of course, were the major topic, but as the wine flowed, so did our mouths, and we would make assertions about friends and family. These people set off our gaydar, but maintained actively straight lifestyles.

“When do you think he’ll come out and get divorced from her?”

“Well, you just know that they’re both gay. I wonder if they even ever had sex.”

“She joined our softball team and keeps giving Joyce these longing looks, but insists she’s not gay. Whyyyyyyy? They could be so happy together!”

Watching for the tells and then asserting our correctness when the person finally came out was exhilarating! And when it was a celebrity? Oh! The “See, I told you so”s dropped from our lips like a refreshing rain!
Plus, each new person asserting their homosexuality felt like another person added to our team. Another voice joining our ongoing battle for civil rights, the recognition of our humanity.
In those days, the chance that someone who had that little extra something in their manner was gay was pretty high because that was the only way to communicate your availability. Taking a chance to find that connection was dangerous, as we saw with the martyrdom of Matthew Shepard (along with many, many others). We spoke as we could.
When I talked of meeting gay straight people, I talked about meeting gay people who lived straight lives.

Now, of course, the sea has changed. A massive tide pulled us through that long, wretched time. As always, small tide pools and quicksand remain to snag us, but those moments feel fewer and further between. The young folks today don’t put up with the bullshit we took for granted. They force the conversation around free-flowing gender and sexualities, taking the legacy of the fight we started and punching it forward.

And now, when I talk about gay straight people, I mean straight people who have so many of those little tells that my gaydar pings.

One fellow I know, who is a dear, dear friend, is the gayest straight man I’ll ever know, and his devotion to his wife has carried them through many hard times. I think it has to do with the fact that he’s so comfortable in himself, willing to express both his masculine and feminine sides.

His wife’s brother and his husband agree with me. Leaning in at a graduation party, he confided, “Gayest straight man I’ve ever met. And I live in San Francisco.”

Case closed.

Another friend tries hard to get the job of “gayest straight man I know” with his propensity to pull out drag at the drop of a hat. However, he’s an actor, and his closet contains tons of costumes including Batman and Indiana Jones, alongside Marilyn Monroe. I would say he’s more addicted to dressing up than being drawn to drag. Plus, his eyes light up with sparkly stars each time his drop-dead gorgeous wife comes into view. No hiding that look.
For those few years I worked for my local arts council, I ran the box office for one of their main fund raisers, a follies-style show of funny skits and songs. During the performance, actors hung out in the lobby area with me as they waited to go on-stage. One night, this fellow strode out of the green room completely done. The dress, the makeup, the wig, the heels—all fit the occasion. He flounced over to my little table and began chatting. “Oh my,” I said. “Look at you.”
He preened. He really is a gorgeous lady.

“You could be the gayest straight man I know.”

His smile faltered just a little.

“But someone else has got you beat.”

Delighted, he zipped off for his next entrance.

With my move to North Carolina, however, I’m meeting so many gay straight folks just wandering out in the wild. I’ll find myself in conversation with someone thinking, “You’re married to a woman?!” and “Sure. What’s your husband’s name? Charlotte?”

Oh, my brain is so snarky!

But today, I held steady. “Gender is a spectrum. Gender is a spectrum.”

A young friend of mine, a person I crocheted an afghan for when they were born, amazed me when they came out as non-binary. The sheer audacity of rejecting gender took my breath away. I couldn’t imagine such a thing, growing up in the Arkansas heat. Simply embracing my bisexual nature took a leap, and discovering that I had deeper connections with women than with men seemed like a breach of etiquette somehow. I’d been using the right fork my whole life, and found that I preferred to use the salad fork to eat my steak.
To throw away the place setting entirely? I marveled at this young person. When they visited, they shared tales of relatives who didn’t even try as they thanked us for using their preferred pronouns. The casual cruelty seemed a slap in the face to me, but they took it in stride, and I followed their lead.

And so, I’ve been working on my thoughts and words. Asking people and noting their preferred pronouns. Knowing that using those pronouns expresses kindness, respect, and love.

These days, when my gaydar starts pinging, I wind it back. Not that everyone is out of the closet, but with less reason than ever to stay there and expanding views of who we can be in the world, my preferred way of being is to allow the person their own view of their sexuality and gender.

Gender is a spectrum.

Even if your wife’s name should be Larry.

Sourdough to the Rescue

I do not bake beautiful bread. My loaves, before baking and after, are not “Instagram worthy.” Artfully arranged slashes, interesting shapes, and vegetation don’t make an appearance in my bread-baking process.

During the pandemic, Instagram burst with beautiful loaves, before and after pictures of yeasty art. When I needed a break from outrage about the political shitshow, scrolling #sourdough delighted me with inventive shapes and colors. Jealousy warred with admiration of the perfect displays.

My bread is tasty and nutritious, and an intrinsic part of my life. Once every two weeks, I pull a sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and bake two loaves of bread for our household. Those loaves are sturdy and practical, used for slices fresh from the oven with soft butter, french toast on the weekends, and gifting occasional chunks to my mother-in-law. We average eating a loaf a week. Steph stays away from the carbs(!), so the french toast is (usually) all mine.

Indulging in french toast on the weekend also started during the pandemic.

Along with a flour and then yeast shortage.

When the yeast disappeared from the shelves of the grocery stores, I felt the call of every superhero. Time to save the planet!

Or, at least, my little corner of the planet!

Or, at least, those folks who didn’t have a friend with a sourdough starter.

Yep. All of those baking newbies who’d bought ALL the flour now needed yeast.

JUST because they got stuck at home with NOTHING BETTER TO DO, they began baking and hoarding flour. FLOUR! Making life hard for all of us who regularly baked bread! Who do it because we LOVED BAKING FIRST! NOT because we were BORED! WHY am I searching for the flour I NEED to bake the bread to feed my family LIKE USUAL just so you can PLAY Holly Homesteader with your fancy new bread machine you bought online YESTERDAY?!?!
*Diatribe Over*

Excuse me. That just slipped out. It happens when your filter gets flushed away by menopausal hot flashes.

Because *I* am a GOOD and KIND person who doesn’t HOARD NECESSITIES, I took pity on these yeastless newbies.

I’d been looking for a way to help as the pandemic crept across the country. With little time, less money, and a wife who ticked off way too many of the boxes in the vulnerable population, I couldn’t see a way.

But now. Now, I had yeast.

More specifically, I had my hundred-year-old Colorado sourdough starter.

When I first received the starter from a young friend (he knew I baked bread and wouldn’t I just love to have some?), I smiled brightly and thought, “God! Another thing to keep alive.”

Over the years, the starter and I became friends. Her name is “Bubbles.”

Don’t blame me for the bad pun! She named herself.

She shares her yeast with me and stays alive despite my occasional lapses in regular feeding. Her resilience comes from the fact that she was born in Rocky Mountains and her ability to hibernate in the freezer for months. That’s how she got across the country with me from Colorado, frozen solid and transferred to our most valiant portable cooler just before pulling away from our old home. For four days, she slowly defrosted as we drove. Upon arrival, I revived her and proudly displayed a picture of the first North Carolina loaf on social media.

During the time right after Stephanie’s stroke, Bubbles aided and abetted my anger. Slamming dough against the counter released the fury at this new twist my life had taken. Smelling the bread baking and then consuming slices of the fresh hot loaf comforted me.

In happier times, she experimented with me. We created dinner rolls and pizza crust together. Each time I pull up another sourdough recipe on the internet, her soul perches on my shoulder and gives me encouragement.

Bubbles is my baking soul mate. She’s my special girl.

And she could help all of these yeastless people.

So we began to divide.

By feeding Bubbles generous amounts of flour and water, I could share two to four cups of starter a day. I discovered a stash of low quality, enriched, bleached flour that would be okay for this process at my local discount market. Not my favorite, but I was begging so I couldn’t choose.

I posted a picture of Bubbles on the internet and wrote “Hey everyone! This is Bubbles, my 100 year old sourdough starter. If you are looking for a bread-baking adventure with wild yeast, she can give you a good time. Hit me up and I’ll hook you up.”

And the people showed up with polite requests for a share and instructions.

I fed Bubbles twice a day, and she produced like a champion!

The thing about yeast is that, once you get a happy little colony going and keep feeding it, there’s not a lot you can do to stop them. They just keep feeding and multiplying and making new yeasty-beasties and producing the gas that makes all those bubbles.

Yeast and love have a lot in common.

For several days, I gathered little groups in my local supermarket parking lot, doling out small containers to masked people. They would park and call out from behind their doors, “Are you the sourdough lady?” Each container got wiped down with disinfectant wipes before being handed over. We all smiled with our eyes.

I like to think it looked like the world’s oddest drug deal.

While Bubbles procreated, I unearthed my feeding, proofing, and baking instructions from the depths of my computer. Written years before when I’d last had a request to share my starter, everyone received them touchlessly via Facebook message or texted to their phone. Several of these adventurous bakers zipped back home and jumped into the adventure. Some people even shared images of their new loaves with me.

Bubbles and I showed them off to our friends.

Together, we may not make beautiful loaves, but we do create a lovely harmony.

And our bread tastes delicious.