Summer’s End at the Park-n-Ride

I have a long commute. Every weekday I walk out the door at a time I’d rather be sleeping and walk in the door at a time I’d rather be wiping down the counters and putting the leftovers in the fridge. A usual day involves four buses and a park and ride. Some mornings, though, if I’m running late or want to pick up milk or bread between work and home, I will skip the first bus and drive to the parking lot. It feels a little decadent to waste that gas, a little indulgent to live ever-so-slightly more on my own schedule rather than a bus driver’s. On those days, after work, I get off the bus and walk out to the middle of the dusty parking lot which is not much more than a large, flat rectangle of dirt with streetlamps. Something about that, this summer, has seemed familiar and comforting. I would pause next to row E or F, take my earbuds out, and listen to the muffled traffic on the distant highway and think, what is it? What does this feel like?

My park and ride is part of a development that used to be an airport. The city is expanding and growing around it, and the airport grounds themselves are being filled in with new construction—houses and apartments, shops and parks, sidewalks next to young fast-growing trees. My parking lot is not far from the air traffic control tower that still stands. On one side a prairie dog town and a one-story heap of dirt serve as a buffer between me and the back of a Wal-Mart. On another, thigh-high grasses and yellow wildflowers hide rabbits who sometimes come out and explore under cars.

One day it finally struck me, as I watched a train in the distance and was hit with the hot wind that comes across wide open spaces in the summertime: this feels like Oklahoma. Specifically, it feels like the field behind my grandparents’ trailer home on the edge of their small town. My brothers and I would cross that stretch of land and climb the wooden fence, where we’d sit, watching the cars a few miles away on the highway out of town. We were within sight of the porch, but not within its hearing. If one was on the fence with her back to the trailer park, her brothers behind her riding bikes on the wheelchair ramp, one might as well have been alone. If one sat just right, not angled towards the traffic, but looking over the prairie instead, one might as well have been Laura Ingalls taking a break from her chores.

three kids on a wooden fence

There’s a bit of that pleasant aloneness at the park and ride sometimes. In the mornings it is busy, but in the evenings my first bus is late more than it’s on time. If the timing is just right wrong right, I miss the second bus by thirty seconds and have to wait fourteen minutes and thirty seconds for the next. Everyone else gets on a bus or in a car and leaves at once, and then there’s just me on a bench with an iphone.

sky, buses, building

The weather shifted a couple of weeks ago, suddenly dropping twenty or thirty degrees, right about the time school started. My first morning bus is now full of sleepy high schoolers, and my second morning bus is full of sleepy college students. Sometimes I have to share my seat.

The light is changing too—quickly, it seems, after a summer of long, hot weeks. The sun is closing in on me from both ends of the day. The construction is closing in on the parking lot, as well. In the few days it took me to put this post together, one of the bordering fields went from sea of native vegetation to bulldozed and leveled, packed dirt. I’ve been worrying about the prairie critters and wondering what the place will be like next summer.

sunrise over parking lot

Fifteen Things About Hamlet with Nineteen Pictures

This is our cat Hamlet.

sweet black kitten

July 8, 2010

Last May a litter of kittens showed up outside our window. Being soft-hearted cat people who hadn’t already learned their lesson trying (failing) to help a stray a year before, we felt we had to take care of them and find them homes.

litter of kittens on ground

May 24, 2010

One of them never left. My husband named him Hamlet Samuel.

kitten sleeping on cat

June 23, 2010

I can’t tell you everything about Hamlet in one blog post, but I want to record a few things that we love about him.

Hamlet cuddling with Tristan

June 26, 2010

At mealtime, while we are getting the tub of food down off the refrigerator and putting kibble in their bowls, he rubs against his brothers excitedly, with a force that makes them stumble.

three cats in one bed

June 30, 2010

Hamlet is quite coordinated and athletic. At eight weeks, he was doing things that Tristan had never been able to do, like climb on top of the refrigerator or get on the counter. The other day I saw him jump from the toilet tank to the shower curtain rod, where he balanced for a beat before stepping to the showerhead, then down to the windowsill, and finally the bathtub. He is my sweet little monkey.

kitten climbing on window bars

July 9, 2010

It took Hamlet a long time to learn to meow properly. Before then, all he said was “eee-ooh,” with varying speed and inflections. This earned him the name “Baby Eee-ooh.”

cat looking out window

August 9, 2010

Hamlet loves paper. He used to chew on whatever was on top of the wooden inbox where I put mail and bills. I had to take a library book to the circulation desk and say, apologetically, “My cat ate the cover.” Fortunately, he is largely reformed on this front.

cat shredding paper

August 12, 2010

Hamlet is a happy, confident little cat. He has always walked around with his tail held high. It curves at the end like a question mark.

cat in hallway

September 15, 2010

He was a little slow to warm up to physical affection with us. It started with little things like me realizing he was sitting on my feet while I stood at the kitchen sink, moved on to him climbing on my husband’s shins as he propped his feet on the coffee table, and then, finally, we would be eating dinner and suddenly one of us would feel a little presence in his or her lap. However, he cuddled with his big brothers from the hour his birth siblings left our house.

two cats cuddling

October 7, 2010

He has always been very responsive. He answers when you ask him a question. Often, you just have to say his name for him to say something back. He answers to “Hammy,” “Hamlet,” “Eee-ooh” (with or without “Baby” or “Commander” in front of it), or just “Baby.” We call Hamlet’s conversational noises “speaking sandwich” (get it? Hamlet Samuel? Hammy Sammy? Ham Sandwich?).

cat hanging out of catbed

October 23, 2010

He plays fetch. He will bring me a bouncy ball and drop it at my feet and wait for me to throw it. If it rolls under something and he cannot get to it, he comes back without it and looks at me expectantly. He knows I will go find it for him.

cat with toy dog

October 28, 2010

He likes the dishwasher. He has figured out how it works, and I think soon he will be able to start it on his own. If we can get it on video, he’ll be the next Nora the Piano Cat.

cats under blanket

November 1, 2010

I think one of the most endearing things about Hammy is that it never occurs to him that he may not be invited or that you may not want to share with him. Your lap looks comfortable, so he’s there. He would like to look at the iPad with you, thanks! And your bed is always his bed. He decides he wants to join you, and so he does.

little cat sleeping on big cat

November 15, 2010

He likes the television. We never watched it in our last house during the three and a half months when he lived there (we had canceled cable and moved to only watching DVDs or Hulu on our laptops), so when we turned it on in the new house, he was transfixed. He particularly was fascinated with basketball and ice skating.

cat blocking TV

November 26, 2010

Hamlet is afraid of shoes. I guess this just proves how uncivilized we are, or how rarely we leave the house, or perhaps how we never have anyone over. But, if we are wearing shoes, he would rather us not be walking towards him. He does not run away from our shod feet as quickly as he used to, but he is still wary and on alert when he hears the telltale sounds of footsteps. It doesn’t matter what kind or who’s wearing them.

cat profile

January 9, 2011

For a long time, he burped whenever he was picked up, but I think he has completely stopped that now.

cat stretching with toilet paper

February 2, 2011

Every since he was little bitty, Hamlet has gathered his toys into piles. He is very organized about it.

kitten lying on floor with toys

March 11, 2011

Hamlet’s mother showed up with her kittens at a time when our household was already stressed and frustrated. I knew when I first saw them that if we tried to care for them that we would be committing time and energy I did not feel I had, and I was hesitant. I was not at all convinced that we should keep one. But now I am so glad we did. My husband once said, “Hamlet fixes something in my heart that was broken.” After I gave him a chance, he did the same for me.

cat on top of cat in bed

May 24, 2011

Hundred-Year Flood

When I am old and forgetful, as I will be one day, and someone says, “Didn’t you live in Louisiana for a while? What was it like?” I don’t know what will have stuck in my mind about those three years. But if I had to guess, I’d guess I will say something like, “It was wet.”

Water was a constant presence there. We took the first pictures of the house we were renting in the rain, and we packed our moving truck during a sweaty 90 degree, 99% humidity September.

house in rain

In southern Louisiana, it is hard to believe that water is a commodity that we should conserve, that there is a shortage somewhere. It feels like water is everywhere. It feels hard to control; it is something that must be worked around and lived with.

Maybe it feels different for those who grow up there and know no other place. But we noticed that our towels never quite dried on the rack between showers. Our dish drainer was always in a shallow pool of water. The condensation on the inside of a summer window was a bit disconcerting. A layer of some kind of mildew coated the inside of our teakettle. When we walked outside and our glasses steamed up like we were leaning over a freshly-opened dishwasher, we wished we lived somewhere else.

Of course, all this water led to some of what I liked best about Baton Rouge. The sprawling, majestic live oaks. Spanish moss.

live oak

tree with moss

spanish moss

Tiny frogs and nearly neon lizards right outside my door.

penny-sized frog

lizard and ivy on post

In the late afternoon sometimes, after a rain, steam would rise from the streets. It felt a little like magic.

We went to a barbeque at the tail end of a tropical storm. “If Fay is too wild, we’ll eat indoors,” our host said. A native, she spoke of storms like members of her family. A neighbor brought over a little striped kitten who had arrived, wet and hungry, on her doorstep the night before. We took him home and he changed our lives.

A week later, Hurricane Gustav hit. We were fine, our house was fine, and our yard was fine aside from many downed tree limbs and the neighbor’s roof losing shingles all over our lawn. However, the electricity went out and stayed out for nine days. It quickly became stifling in the house with the windows closed, so after we were sure the storm had passed, we opened them.

cat looking out window at storm

backyard with debris

I quickly learned that air-conditioning really did more than just cool the air. The humidity came inside immediately and condensation covered everything we owned. The floor had a layer of moisture on it, so when we walked we left reverse footprints. Everything felt wet and gross. It took a long, dank three days before the air indoors and out had equalized somewhat.

campus buildings and trees

We’d moved to south Louisiana two years after Hurricane Katrina, but she was a force everyone was still dealing with. Some of my classmates had just returned to school after taking a couple of years off to pick up the pieces after the storm displaced family or otherwise distracted them. Baton Rouge had gained a huge influx of people who moved up from the New Orleans area, and the infrastructure could barely handle it. Traffic was horrible.

After I graduated, I worked for a program at the school to recruit and train librarians to work in areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Many of the destroyed libraries and their collections had been rebuilt, but they were understaffed. Our grant paid for the classes of locals who wanted to move into these spots but lacked the education, and we recruited a handful of students from other parts of the country eager to work in the area for two years in exchange for a free degree.

These students were excited and passionate. They loved the state and wanted to help it. They saw the challenge, but it energized them and strengthened their resolve. More than once I sat in a room of two or three dozen people and thought, I’m the only one here who does not want a job being a librarian in Louisiana.

I don’t understand it. And yet I kind of do. My people come from a place of dust storms and depression, but we still say the land we belong to is grand. Of course, I don’t live there any more. So.

bridge over Mississippi River

It’s been raining here this week. It’s been more rain than we’ve seen in a week the eight months we’ve been here. I heard today that there has been more rain this May than there was in January, February, March, and April combined and doubled. It’s been wet, and I’ve had to shake the water off the plastic-bagged newspaper every morning, take a towel and wipe the drizzle off my leather tote when I get to work, and dig the microfiber cloth out to clean my glasses more than I care to. As I walked to the bus stop this evening, I had to watch my step to avoid the earthworms that had come up on the sidewalks.

However, and I know it sounds contradictory, it’s still arid here. My lips are chapped and my pale skin is actually ashy in spots. As usual, when I walk across the carpet and then put my hand on a cat’s back, we both feel the static. Where I work, everyone carries a water bottle or mug of tea to every meeting and every presentation, no matter how short, because everyone is thirsty all the time.

No matter how wet it is here, in other words, it’s wetter in south Louisiana.

houses viewed from levee

When we went to Baton Rouge to find a house to rent, everyone warned us to find something that wouldn’t flood. The one we picked out was, according to our research, in a 100-300 year flood zone. We decided that those were odds we could live with, as 40% of the city had the same rating. We’re not going to live there that long, we said. We’ll take our chances.

top of the levee

Yeah, it’s a block from the river, we said, but it’s right next to the university, and they won’t let the university go underwater. The levee is high and wide there, at least to my inexperienced eye. It has a paved bicycle trail. Even when the water is very high, it would have a long way to come before it got to us.

Mississippi River

This is not a story about me being wrong. I am sure our former house is fine. The river is cresting. The ground must be saturated, and the toads have come up on the concrete under the carport to avoid drowning. The backyard will have standing water for days, and the toilet might not flush because there’s nowhere for that sewage to go. But that’s a minor inconvenience. The house is okay, and the city is okay, for now.

wet backyard grass

cat in wet window

Kitten-Proof Coasters

We have a lot of wooden surfaces at our house, so we like to use coasters. I recently made my husband and myself each one out of flannel.

coasters under mugs

I didn’t just wake up one day with the urge to quilt coasters, however. The impetus was a small roommate who developed a taste for cork.

cork coasters

These are ones we caught him chewing on early. We have become vigilant about storing them when not in use, but all it takes is one trip to refill one’s coffee mug, leaving Hamlet supposedly snoozing in his bed in the study, to return to a spread of little leftovers from his second breakfast all over the carpet. We bought a 25- or 30-pack of them several years ago, and we are now down to two or three, and they all have the beginnings of that Pac-Man shape.

We used to have a collection of cardboard bar coasters, but they degraded with use and we started to care more about having a house that looked like grown-ups lived in it, so most of them didn’t get moved to the last state with us and most of the rest didn’t move to this state. We only have a few special ones left.

cardboard coaster

So I decided to make coasters and thought absorbent flannel might do the trick.

Happily, I had a lot of flannel left over from previous projects, some in very husbandish colors and some pink. My compulsion to save all little leftover bits comes in handy.

flannel fabric scraps

I picked a picture for the center of each coaster and trimmed it. I didn’t measure it carefully or anything. Just trimmed.

middles cut

Then I did a little log-cabin-esque thing around it, except not in a circular way. I did not plan this out. I just sewed strips of about the right length where it looked like a strip was needed, and trimmed before adding a perpendicular strip. I ironed these as I went.

pink cat center

And I trimmed the strips themselves when they were too wide. I tried to make them slightly different widths and lengths, so that my not-measuring looked casually artistic instead of like a bunch of mistakes.

brown house center

I can’t sew anything without gaining some help.

black cat in pile of fabric

I found Tristan a bed. Here you can see my lovely studio dining room kitchen area table and my fantastic 6 by 6 inch yellow square ruler that I was using to (surprise) square everything up.

cat in bed on sewing table

You can see I worried that my pink one was too straight so as a last-ditch effort to make it funkier, I set my last dark strip at a jaunty angle.

finished pink coaster

The coaster-eater himself joined us.

two cats in bed on table

The piece of flannel I cut for each back was about three-quarters of an inch bigger than the front all the way around (so about an inch and a half wider total in both directions). I’m not sure about that (I was winging this and didn’t take notes), but I folded the sides in twice and the resulting binding is between a quarter and a half inch, so I am retrospectively declaring it as probably true.

I used craft fleece for the batting of the coaster quilt block. It is cut the same size as the coaster front. I did square up the coaster front at this stage too. My finished size was 5 by 5 inches.

layers of coaster

Then I pinned them all together and folded over the edges to create my binding. I ironed the folds at this point so I could picture the finish projects and pin them better. I did not actually quilt these. I don’t see the need.

coasters layered but not bound

“These do not look edible, Pretty Lady!”

cat on cutting mat

Percival joined us to supervise the finishing up.

cats spilling out of bed onto fabric

I sewed the binding down by hand, but it would be easier and work out just as well to do it by machine. I think I mainly did it by hand because I needed to put my machine away so we could use the table to eat on, and I also like having a little handiwork project.

finished coasters

There you have it. Two non-appetizing, durable, and cute coasters. A nice afternoon’s work.