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Family Portrait, minus Medium, on top of Snake Mountain

The OINKdaddy and I took Small and Large hiking on Snake Mountain – a 1.8 mile trail in Addison, Vt. – mainly because we had been promised a beautiful vista at the top. I don’t see the point in hiking if there’s no reward. Large tells me that I should appreciate “the journey” but it’s not in my nature. I’m all about the destination.

In spite of its name, we didn’t expect to actually see any snakes on the trail so when we did, it was like a special nature lover’s bonus: “Look kids – a garter snake! You can tell because it’s black with yellow stripes.” I encouraged the boys, including the OINKdaddy, to catch it (hells if I was going to do it myself!) but they weren’t fast enough. It was pretty obvious that none of us really wanted to catch the snake but since I don’t want Small and Large growing up afraid of snakes, I used the opportunity to share what little I know about snakes: 1) Poisonous snakes don’t live in northern Vermont, 2) The only venomous snake in Vermont is the Timber Rattler, which is brown, and 3) When you pick up a snake, you should grab it just behind its head.

It took us an hour, but we made it to the top where the view was simply stunning. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and nibbled gorp all the while enjoying a steady breeze and each others’ company. The return trip was a little less fun in that all of us were somewhat tired and Small was very so, and yet even when I was lugging 48 lbs of five year old I felt contented.

This feeling of contentment lasted until we arrived at home and discovered something had taken up residence (or was at least visiting) our garage:

Scary-looking, Potentially Child-eating Snake

“There’s a big snake in the garage!” yelled the OINKdaddy as he jumped back from the open garage door. Not that a three foot long brown snake could ever have startled my virile, strong husband. In retrospect, I’m certain he was simply passing along helpful information along the lines of, “Careful not to step on the big-ass snake when you come inside.”

“Stop messing around!” I yelled back, grinning a little. What a jokester.

My smile dimmed immediately when I realized he wasn’t joking. Ahh, the irony of returning from a lovely hike on Snake Mountain to find a large brown snake I have never seen the likes of before almost inside my house!

I’m not afraid of snakes per se, but I wouldn’t choose to cuddle with one either. I’m pretty sure the OINKdaddy feels the same or thereabouts. Together, we stared at the cold-blooded vermin as it coiled and uncoiled next to the sidewalk chalk. In that moment not one, single educational thought went through my head. “Get rid of it!” I said.

Now, the OINKdaddy’s a catch and release kind of guy while I’m more of a killer. In the fifteen years that we’ve been together, this not-so-subtle difference has been the genesis for more than a few healthy discussions. Live and let live is his motto, while mine is more like sometimes a round-headed shovel is a good problem solver. What can I say? Opposites attract.

“Maybe I can scoop it up,” he mused.

“Just kill it.”

“What could I use?” He cast around for an appropriate scooping device.

“Kill it! Just kill it!”

I imagined the thing slithering off into the dark recesses of the garage, safe from the threat of either relocation or death. I pictured it striking an unsuspecting ankle or an inquisitive hand. This was not a moth or a spider or a chipmunk. This was a big, brown snake and I did NOT want it anywhere near me or my kids. So, I did the only thing I could do – what any mother would do. I went after the snake.

My subconscious must have balked at perpetrating violence in front of the kids. Almost of their own accord, my hands selected the snow shovel over the spade. My hastily formed plan of attack was to shoo the thing out into the open at which point, I hoped the OINKdaddy would take over. I hopped around trying to push the snake outside. It didn’t want to go. It moved sideways, quickly. I hopped around some more, knocking over bikes and toys and helmets in the process, and yelled. I don’t actually remember what I was yelling but when questioned later, Large said I was screaming, “Agh! Agh! NOT helping Brendan! Brendan, help me!”

Upon realizing that the children were becoming more scared of the unholy scene their mother was making than they were by the sight of the actual snake, OINKdaddy grabbed the shovel and stunned the thing with a good whack. I reached for the spade before it could get away and with one slice, it was done.

Except it wasn’t. The damn thing did what I’ve seen chickens do after their heads have been cut off (I swear I do not have a secret hobby of killing small animals. My friend’s father raised chickens for their meat when I was growing up and I was at her house on chicken killing day. I was assigned the task of feather plucking – a smelly, messy job if ever there was one.). The headless body writhed and coiled and twitched while next to it, the disembodied head continued to thrust its forked tongue (I never saw the chicken heads move; this must be something particular to snakes). I shrieked, the kids shrieked and the OINKdaddy, well, he was convinced that the snake was still alive. This horror show went on for a good five minutes while the OINKdaddy and I argued whether to cut the snake into smaller pieces (my idea) or to drown the headless body (his idea). Eventually, the snake did us all a favor and finally looked dead.

Better Off Dead

I was in the shower trying to let go of my guilt over having traumatized my children when I heard the OINKdaddy open the door. “Just so you know,” he said, “it looks like you killed a Gray Rat Snake, which is a protected species. There are only a few of them left in Vermont.”

“What?!?”

He laughed. “I’ll bring the kids to visit you in jail.”

Would Indiana Jones have said this? I think not.

P.S. If you can identify this snake, please do so. I believe it is a milksnake which is a common snake, not protected. Cross your fingers!

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You may have wondered – and rightly so – just where the hell I’ve been this past month. I mean, I haven’t oinked, in like, forever. It’s true. And I’m truly sorry. I’ve been guilt-ridden about falling down on my responsibility to you, my dear readers, so much so that I’ve gnawed my fingernails down to their quicks. My thumbs look more like mini-hotdogs wrapped in prosciutto than digits. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to post, I’ve thought about it endlessly and even composed pithy vignettes in my head – I just haven’t had time to sit down and write. The reason for this? Every spare moment has been consumed with exercising, eating, and thinking about exercising. It’s ridonkulous, I agree, and you can blame it all on my brother-in-law.

Last January, my brother-in-law (we’ll call him Corrado), asked our family to run the relay in the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon. OinkDaddy, an optimist and a member of the 26.2 club, was all for it. The other four family members whom Corrado approached were less enthusiastic, including me. 

I am not a runner. At best, I’m a shuffler. I can appreciate that lots of people get jazzed about hitting the pavement; I’m just not one of them. OinkDaddy, on the other hand, is at least conversant in fartleks, Kcals and energy goos. When he signed up to run his first marathon, Large was still rockin’ a stroller; OinkDaddy ran his third marathon six months after Medium was born. Come to think of it, when Corrado started running, his twin girls were a month shy of their one year anniversary. Hmmm. I smell a social research project: Is there something about babies that inspires men to become long-distance runners? But I digress.

The KeyBank Vermont City Marathon is a huge event in Burlington, Vt., traditionally held over the Memorial Day weekend. It’s an inspiring, uplifting, sweaty spectacle. I’ve spent quite a few mornings in May ogling exhausted-yet-determined people ascending Battery Street Hill to the rhythmic thumping of Taiko drummers. Each time, I’ve been so impressed that I’ve uttered the words, “I should do that,” only to have my motivation disappear faster than my kids’ Easter candy.

KBVCM relay teams are selected by lottery in February and are notoriously difficult to get. I never thought we’d get in, so it was quite a shock to hear that we were lottery winners. What were the odds? And more importantly, in the cosmic way of things, might this have reduced our chances of winning PowerBall?

OinkDaddy and Corrado gave me inspiring pep-talks, “You can do it!” “Stick with the training program. You’re going to be great!” “Go slow; just keep running!” The week after I received the “good” news, I hauled my butt around the track 12 times. I walked more than I ran. An old hamstring injury flared up. Ignoring it proved unsuccessful. With trepidation, I made my first-ever appointment for physical therapy. I don’t know why I waited so long. My physical therapist, Kim Ellsworth at Essex Aquatic and Rehab Center, was (and is!) awesome and had me up and running in a jiffy. I could have saved myself weeks of pain if I had seen her sooner. Therapy behind me, muscles and ligaments and tendons strengthened, I bought new Brooks running shoes and ran 3x/week for two whole weeks. And then I kinda…just…stopped running.

One reason I don’t care for running is that I’m not good at it. I never have been. I run like a duck. My knees are knocked slightly from doing w-sits as a child (Mom, you were right. If only I had sat criss-cross, apple-sauce!), thus, the lower half of my legs swing out as I run and the outside edge of my foot strikes the ground first. It’s not very efficient. Or comfortable. As far as exercise goes, I much prefer practicing Tae Kwon Do or going to a Les Mills Body Combat class (where a different Kim kicks my ass). I find running monotonous; minute after minute, mile after mile of the same forward motion. Breathe in, breathe out. It’s like being in labor all over again.

Mid-April, I got my poop together and started to train semi-seriously. Running outside helped motivate me to run farther. I ran two miles, then pushed myself to run three. I continued my cross-training workouts and a couple of times I ran with a friend who is so fit she bounds along Gazelle-like, talking continuously, while I huff and puff and nod occasionally. I welcome any distractions from my screaming quads.

Two weekends ago, I ran with Corrado. He generously let me set the pace (my pace is off his by a good three minutes), and for the first time since high school, I completed a five mile run. Huzzah! In spite of the fact that I’m not setting any speed records (11-minute miles, hello?), I trumpeted my accomplishment far and wide.

I’m now cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to complete my leg of the relay without expiring on the trail. Look for me. I’ll be the one in a red Team Deep Fried Bacon high-performance t-shirt stumbling over the finish line. Don’t be offended if I don’t stop to chat. I’ll be headed for the beer tent.

Things I’ve Learned About Running

  • Eat breakfast or be prepared to bonk
  • Run un-caffeinated or get the trots
  • Good sneakers really do make a world of difference
  • Injuries will not go away on their own; go to physical therapy
  • When doing crunches off the track at the gym, face the same direction as the runners lest they get an eyeful of sweaty underwear
  • My brother-in-law not only runs faster than I do, but he writes faster too. Check out his fitness related blog and be amazed by how many calories he can consume.

The marathon is coming. Bring it, baby.

Small has his heart set on a being a bad guy this Halloween. He wants to be a Goomba.

“A what?” I asked.

“Mom, they’re the little mushroom guyth on Thuper Mario Brotherth.”

I hadn’t a clue. Showing more patience with me than I often do with him, he flipped open our Nintendo DS (yes, we have one – I relaxed my stance on hand-held video devices after the kids saved their allowances for three months to buy one).

“Look, I’ll show you,” he said.

Thanks to the internet and an inspired mom who blogs at What I Made Today, I now know exactly how to turn Henry into the creature of his dreams.

As soon as his father came home, Henry danced over, exclaiming, “I get to be a Goomba for trick or treat!”

Brendan shot a confused look over at me then scraped the backs of his fingers under his chin in a gesture he must have picked up in college. “He’s gonna be a mobster for Halloween?”

“A mon-ster, Daddy,” Henry corrected. “A Goomba monster!”

I think the mobster costume might be easier to make.

My Friends,

If you’re a regular OINKtales visitor, you may have wondered about my husband (how he can stand me, whether he’s a figment of my imagination, etc.).  I can tell you that he is a saint (to put up with me) and also, that he is the luckiest man in the world (because he’s with me). But you’d get a better sense of who he is if you read some of his own words.

This is the first guest post to appear on OINKtales and so it is only appropriate for it to be authored by the OINKDaddy. I hope you enjoy it – you’ll let me know, won’t you?

Happy Reading,

Mary

After checking out of the motel, we traced our way back into Gloucester, Mass. (made famous by The Perfect Storm) for a late lunch. We were there the day before, to take in the sights with my parents and my brother and his family. Liam scanned the names of the fisher-folk lost at sea and spotted the name Andrew Kinney. He wondered out loud if it might be a long ago descendant who disappeared in the mist off the North Shore, was gobbled up by Kraken or pulled under the waves by a platoon of angry mermen.

We were headed to The Causeway, a restaurant I had spotted on my iPhone (49 positive reviews!), in a continuation of my quest for steamed clams. The narrow building – less than a hay barn, more than a shed – was barely stapled against the side of a liquor store (or as they are known in those parts, a “package store”). The whitewash was peeling. The corrugated roof, streaked black and orange, sagged in the middle, frowning at any and all who passed by.

The first sign of don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover was that the only place to park was in back, next to a dumpster and a puddle of a fetid water. The second sign was a line of 10 people waiting in front of the establishment. There was no room inside for wait-listers, so we sat on a bench like people waiting for a bus, and, like them, tried not to meet anyone’s eye. The final sign that we had hit the jackpot was the din that escaped in burps as the door cracked open and the names from the waiting list were called.

“It’s almost two o’clock,” I said to Mary. She raised her eyebrows at me; this had better be good.

When we were called in, Mary and I herded Liam, Nora and Henry to a narrow table against the far wall. The pine paneling held frames of old newspaper articles, faded awards and random bits of fishing trivia. A window air conditioner groaned and whined; I half-expected it to cough. The place was B.Y.O.B., so I cracked open the two bottles of Frosty Knuckle Ale that I had brought along with us.

I anxiously scanned the menu, looking for the treasure for which I had come. Swordfish tips, hamburger, halibut, mac ‘n cheese, tilapia, chicken fingers…fried clams. My shoulders drooped and I took a swig of beer. Inexplicably, I had been unable to secure an order of fresh steamers during our vacation. How could that be? I was in Seafood Central, but somehow, the only plate of clams that I could find tasted like the bottom of a Frialator.

I dreamt the night before of my childhood when my family would drive to Burlington, Vt., from Keene, N.H., to visit my grandmother, aunts, uncles and a passel of cousins. My father and my Uncle Larry would occasionally arrange a seafood feast. Sometimes it was lobster, kept in the bathtub until the appointed time, but most often it was steamers: little neck clams from Maine or sometimes Cape Cod. At 10 years old, I was tutored in the proper method for eating them:

1. Pull out the clam, strip off the brown sheath covering the neck.
2. Swirl the fat belly in a hot mug of clam juice from the kettle.
3. Dip three times in the clear dish of butter.
4. One tap of the salt shaker.
5. Pop the whole thing in your mouth.

I’m not sure if it was the taste that I enjoyed most or if it was the ritual, the camaraderie, the chance to bond with the men of my tribe, or the novelty of eating something that, until recently, crawled along the bottom of the green ocean.

Our waitress bounced out of the kitchen and ping-ponged around the dining room, pausing slightly at each table to take an order, a request, a question or a complaint. She had a deep tan and a fresh perm – the combination of which made her look cartoonish. I guessed her to be in her early fifties. Beads of sweat formed in a line across her forehead. Her calves were thick and muscular. I’m pretty sure she could have taken me.

Again, Mary and I exchanged raised eyebrows.

I cleared my throat, “I guess I’ll start with the mussels.”

“Great,” she muttered, and echoed the same after impatiently waiting for each member of our family to place an order.

“Waters, hon?” she asked Mary, not waiting for a reply.

Soon, our waitress tangoed her way back to our table, five red-tinted plastic glasses pressed against her bosom. She used her fingers like a lobster claw to distribute the drinks.

“Food’s up in a minute,” she proclaimed before barreling away.

“Lemons?” Mary beckoned hopefully after her.

The food arrived in under a minute: a heaping bowl of black mussels were plopped in the center of our table. A rich garlic butter sauce was delivered and placed too close to Henry, who by now was on his knees, his eyes wide at the gigantic and mysterious feast before him. “Ho-wee cow!” he exclaimed.

Before I knew it, all three kids were tearing the mutant mussels apart. The meat was enormous. After elbowing my way in, I found they were truly delicious; not quite steamed clams, but a satisfactory runner-up.

Mary sat back and observed the spectacle with a bemused look on her face. I peered out the window over her shoulder. A rusted pickup truck had pulled over, slatted boxes stacked in the bed and water dripping off the tailgate. Two prep cooks, cigarettes hanging off the sides of their mouths, fetched the catch and ran back in through the side entrance.

At the end of our gorge-fest, I was struck by two impossibilities. First, the bill was only $50 and second, the kids had downed most of their meals on top of the mussels. I went to the register to settle up. Our waitress wiped her brow with a bar rag while tallying another bill on a calculator that was decorated with a festive swoop and the words, “The Cape is Great!” I chomped on a complimentary toothpick.

Suddenly, a woman with wispy blonde hair sidled up beside me. She wore those bug-eyed sunglasses that are in fashion and was sporting a red halter dress.

“Ah, excuse me,” she said, peeking out around my shoulder.

Our waitress looked up from the calculator. Her eyelids drooped. “Yeah?”

“It’s quite cold over at our table, I’m wondering if you might turn down the air conditioning?”

“Wha?”

“It’s a little chilly…”

Our waitress cut her off. “Completely out of the question.”

The blonde woman skittered away toward the relative safety of her corner table. As the curtain came down on our mini-vacation, our waitress shouted after her, more matter-of-factly than with glee: “No friggin’ way.”

If you’re visiting Gloucester, definitely visit The Causeway for the flavor – it’s the perfect combination of fresh and local.

There are things that I am good at and things that I am not. Practically every day I find more things to add to the latter category.

One of the things I have discovered I am not good at is tweeting on Twitter. My humble apologies to my miniscule, but loyal, Twitterbase. Thanks for sticking with me.

From the beginning, my social media consultant (a.k.a. my husband, Brendan) has rued my sporadic tweets and frequent character overages. “Try harder,” he says.

Right.

Which is why I’m so glad to announce a brand-new feature on OINKtales’ homepage! On your left, you will find a new, regularly updated Twitter-feed: OINKdaddy is in da house!

Everyone everywhere knows that men and women view the world through different lenses. OINKdaddy will give you a 140 character glimpse into father-dom and provide his perspective on our crazy-yet lovable-brood.

Do you tweet too? Follow him at http://twitter.com/oinkdaddy.

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