Does Science Really Matter … for You and Me?

an exploding brain hat in Seattle

We already have the wheel and gun powder and the internet. So … Haven’t scientists already invented and explained enough already?

I don’t think so.

I’d like to relate just one family story about a modern scientific discovery that has benefited people all over the world. Unfortunately, it arrived just a little bit too late for my sister.

It was spring, and Sue was barely eight year old when she fell ill. The symptoms were fever, headache, and sore throat. It could have been anything. After a week or two, she seemed to be all right.

A few weeks later, she came down with a bad case of chicken pox. While bathing her and, I suppose, applying calamine lotion, Mom noticed that one of Sue’s shoulder blades stuck out at a strange angle.

The doctor didn’t know what to make of it, so he just shrugged and prescribed massage. Eventually, however, it dawned on him what the problem was. My sister was suffering from the effects of polio.

A brilliant diagnosis? Not really. In 1955, polio wasn’t a rare disease. In fact, in 1952, there were 58,000 cases of polio in the US and more than 3000 deaths.

My sister and mother spent the next three years traveling thirty-five miles each way to see a specialist who examined Sue and oversaw her treatment and physical therapy. In another section of his clinic, the doctor oversaw the care of some of the most tragic victims of polio, children who had to spend the rest of their lives inside iron lungs.

(The picture below is from wikimedia.)

iron lung ward, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital

 

Years earlier, our Great-uncle Wes and Great-aunt Doddy also had polio. Aunt Doddy was about the same age Sue was when she got sick. Hers was a more serious case, and she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Science to the rescue … just a little late for Sue.

In 1953 Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had successfully tested a vaccine against polio. In 1954, clinical trials began. And in the spring of 1955, (the exact time when Sue was coming down with polio) a nationwide inoculation campaign began.

If you and your family have been spared this terrible disease, you can say a big “thank you” to science.

Here’s a sign being carried in yesterday’s March for Science in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of sister Sue)

Sue and my daughter both took part in marches for science yesterday. Here are a few of their photos:

Make America logical again

brainy hats

standing up for science in Richland, WA

Sue and Jan in Seattle

Seattle Science march, umbrellas, hoods, and bare heads

band playing Bill Nye the Science Guy song in Seattle

some future scientists at the Seattle march

 

Does science matter to you in a personal way?

Neil deGrasse Tyson put out a new four-minute video that I think sums up nicely the crucial importance of science in America today.

https://www.facebook.com/neildegrassetyson/videos/10155195888806613/?pnref=story

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Health, news, The March for Science , , , ,

Easter Then and Now

Back then, I wore a new dress every Easter. I usually had a new hat too and sometimes a new lightweight matching jacket. We called it a duster. (I was in eighth grade in this photo, out in the backyard by the playhouse our dad built.)

On Easter we celebrate new life, in particular, Christianity’s celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

My mom loved the Easter symbols of new life, eggs: bunnies, and especially new clothes. She was a talented seamstress, and every year at Easter, she made use of her skills by sewing new dresses for my sister and me and also for herself.

That was then. As for now, I’ll just have to look through my closet and find something suitable to wear to Mass and afterwards to brunch. (My sister and I have reservations at Anthony’s Homeport.)

Not being a seamstress like my mom and sister, I haven’t sewed anything in decades. And now it seems to be getting harder to find a dress to buy that I like (and that looks good on me).

My next big challenge is to find something lovely to wear to my granddaughter’s graduation in June. Wish me luck! Although I have two grandsons, C is my only granddaughter, and she’s a very special girl.

I’ll leave you with photos of some of the new life that’s been springing up around here in recent days. We’ve had a cold, rainy winter in the Pacific Northwest , and spring is making a slow, cool entry. Yet, new life won’t be kept down.

Lent may be over, but these Lenten roses in my flowerbed are still going strong.

Daffodils are springtime early birds. I found these on a rainy day walk in the planters around Anthony’s.

Tulips and pansies

 

 

 

Tulips and pansies living in harmony on my deck (or at least I choose to think of it that way).

Skunk cabbage beside the brook. It actually does smell like skunks, although not nearly as strong. In fact, you have to make an effort to catch the scent.

The rhododendron is the state flower of Washington. It’s also the national flower of Nepal. I found this one on the edge of the Edmonds City Park.

Fresh new leaves in the woods

Tender new life emerging from the forest floor

I love these tiny English daisies that spring up in the grass. I found this one in the Edmonds City Park. I suppose it’s considered a weed, but as you can see, it’s not the only one.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover to everyone.

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family, holidays, photography, seasons, Washington State , , , , , , , ,

Journal Jottings on a Coup d’état

 

I have stacks of steno notebooks, a.k.a., my journals. Writing in them has been my way of paying attention to the world around me and saving my observations for the future.

In recent years I haven’t been journaling much. On the other hand, I am making good use of some old journal entries.

The novel I’m working on now (working title: Diana) is set in the Philippines near the end of 1989. The dramatic events I wrote about in my last two posts, an assassination, the declaration of martial law, and the People Power Revolution, happened before my novel starts. By 1989, the lovely wife of the assassinated senator had been elected president, and everyone was living happily ever after.

Not. Sorry. Troubles are never ending, and they didn’t end with the election of Corazon Aquino. During the first four years of her presidency Cory survived four plots, two incidents, and four full-blown coup attempts, the most serious of which was the attempted coup of December 1989.

My husband and I lived in Manila then. Our three daughters were in college and graduate school in the States.

On December 1, the rebels, having done some serious planning (or semi-serious), got off to a good start. They seized Fort Bonifacio and several air bases, shut down the Manila International Airport, and came close to seizing the presidential palace.

Expatriates like us watched from a distance. We snickered a bit about the rebels’ planes. T-28 Trojans (tora-toras) would have been nothing to joke about in 1941. But in 1989 they looked like toys. Even so, the rebels had captured the government air bases, so for a few hours their little tora-toras ruled the sky.

According to my journal, we onlookers wavered between concern and enjoyment of the spectacle. I went up to the rooftop of our apartment building and watched the tora-toras and later the Philippine Air Force F-5 jets and then the US F-4 Phantom jets from Clark Air Base.

A touch of Hollywood drama hung over the whole undertaking due in no small part to the rebels’ swashbuckling leader. Gregorio Honasan, who was known as “Gringo” for his cowboy tough-guy attitude, had led a previous bloody coup attempt after which he’d twice been captured and twice escaped. During the second escape he’d convinced his guards to escape along him. The man was not lacking in charisma.

With previous plots and coup attempts having come to nothing, we weren’t seriously worried. That changed on the second day of the coup when foreign tourists and many of our friends found themselves smack in the middle of the action. The rebel Scout Rangers, having decided to abandon Fort Bonifacio, marched into nearby Makati.

Makati, besides being the premier financial district of the country, was also the favorite place for expats to live. On the morning of December 2, Scout Rangers bearing their firearms, mortar tubes, and Howitzers marched down Ayala Avenue. Then they proceeded to occupy 22 high-rise buildings in Makati and place snipers on the rooftops.

Government forces couldn’t dislodge them, not with more than a thousand foreign tourists and business executives trapped in hotels and office buildings and readily available to use as hostages. Instead, the government blocked off escape routes. And for the next five days tourists and Makati residents were trapped.

You won’t read in Wikipedia about the many phone calls of friends checking on friends or about the rumor that rebels were marking the homes of Americans with a cross and circle so they could use them later as hostages. You won’t read about the Vietnamese woman who needed ingredients for her husband’s dinner and was killed in front of Makati Supermarket. You will, however, find those details and others in my journal.

Some of those journal entries just might make their way (in a fictionalized form) into my new novel.

Diana is still a long way from being finished. But if you haven’t read my first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, you can find it on Amazon, barnesandnoble.com, and Apple iBooks. If you can’t find it in your favorite bookstore or library, they can order it for you. Just ask.

Here’s a video of American coverage of the coup attempt (Peter Jennings on ABC).

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books, expatriate life, Philippines, Tiger Tail Soup, writing , , , , , , ,

An Assassination, Martial Law, and a Revolution, Part 2

 

First year of Martial Law, R & C climbing on the gate in front of our house, Herminia supervising


The phone call came at five in the morning. It was my husband’s secretary. “Turn on the radio,” she said. “Marcos just declared martial law.”

That’s how it happens, without warning.

For the next two hours, my husband sat on the floor in his shorts and undershirt, switching from station to station, calling his colleagues and friends, and trying to get more information from the Filipinos and local Chinese he knew.

“Stay inside,” he told us. Eugene knew all about danger. He had lived through war and occupation.

And yet … At 11:30, with nothing new on the radio or phone, curiosity got the better of him. We packed up the kids and drove around. The usually crowded streets were eerily quiet. We drove through Makati, down Ayala Avenue, and onto EDSA.

We could have eaten anywhere, but Eugene turned into the parking lot of a favorite Filipino restaurant, Barrio Fiesta. He couldn’t have chosen a better place to find some action. We sat down and ordered our pancit, kare kare, and fruit salad. And sure enough, before our food arrived, soldiers from the Philippine Constabulary walked in the door, their hips heavy with weapons, their boots and uniforms shouting their power. They sat down not far from us, and waved for menus. And then we all ate.

It was September, 1972, less than a year after we’d moved to the Philippines. When I think about the nine years of martial law, what I remember is the midnight curfew, the soldiers with assault rifles stationed outside banks and department stores, and the newspapers, so strenuously controlled that they were no longer worth reading.

For some Filipinos, the imposition of martial law had more serious consequences than it did for us.

Last week on my blog I wrote about “Old Girl,” a story in Mia Alvar’s short story collection, In the Country. It’s an excellent story that gives us an inside look at Senator Benigno Aquino before his assassination from the viewpoint of his wife, Cory.

Another of my favorites in the same book was a novella, the title story, “In the Country.” On page one, we meet a young nurse, Milagros. She has organized a nurses’ strike and Jaime, an idealistic journalist has come to cover it. From the beginning, politics and history cast a shadow over the couple’s love story.

They move in together and Milagros gets pregnant. Then Marcos declares martial law, and Jaime (Jim) is carried off to a military prison, where he will stay until the lifting of martial law nine years later.

… four khaki-uniformed officers led Jim out of 26 Avalon Row to a Metrocom car. … “What’s the charge?” Jim asked. He looked Milagros in the eye, as if the question was for her. “Gentlemen? The charge?” …

“Just come with us, boss,” said the officers, in the voice one uses with a senile or demented man.

The story ends fourteen years, two children, and a tragedy later during the People Power Revolution that ended the rule of President Ferdinand Marcos.

In 1986, after twenty years in power, Marcos was old and in poor health. He was brought down by a combination of things—widely held suspicions of election fraud, an aborted military coup, and a Catholic cardinal who sided with the rebels.

With the plotters holed up in a military camp, Cardinal Sin got on the air on Radio Veritas and exhorted the people to come out on the streets and support the rebels. Almost immediately, thousands of citizens flooded the highway.

The People Power Revolution lasted four days, the crowd growing to more than a million strong. Soldiers switched sides, and in the end, Marcos was forced to fly off to Hawaii for medical care.

So how did the Revolution affect the fictional nurse and journalist? I’ll just say that Milagros didn’t go to the streets. She had her reasons.

You can read all about it in In the Country by Mia Alvar.

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book reviews, books, expatriate life, family, Philippines , , , , , , ,

An Assassination, Martial Law, and a Revolution, Part 1

 

In 1983, when Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated, we were there—not at the Manila International Airport where thousands of supporters waited to welcome their hero back from exile in the United States, but at our home in Manila, watching the sad spectacle over and over and over again on TV.

We saw soldiers enter Aquino’s plane and escort him out the door and down the stairs. We heard repeated gunshots. And then we saw two bodies lying dead on the tarmac.  The crucial minute of the shooting itself was absent. Here’s the chilling video.

Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino was a charismatic senator, the leader of the opposition party, the one best hope of a country suffering under the ailing dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. It was widely supposed but never proven that Marcos was behind the assassination.

Watching the television coverage of Aquino’s assassination and the nationwide sense of anger and mourning brought me back to the sadness and shock I felt when President John F. Kennedy was shot. As with Kennedy’s assassination, there tears and disbelief, and there were commissions that spent months studying everything surrounding the assassination of Senator Aquino.

When you’re in the middle of an earth-shattering event, you don’t look away. Still, I can’t pretend that the experience was the same for us as it was for Filipinos. Ninoy Aquino was not our countryman; he was not our hero and our hope. We were expats, visitors in his country.

So, I wondered, how did the story of Aquino’s assassination look and feel from inside the heart of a Filipino? As a reader and writer, I believe that if you want to put yourself inside the skin of another person, the best way is to read a great work of fiction.

Luckily for me, after Christmas this year my daughter left a book she’d just finished at my house: In the Country by Mia Alvar. The short stories in Alvar’s magnificent collection give voice to Filipinos living at home and abroad. One of my favorite stories was “Old Girl.”

Within the thirty-nine pages of the story, the reader lives inside the mind of Corazon Aquino, who was the wife of Senator Benigno Aquino and the person who knew him best.

Here’s how the story begins:

The old girl’s husband—fifty-one years old, the 165-pound champion (as he likes to put it) of a triple-bypass surgery—tells her on March 1, 1983: “I had an idea, Mommy.”

Mommy is what the old girl’s husband calls her. And idea is a generous word for whim or flight of fancy, the kind of ill-considered impulse he’ll have often and won’t quit till he’s pulled it off (he almost always does, if barely) or failed (more rarely, but with flying colors). Not scheme or plan—God knows the old girl’s husband can’t be bothered with anything like a plan.

“It just came to me,” he says. “I thought I’d run the marathon this year!”

If this small taste intrigues you, look for In the Country by Mia Alvar in your favorite bookstore or on amazon. I think you’ll find it well worth reading.

Next week in Part 2 of An Assassination, Martial Law, and a Revolution, I’ll compare my experiences with martial law and a revolution with that of another character in Mia Alvar’s stories.

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book reviews, books, expatriate life, historical fiction, Philippines , , , , , ,

Our Drippy, Soggy, Cold Winter

I’m having a hard time finding something positive about our weather this winter.

Okay, for those of us in the lowlands and close to the ocean, it didn’t snow very much. That’s something.

 

But it’s been cold–not mid-West cold or New-England cold. But it’s felt downright chilly for those of us living in the supposedly mild Pacific Northwest. On average, our winter temperature is 42 degrees. This year our average has been 39.1.

 

Most of all, it’s been dark and damp. Living here, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, we’re used to rain. On average in Seattle we get 37.49 inches of precipitation. But that’s for the whole year. This year, by the Ides of March we’d already reached 37.50 inches.

 

Our trees are drowning.

 

 

Our rocks are growing moss.

 

 

Moss is taking over our lawns.

 

 

When the sun does come out, we act all giddy. “Isn’t it beautiful!” “Did you see that sunshine?” Quickly, before a cloud can roll in, we grab a jacket and go out for a walk.

I’m writing this on March 18, two days before the Vernal Equinox, and it’s been raining all day. I’m wondering, isn’t it about time for a change in the weather?

It can’t be much longer, can it?  I saw a robin hop across my patio this morning. And, look! A little daffodil is braving the rain.

 

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seasons, Washington, winter , , , ,

What Writers Can Learn from a Carpenter’s Workshop.

Writers like to show pictures of their work spaces–their shiny or messy desks, comfy or straight chairs, desktop or laptop computers, bookshelves filled with books, plants, and personally meaningful knickknacks.

According to Virginia Woolfe every writer’s room ought to have a view. But even with a view, a writer’s workshop is still a small, confined space where the writer sits and sits and sits.

A carpenter’s workshop is something altogether different.

For as long as I can remember, my dad had a workshop. Some of his shops were as big as a small house. In fact, the house he built for us when I was ten years old was meant to be his shop … just as soon as he built a nicer house for us in front of it, that is.

House that was meant to be a workshop

His plans got away from him, and he ended up building a large shop behind the somewhat larger house that was originally conceived as his dream shop.

Five or six years later he did build a beautiful new house for us and a new shop for himself on another street. Shop first, house next. Naturally.

So why would I think that a carpenter’s workshop would have anything to teach a writer?

Mainly because I saw how intensely my dad loved his shops and because those shops were like sirens luring him back to work when the work day was done. Dad would come home from work all sweaty and a little tired, eat dinner, maybe watch a little TV. And then–not every night, but often enough–he’d stand up and say, “I’m gonna go fool around in the shop for a while.” My mom called it his play.

Inside Dad’s shop was everything a carpenter could desire. A circular saw, table saw, miter saw, band saw, scroll saw, hand saws, and a jig saw. There were hammers, tapes, squares, levels, chisels, cords, and every size and shape of lumber stacked on racks along the walls, inside and out.

Dad loved his work. I think one of the reasons was that carpentry combined mental work with physical work.

That combination is a big advantage not only for a person’s physical health and brain function, but also for his mood. Here are just a few articles with studies that show the effects of exercise on the brain and mood:

According to Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University, “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

A recent study from the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that “people who exercised during their workday were 23 percent more productive on those days than they were when they didn’t exercise.”

Another study showed that you can memorize new vocabulary best not after you exercise but while you’re exercising at a moderate rate. (The women in the study were riding a stationary bike.)

I may not be able to juggle my computer while I’m riding a bike, but it sounds like I would be more productive, learn more new things, and be in a better mood if I would take a tip from my dad’s example and be more active.

 

 

 

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books, Creativity, family, writing , , , , , ,

I Love a Mall Massage.

 

Fun fact: Comedian Bob Hope had a massage every day for most of his life. Is it any wonder he lived to be a hundred?

One of my daughters doesn’t see the point of having a massage. Someday, I suspect, she’ll become a fan like the rest of us. We’ll see.

I used to get full-body, hour-long massages every so often, sometimes once a month. You know, the kind that takes place in a softly lit pastel room smelling of lavender. The therapist waits outside while you take everything off except your panties. Then you climb under a freshly-laundered sheet and wait for her to ask if you’re ready.

Quietly closing the door behind her, she asks how you’ve been. Then she starts the music—Native American flute or dreamy guitar or Enya. She pours expensive oil into her palms and slides them over your skin.

You tell her your hip hurts or your shoulders or your lower back, and you trust that she’ll get to it, but only after the routine, slow, gentle sliding of her hands over your back.

You like her, so you always have a lot to talk about even though you realize talking interferes with her concentration and your ability to relax. Even though you know you should just close your eyes and float away.

Lately, though, because I’ve had trouble with coughing when I lie on my back, I’ve given up on the luxurious, pampering full body massage. Now I go to the mall for my massages. And I love it.

For one thing, I don’t have to make an appointment for a mall massage. I just show up. And there they are, two Chinese men, sometimes also a Chinese woman, and their chairs and kneelers. I find them down the hall from Nordstrom, between the bubble tea shop and the Verizon store.

These Chinese mall massage services seem to be all over the country. My daughter in Maryland and my daughter in Eastern Washington have them. I don’t know about my daughter in Indiana. She’s the one who doesn’t see the point.

This past Presidents’ Day weekend, my neck and shoulders were tight from too much computer work. So … off to the mall I went. Presidents’ Day is always a busy weekend at the mall, but one of the masseurs was free. Seeing me, he put down the knife he was using to peel an apple and got right to work giving me a thirty minute massage on one of the kneelers. ($30.) And believe me, thirty minutes is enough with these guys. They don’t waste a second on gentle preparation. They dig right in with all the strength that comes from years of martial arts training.

The therapist I got that day was really feeling his oats. (Is that an old-fashioned saying? Something from the Old West, I suppose, from the days when everyone rode horses.) Anyway, he was so determined to work out any knots and stiffness that I had to grit my teeth a few times. Better too hard than too soft, don’t you think?

The mall also has music, but with my face in the cradle that’s attached to the kneeler, the music blended with the sound of the shoppers into a single-noted hum, which was surprisingly relaxing.

After my massage, I walked to Nordstrom where I bought a cool pair of deep-plum-colored jeans, and then over to Nordstrom’s Café Bistro where I ate a Cilantro Lime Salad. Such are the related benefits of a mall massage.

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China, life , , , , , , ,

Seasons of Love, a Post for Valentine’s Day.

 

Love, giddy and new.
An unknown future
Unquestioned.

Vows, veil, and a bow tie.
Leaving the church
As husband and wife.

A trio of love
In springtime.

 

In sunshine and shadow,
Autumn’s child
Sleeps on Daddy’s chest.

The family complete.
A new season begins
In the Philippines.

Work and travel.

 

 

Parties and dances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the children leave,
Moving on
Together.

 

On Valentines Day we celebrate love as it is at this moment in time. But love has a history. It has ups and downs and–as I highlighted in the pictures above–it has seasons.

Today I want to mention a season of love we seldom mention. It’s that time after one partner is gone. Widows and widowers may not send or receive flowers on Valentines Day, but I believe the day still has meaning for anyone who has loved.

So happy Valentine’s Day to all.

family, life, Philippines, seasons , , , , , ,

Everybody Has a Rat Story.

It was a few days after Christmas, and I’d just brought my car in for service. That morning, out of the blue, it had started misfiring.

I slid into the seat of Magic Toyota’s courtesy car eager to tell my story to the first person I saw. Only moments earlier the mechanic had given me the disgusting, exhilarating news. I turned to the middle-aged Somali driver who must have been expecting me to give him my address and announced, “They found a rat’s nest in my engine.”

I pulled the car door shut and continued. “They said the nest was this big.” I spread my hands about fifteen inches apart and looked at the space between them with renewed amazement. “The rat gnawed some wires clear through.”

The damage was going to cost me $500 plus tax. And yet, there’s something pleasing about having a good story to tell … even if it actually is a bad story.

The driver smiled. “Last week,” he said, “a woman came in with a big nest in her engine. And,” he added, topping my tale, “there were five baby rats in it.” He shook his head. “The woman never even looked at her engine.”

He shook his head again as though that detail puzzled him. But really! Who looks under the hood? I certainly don’t.

That afternoon, following the advice of Toyota’s mechanic, I went looking for mothballs. A helpful clerk at Bartell Drugs showed me to the correct aisle. I picked up the box of mothballs and told him my rat story. Not surprisingly, he had his own story to tell.

One morning, he said, his new Lexus wouldn’t start, and he had to have it towed to the garage. When the mechanic got back to him, the first thing he asked was where the man kept his dog food.

“In the garage,” he answered.

The mechanic nodded. “It looks like a rat filched about two pounds of the dog’s food and dragged it up your tailpipe.”

That night I mentioned my rat problem on Kate’s blog: Views and Mews. In the comments section, Kate and then Nancy shared tales of other gnawing critters: field mice getting into a heat pump and squirrels doing damage to the neighbors’ cars, $5000 damage in one case.

During the last couple of years, the Seattle area seems to be having a particularly big rat problem. So why are there so many more rats here than there used to be?

Here are some possible explanations:

  1. Global warming. Usually rats stop breeding in the winter. If it’s too cold, some of them don’t survive. But Pacific Northwest winters are becoming warmer. And when one female rate can give birth to up to 150 offspring in a single year, a few extra months of breeding results in quite a few extra rats.
  2. Unlike many cities, Seattle has two kinds of rats: Norway rats that burrow and live in sewers and roof rats that live in trees, vines, and attics. We have a great habitat for both of them–lots of trees for the roof rats and lots of green space and soft soil for the Norway rats. Plus we have streams and water retention ponds for both of them.
  3. Our construction boom. The Seattle area is undergoing a growth spurt. Over the past couple of years, an average of 236 people moved here every single day. This summer there were 58 construction cranes in Seattle, more than in any other city in America. When you knock down old buildings or build on abandoned properties, the rats that used to live there rush out and find a new home … perhaps in your basement or attic or nice warm car engine.

So I guess that’s why we’re beginning to notice the once-hidden presence of rats. As for my own attempts to solve the problem … this afternoon an exterminator is coming to set some traps in my garage. Wish me luck.

Have you had any run-ins with rats or other gnawing critters?

home, life, rats, winter , , , , , , , ,