What Makes Me Feel Strong?

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 25, 2022.]

The dog is Colorado. He belongs to the shop owners, and he loves to paddleboard.

Paddleboarding makes me feel strong.

I took my first lesson last summer. The instructor mentioned an absurd number of calories that a person burns while standing upright on a paddleboard, maintaining balance. I don’t remember the number—numbers are my kryptonite. Plus, I don’t care about calorie-burning numbers like I did when I was young (and foolish).

The instructor explained all our muscles were working together and continuously to keep us upright on our boards while moving us over the water. That’s what impressed me—my muscles working to keep me balanced, upright, strong. As I age and watch older family members age, I realize balance is my friend, falling is my foe.

Standing on the board, paddling around Barker’s Island on Lake Superior makes me feel strong—Popeye strong. Sometimes when I circle Barker’s Island, I have to sit on my board for half the trip because the wind produces choppy waters on either the outside or the inside of the island.

When I have to sit, I use my paddle and board like a kayak and propel myself through the water. The choppier the waves, the faster I paddle, finding a rhythm that sends me speeding through the bumpy water. (Speeding might be hyperbole, but I feel strong—Bionic Woman strong.) The waves and I battle. They want to turn my board sideways or move it backwards. I grip the paddle, cut the blade into the water and pull, over and over. I am strong and resolute—Ziva David, kick-butt determined.

I skim across the water and watch the sky, water, trees, plants, birds and otters, while I fortify my future ability to stand upright, walk sure footed, and retain balance. I’m She-Hulk strong.

And all the strong-ness and grace as I skim across Lake Superior, floods my mind with strength and calmness, and hopefully, some wisdom.

A Growing Bouquet

Out for an October walk

When I take my grandkids for a walk, they stroll and run along the city sidewalks, and with a child’s imagination, they turn each walk into an adventure. On an outing last October, they each picked a small bouquet of dandelions, Indian paintbrushes, and tiny yellow flowers from lawns overdue for a trim.

After we returned home, I put each child’s bouquet in its own bud vase and placed them around my kitchen. My five-year-old grandson had a prolific bouquet, so his vase stood on the kitchen table. By the next afternoon, the dandelions and Indian paintbrushes boarded themselves up like roadside stands at the end of the season, and the tiny yellow flowers discarded their petals like ticket stubs after a rock concert. I tossed the bouquets.

The flowers my sister sent.

A couple of days later my sister sent me a large yellow, orange, and red autumn-themed bouquet of flowers, a mix of daisies, a rose, and a sunflower. I placed it on the kitchen table.

Two days later my grandkids returned to visit. My five-year-old grandson walked by the large bouquet on my kitchen table, paused, then said, “I guess my flowers really grew.”

I gave him the facts—his flowers had died and were thrown in the garbage; these flowers were from my sister. He moved on and played with blocks on the living room floor.

Later I told my sister about his belief that his flowers had grown into the bouquet she’d sent. She hoped I hadn’t told him the truth, but I had. I’d been the Grinch before his heart grew, Scrooge before the Christmas ghosts visited, Joe Friday with the cold, hard facts.

Instead of entering my grandson’s world where it was possible for a handful of tiny flowers to grow into a substantial bouquet of large flowers, I used words like died and garbage. I’d become the eight-year-old neighbor boy who told me and my sister when we were five and four years old that there was no Santa Claus. I can still see him standing at the side of his house telling us Santa wasn’t real. My sister and I argued with him, but he clung to his story. We tried to believe after that, but we couldn’t—not even when our mother assured us the boy was wrong and Santa was real.

But if I’d gone along with Evan’s belief that his flowers had grown, he would’ve bragged to his older siblings, who would’ve set him straight.

He would’ve come back and asked, “Nana, did my flowers really grow big?”

If I’d said, “Yes, they did,” he would’ve doubted me, weighing what I said against what his siblings said, just like my sister and I weighed what my mother said about Santa against what the boy next door said.

If I’d said, “No, they didn’t,” he would’ve asked, “Then why did you say they did?”

But I still felt bad—I’d squelched a magical moment for him and replaced it with reality.

But the five-year-old wasn’t done. A couple of weeks later, he asked me, “Nana, did my flowers at least get big before they died and you threw them away?”

With the Grinch, Scrooge, and Joe Friday as my wingmen, I explained, “The type of flowers you picked don’t get any bigger than when you picked them. But they’re beautiful flowers and an important part of nature even if they’re small.”

However, if he ever asks me if Santa is real, I’m going to lie through my teeth and say, “Yes, he is.”

Remembering Nana Kitty on Her Birthday

My nana, Katherine Karius Stern Stamper, wore dresses and stockings. Born January 22, 1915, she didn’t believe in pants, declaring ladies didn’t wear them. In the mid-1970s, my mother (her daughter) bought her a coordinating outfit consisting of a pair of pants and a short-sleeve shirt. She informed my mother she wouldn’t wear it. My mother told her to just wear it at home. Soon Nana began wearing the pants and matching shirt in public. It became her favorite outfit. She looked adorable in it, and she knew it.

Nana Kitty

Nana still wore plenty of dresses and skirts.

Before she sat on the park bench, where someone snapped this picture, she would’ve dressed in her tiny pink bathroom, a fascinating place to me because of its laundry chute and the intricately embroidered scene of an English cottage and garden that hung on the wall. My sisters and I surreptitiously tossed toys down the chute, then skedaddled to the basement to retrieve them from the laundry basket until Nana said, “Stop the shenanigans!” The embroidered scene was a gift from her oldest sister Margaret. Nana didn’t do crafts; although in her sixties, she took a watercolor class and painted flowers and butterflies—but not convincingly.

Because my sisters and I visited Nana, who lived in Milwaukee, for three or four days at a time, I often watched her get-gussied-up-to-meet-the-world routine. We were allowed to wander in and out of the bathroom while she got ready.

First, Nana put on white, ordinary undergarments. She spent her money, but never frivolously, on fashion the public could see, not on fancy underwear that never showed from beneath her clothes.

Next, she slipped bobby pins from her pin-curled hair and brushed the tight coils into luscious waves of Nice’n Easy-dyed tresses, replicating the reddish-brown color from her youth.  She pulled her white turtleneck over her loose curls then used her fingers to reshape them. She had sensitivities to most makeup, but she powdered her face to cover up a faded scar on her cheek. When she was a young woman, she’d been in a car accident and was cut by a piece of glass.

With care she rolled her pantyhose over her feet, easing them up her legs to avoid causing a runner. As part of a school assignment, I once asked her, “What’s the greatest invention of your lifetime?” Without a moment’s reflection, she answered, “Pantyhose.” Having used a garter belt the first time I wore nylons at my fourth-grade Christmas concert, I knew her answer wasn’t frivolous. Nearly finished she stepped into her skirt and fastened it at her back.

Finally, she looked into the mirror. Holding a tube of lipstick in her hand, she applied a shade between pink and red to her lips. She never left the house without lipstick. Face powder was the only other makeup she wore. But she needed none. Her high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, cocoa-brown eyes, and flawless complexion were of the quality that described a beautiful lady in a nineteenth-century novel.

Her last act before emerging from the bathroom was to blot her lips with a square of toilet paper, which she’d saved from the end of the roll. She was a child of the Great Depression. She called it tissue paper because she had sensibilities about what she termed “potty talk.” She folded the white square in half, parted her lips and placed the tissue between them, then pressed them together. She opened the tissue and admired the pink shaped lips she left behind. The best ones she stored on a shelf in the linen closet, small squares of vanity resting behind a closed door.

English cottage and garden, stitched by Nana’s sister Margaret

Smelling of soap, face powder, and freshly applied lipstick, Nana emerged–a butterfly from the cocoon of her snug, pink bathroom. She was ready for an outing.

We might go to Sherman Park to play, the same park my mother and her brother played at when they were children. She pushed us on the swings and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Nearly a mile-and-a-half from Nana’s house, the park was a long walk for small children, so she splurged on bus fare.

On the way home, we’d stop at St. John de Nepomuc Catholic Church. In the 1960s and early ’70s, its doors were always unlocked. Nana led us into the church lit only by sunlight filtering through the stained-glass windows and candles burning near the alter. Like ducklings we followed her, imitating her moves. She would genuflect and make the sign of the cross before entering a pew, and we would genuflect and make the sign of the cross before entering the pew. She knelt on the kneeler; we knelt on the kneeler. She prayed, we prayed. I never asked Nana what she prayed about. I figured she prayed for her dead husband and her dead nephew, for she often talked about them. I prayed about whatever was bothering me that week. Catholicism, God, and Baby Jesus were very important to her. My sisters and I weren’t Catholic. My mother left the Church to marry a Presbyterian, but we didn’t practice Presbyterianism either. Nana neither asked about our church-going habits nor tried to convert us to Catholicism, and my mother never fussed about our side trips into St. John’s.

We might go to the grocery store. On the way there, my sister and I took turns pulling our little sister in a wagon. Nana never learned to drive. She walked or rode the city bus. On the way home, she pulled the wagon containing our sister and a bag of groceries, and my sister and I each carried another bag. On a hot summer day, the city became an urban desert. Heat rose off the concrete and choked the air as our small caravan traveled along the city blocks. Burdened with a sack of groceries and oppressed by the temperature, I spit like an angry camel: “It’s too hot. Can’t we rest? Why can’t the groceries ride in the wagon and Suzanne walk?” Nana wouldn’t stop or put my sister out of the wagon. She ignored me until I drove her crazy, then she’d snap, “Be quiet!” Nana never told anyone to shut up, a phrase she considered too rude, even for the devil.

If we were lucky, we went to George Webb’s for a hamburger, a rare treat on her tight budget. We always wanted to sit at the counter because the stools spun around, but Nana never let us. There were four of us. “Counters,” she said, “are for customers who eat alone.” She held different jobs over the years, but from my earliest memory until she retired, she worked as a waitress in a series of small diners and restaurants. Her last job was at the Perkins Pancake House on Wisconsin Avenue. She worked there for thirteen years, retiring when she was sixty-eight. The family who owned the restaurant adored her.

On our outings people often complimented “her beautiful children.” She always thanked them, and never corrected them, and neither did we. It was fun to share an inside joke with her. Later on, she would tell my mother how many times that day someone had assumed she was our mother instead of our nana.

She never told people how old she was, but if someone was tactless enough to ask, she’d say, “A lady never tells her age.” Today, if she were still alive, she’d be 107 years old. I like to think that if she’d lived that long, instead of being cryptic about her age, she would brag about it while wearing a pair of pants and asking how we all survived the toilet paper shortage during the big pandemic.

If I Could Travel Back in Time . . .

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 21, 2022.]

My uncle and mother with their mother, my nana,
circa 1946

I’d pick a summer day in 1950 when my mother was ten and her brother was eight. They lived in Milwaukee in a middle-class neighborhood about ten blocks from A.O. Smith, a large manufacturing plant.

The sun would shine, the temperature would be 75°, and the breeze would be slight.

I’d go out to play with my mother, her brother, and their friends. We’d run down the sidewalks on our way to Sherman Park or maybe Washington Park. We’d ride the bus at least one way because Washington Park is two-and-a-half miles from their house. At the parks we’d swim, play baseball, and swing. If we saved bus fare we’d buy a treat at the concession stand.

Maybe we’d stay home and play games of tag through the front yards, up and down the block. Or games of cops and robbers or army, escaping through backyards by climbing fences or slipping through gates. Or games of hide-and-seek, hoping not to be the first one found.

We’d sit on the front stoop of someone’s house and drink a cold lemonade squeezed from lemons and sweetened with sugar.

Refreshed, we’d play hopscotch or jacks or marbles. If someone ran home to grab a section of clothesline, we’d jump rope and chant, “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear” or “I’m a Little Dutch Girl” or “I Went Downtown.”

I’d know all the games and songs because an older child teaches a younger child. Ever notice that we don’t learn these from our parents?

We’d call each other by our childhood nicknames, squabble about the rules of games, laugh at our silly antics.

Maybe we’d go home with skinned knees or elbows, wouldn’t matter because we’d spent the day together. We’d eat our dinner and wash the dishes. We’d sit on the floor in front the radio and listen to Jack Benny, The Lone Ranger, or The Green Hornet.

If I could travel back in time, I’d pick that warm summer day in 1950 and play with my mother and her brother because Oh, what larks! to play with your mother and your favorite uncle when they were children.

What Is One of My Favorite Photos That I’ve Ever Taken?

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 20, 2022. The blog prompt actually asked me to choose my favorite photo ever. I have too many favorites, so I picked one of my favorites from 2021.]

Foreground to background: Evan, Clara, and Michael. Not pictured: me pushing Charlie in his stroller and walking my two dogs, Cabela and Ziva

This photo, taken April 14, 2021, is one of my favorites. My grandchildren love to go for a walk, so on days when they come to my house, we often stroll around the neighborhood.

Evan holds a grabber, and you can’t see it, but Michael carries a plastic grocery bag filled with trash and another grabber. In the spring our walks become garbage patrols. The snow has melted, and hidden wrappers, disposable cups, bottles, cigarette butts, and the odd mitten or piece of clothing dot the landscape.

My grandkids blurt exclamations of joy when they spot a piece of garbage. It’s an accomplishment. I know how they feel. When we were children, my sisters and I pulled a red wagon down our country road and picked up garbage. We were influenced by Lady Bird Johnson’s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign. We didn’t have grabbers, so we used our hands. Things were tougher when my generation was young. (As we age, we enter the I-walked-to-school-in-blinding-snow generation.)

I love walking with my grandkids. But before I took this idyllic photograph, pandemonium ruled, as it does before every walk. Once we decide to go, strategical planning and the ensuing chaos from working that plan almost swamp me. Everyone needs to go to the bathroom, including me. “There are no porta potties on the walk,” I say. I check Charlie’s diaper. We dress for the weather, and during the winter that means helping two toddlers into snow pants, jackets, boots, hats, and mittens. I put leashes on the dogs, who plead to be included, and I stuff poo bags in my jacket. It sounds simple, but understand that all four grandkids and both dogs are moving targets. Just as we are about to exit the house, one of my grandkids usually utters, “I think I have to go to the bathroom, again.”

At this point I think to myself, “Eisenhower had it easy–he only had to organize D-Day.”

However, once we hit the paved trail, serenity settles in, and my grandkids race each other, hunt for garbage, climb trees along the boulevard, and play games with rules only they know. Watching them, my memory of the pre-walk havoc fades. These walks will become cherished memories for my grandkids and me.

Kekekabic by Eric Chandler

Reviewed by Victoria Lynn Smith (This review was originally posted on Nov. 27, 2022.)

[To pre-order Chandler’s book click here: Finishing Line Press.]

Leo at Parent Lake in the BWCA

Kekekabic, Eric Chandler’s second book of poetry, will be released May 20, 2022. Prepublication sales for the book will run from January 18, 2022, through March 25, 2022. Chandler is the author of Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War (2017). He has won the Col. Darron L. Wright Award for poetry three times. His writing has been published in numerous journals and magazines.

Kekekabic combines prose and haiku in a poetry form called haibun. In 2018, Chandler wrote a poem after each of his workouts. His goal was “to pay attention to the world” during his workouts in the wilderness, in Duluth, and on the road as an airline pilot. In his introduction he states, “It’s a loss if skiing through the woods is just a workout. All these miles moving over the earth under my own power have meaning.” Chandler’s poems invite us to move over the world with him and share the meaning he finds as he runs, hikes, and cross-country skis.

On the cover of Kekekabic, Chandler’s dog, Leo, sits on the shore of Parent Lake in the serenity of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). Leo invites us to open the cover, read the poems, and reflect along with his hiking companion about being outside in nature. Chandler shares his wisdom about the outdoors in a haiku:

I think more people

should go outside. I think they’d

be much happier.

This resonates with me because on a bad day if I go outside, my spirits lift. Reading Chandler’s poems lifts my spirits too. Nature is an important theme in Kekekabic, and Chandler poems nudge us to go outside.

Chandler’s imagery appeals to the senses. About one of his runs, he writes, “The wind stacked the pack ice up at the fond du lac. The yellow sun sends a yellow stripe across the open water and it hits the shelf of ice and disperses. Brilliant sparkles randomly dot the expanse as the shards reflect the sun.” After a day on the Kekekabic trail, he writes, “Tail-slapping beavers sounded like full-grown men jumping into the lake.” Chandler’s poetic imagery will linger in our minds long after we close his book.

Leo joined Chandler on the five-day hike in the BWCA along the Kekekabic Trail. Chandler wrote a haibun for each day of the hike. The haiku he wrote on the fifth day—

The sound of peace is

my dog snoring on a rock

on a wild lakeshore

—mixes the wonder of nature and the joy of sharing it with family, which includes his dog. He writes of his daughter’s first time on cross-country skis: “I felt like my heart would explode due to an overload of blue kick wax joy, gliding through the trees in silence.” In another haibun Chandler recounts a run along Lake Superior with his son. They find a teddy bear on the path, and his son turns around and races back to where they had just run from to return the teddy bear to a child. Chandler’s poems remind us that small, quiet moments spent in nature with family are special.

Chandler studied the Japanese poet, Bashō, to learn about haibun. He quotes Bashō: “People often say that the greatest pleasures of traveling are finding a sage hidden behind the weeds or treasures hidden in trash, gold among discarded pottery.” In haibun that reflect Chandler’s workouts in large cities, he has taken Bashō’s words to heart—finding the sage, the treasures, and the gold among the grittiness and complexities of urban settings.

Some of Chandler’s haibun explore the theme of urban settings and nature colliding. In Fort Lauderdale as he runs, he notes “That crisp thread between the light blue of the sky and the dark blue of the water” in the distance. But as he observes the sky and water, he runs “Past the cigarette smokers. Past the marijuana smokers. Past the guy lifting dumbbells while he stands at the seawall, looking at the ocean while his car speakers thump.” He continues running down to the water where he concludes, “I got a moment’s peace and then found my way back to my room through the noise.”

Chandler’s poems written after running in cities, combine the beauty of nature and cityscapes with a harsher reality of urban landscapes, a comparison that invites us to think about people and nature as “reaching toward” one another. He writes, “Downwind now, I was struck that the world of man and the world of nature kind of reach toward one another at the border. The palm trees grow out of the sidewalk and the beach chairs cover the sand.”

In his haibun poems, Chandler encourages us to move through life with meditation and awareness. He encourages us to take journeys with family, friends, and our dogs, but also to take some journeys by ourselves. His poems inspire us to go outside and move through our world.

[For more information about Eric Chandler and his writing, click HERE to view his website, SHMOTOWN. Kekekabic will be available for prepublication sales at Finishing Line Press starting January 18, 2022, through March 25, 2022.]

What’s Next on My Reading List?

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 18, 2022. Click on blue lettering to connect to websites about the books, authors, and events mentioned.]

My non-writing desk

“What are you reading?” is one of my favorite questions. It gives me permission to talk about the books I’m reading and soon-to-be-read books that I have stacked on my non-writing desk, which functions as an extension of the nearby bookshelf. And, I love to hear about what other people are reading. It’s a good way to add more books to the stack on the desk.

I’m going to cheat a bit and answer this question two ways. First, I’ll discuss what I’m currently reading. Both books are my reward at the end of the day. I read the nonfiction book in front of the TV, so I don’t have to watch it. I like to sit in the family room with my husband in the evening, but our TV-watching tastes are not aligned. I read the fiction book in bed before I go to sleep. Second, I’ll discuss some books on my to-be-read list.

My current nonfiction read is Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin (2010). This is a beautifully written nonfiction book about the Mississippi River. The story starts in the 1700s, and I’m currently reading about events and life along the river in the 1800s. The Mississippi River, the star of the story, is complex and evolving, with a wide emotional range. The stories of the people who lived along the river and worked on the river are compelling too, but the Mississippi steals the show. I like this book because Sandlin’s writing is excellent and well researched. I’m learning so much about the river and how it worked and currently works as part of a large ecosystem throughout the middle of the United States. Unfortunately, I’m learning about how people have damaged that ecosystem. When I’m finished with Wicked River, it will have a permanent home on one of my many bookshelves.

My current fiction read is Saving the Scot by Jennifer Trethewey. It’s Book 4 in her Highlanders of Balforss series. I’ve read the other three books: Tying the Scot, Betting the Scot, and Forgetting the Scot. These books make me swoon, laugh, and cry, and I hold my breath during the engaging, suspenseful action scenes. Before I read these books, I hadn’t read a romance novel in over twenty years, and even then, I could count the ones I’d read on one hand. Trethewey’s books are different. True her characters are beautiful and handsome and brave and have fast-paced adventures on their way to true love. But her characters have human flaws and problems that make them endearing and relatable. And yes, the male characters do save the female characters. BUT the female characters save the male characters too. The females are intelligent, clever, resourceful, and brave, and they’re nobody’s doormat. The supporting characters are fully developed people, each with distinct personalities, who add to the enjoyment of Trethewey’s books. As a writer, I admire the storytelling and dialogue in these books. Her books entertain me and inspire me to be a better writer. After I die, my children will have to decide what to do with these books because I’m not giving them away.

Here are some books on my to-be-read list. I have lots of books that fit this category, but I’m going to limit my list to books that I plan to read in the very near future.

  1. We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz. This book is first on my list because I checked it out from the library. It made my list because I heard the writer speak at a virtual Author Chat sponsored by Honest Dog Books. (Click here to view upcoming Author Chats, which you can listen to from home.) Bartz is originally from Milwaukee, and so am I. Her book was a Reece Witherspoon pick for August 2021. (I also read the Peter Ash series by Nick Petrie. I have one of his books in my stack. He’s a Milwaukee native too.)
  2. My Father’s Keep: A Journey of Forgiveness through the Himalaya by Ed Abell. This book made my list because I’ve met the author, I like reading books that combine adventure with self-discovery, and I had a difficult relationship with my father.
  3. Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life by Elizabeth George. I’m not a novelist, but I believe I can learn from George’s writing advice. This book made the list because I love George’s mystery series featuring Thomas Lynley. They are beautifully written: literary, suspenseful, and full of characters I care about.
  4. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. Science is interesting, and I like memoir. I had a college professor who wanted to turn me into a biology major because I was so fascinated by my Intro to Biology course. I didn’t bite because I knew it would’ve been a mistake–the math would’ve doomed me. But I love reading about science, medicine, nature, and biology.
  5. Maggie Brown & Others by Peter Orner. This is a collection of short stories, a format that’s always appealed to me. I also write them, so I like to read short stories by other writers. I heard Orner talk at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book in the fall of 2020. The festival is normally held in Harbor Springs, Michigan, but it was virtual in 2020. I like short story collections because I can read a story or two, read something else, and then read another story or two.

I’ll stop here because I need to go read something!

My writing desk

Today’s My Ideal Day

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 13, 2022.]

Senior Dog

Today was my ideal day. I took what it gave me because thinking about what my “most ideal day looks like” would’ve taken more creative energy than I wanted to spend. Besides, no day is ideal. I cherish the days my sons were born, but labor was tough. I have fond memories of my wedding. But I spent seven hours with over a hundred people, and I had to talk to all of them. Lovely people, but I’m an introvert—I was exhausted.

So today had its blessings—

My senior dog didn’t wake me at 4:00 a.m. to go outside. Once or twice a week she knocks on my door. She wants to go outside and pee. She doesn’t have opposable thumbs, so I get out of bed and turn the doorknobs for her. But this morning she let me sleep.

I wrote a shitty first draft of an essay this morning. When I started to slow down and think too much about finding the perfect word or writing a better sentence, I went all Anne Lamott on myself: Write don’t revise, get the thoughts on paper—all the thoughts, on the paper, now! Regardless of spelling, grammar, punctuation. Without care for lyricism or flow or insight. When I finished, I had almost 1,300 words. I can’t have more than 500 for the piece I want to submit. But I’ve got a chunk of wood to carve into a sculptured essay. (I hope.) I saved the file, feeling a little smug about all the crap I had on my shitty draft. I gave myself permission to not think about the essay until tomorrow.

I talked to a friend, my mother, my sister, and my nephew. Four conversations with people I love, but who don’t live in my house. I talked to a clerk at Honest Dog Books and ordered a book. The bookstore is an hour and a half away, but sometimes I order books from there because the clerk remembers me. The staff writes a note to me and tosses in a couple of paper bookmarks when they ship my order. The book I ordered is being shipped to my nephew. He’s getting an autographed copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She visited Bayfield, Wisconsin, this summer, wandered into Honest Dog, and signed some of her books that were on the shelves. My copy of Writing Down the Bones is unsigned. But no day is perfect, not even an ideal day.

I put on a white turtleneck, a red winter-themed sweater, and a pair of garnet earrings someone gifted me. A couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed to stop wearing the same three turtlenecks my mother bought me in 2003. So, each day I find something in my closet that I haven’t worn for a while and I wear it. I do this even if I don’t leave the house, which is most days. Turns out I like dressing up a little to stay home. Reminds me of my nana wearing a house dress to do her laundry and scrub her floors. I did neither of those chores today. Those aren’t ideal-day activities.

I went to two coffee shops. Not to meet anyone. I don’t go inside places without a mask. I won’t eat or drink coffee in public spaces—I’m not removing the mask. I dropped off bookmarks and hung posters to advertise a writing contest. I bought two cupcakes to go in the first coffee shop, one for me and one for my husband. I ate mine as soon as I got home. I bought a mocha coffee to go in the second coffee shop. It paired nicely with my cupcake.

Wally

Wally, the brilliant squirrel who hacks my birdfeeders, stopped by to eat. He stood on the baffle, meant to keep him out of the feeder, and feasted on seeds. I washed dishes because it gave me an excuse to watch him steal bird food. Washing dishes isn’t ideal, but neither is looking at dirty dishes.

My senior dog needed to go to the vet for a shot. She’s had to go for a series of them. She wants to leave before we get in the door. But she’s always gracious to the vet and the assistants, who are kind and gentle with her and always say how much they love her.

I decided not to cook supper tonight. Leftovers are wonderful. But I made mashed potatoes for tomorrow’s homemade ham-and-bean soup that I’ll make in the morning.

Something I wrote yesterday made someone feel better. My husband loved the cupcake I brought home for him. My dogs enjoyed their evening walk.

It’s late and the house is quiet. I’m the only one up. The wind is howling outside, but I’m snug in my winter-themed sweater.

It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was my ideal day.

Tree Guy Update

Tree Guy waits for spring.

Yesterday, after reading my blog story “Tree Guy,” my sister implied—in a forthright manner—that I should look for Tree Guy’s other eye. She’s met him, and she likes him. She also lives in Tucson where she’d never have to brave subzero temperatures and dig in the snow for a cartoonish eye that a wayward squirrel kicked off a tree.

However, the cold snap broke yesterday afternoon, so I went outside. I figured it would be a lost cause, but I leaned over the deck railing. Tree Guy’s eye glared at me. It sat on a heap of snow as tall as the deck, so I leaned farther over the railing, trying to reach the eye. Then farther and farther. I was almost parallel to the earth, a teeter totter balanced on the railing. Then I realized I was attempting the same type of maneuver that caused my best friend to fall into a garbage can. A neighbor witnessed her graceful move and thought she was drunk. But she didn’t drink. She and I laughed a lot about that episode. I stood up, bent down, and reached through the spindles for the eye. I like to think my friend sent a message to me from Heaven in the form of a thought. That she saved me from tumbling over the railing and into the snowbank.

I rehung Tree Guy’s eye and noticed his nose was gone!

Why hadn’t I spotted his missing nose yesterday? Because Tree Guy’s bedroom eyes are more captivating than his Jimmy Durante schnoz. I’m sure the squirrels knocked the nose off too. I checked the top of the snow pile again but didn’t find it.

When my husband came home from work, I asked, “Last week did you say the tree’s nose was buried in the snow?” Turns out he’d said nose, not eye. When I walked outside yesterday, I only saw the eye was missing. I’d mixed up the details.

“Did you know one of the eyes had been knocked off?” No, he hadn’t. I didn’t tell him I’d mixed up the missing nose with the missing eye. I told him about finding the eye. I like to lead with my strengths, then stop talking.

I apologized to Tree Guy for neglecting to notice his missing nose. He told me not to worry. He still has his smile, and he appreciates having both eyes again.

He hopes to have his nose back in the spring. Maybe the world will smell better. Tree Guy knows how to play the long game.

Tree Guy

One-Eyed Tree Guy, January 2022

Tree Guy lost an eye during our last snowstorm, and by the time we noticed, it was buried under six inches snow. Neither my husband nor I were willing to dig in the snowdrifts around Tree Guy to find his eye because after the snow, Subzero Temperature blew in escorted by his companion Windchill. My husband declared, “We’ll find the eye in spring.”

Tree Guy as Old Man Winter

How did Tree Guy lose an eye during a lake-effect snowstorm? Maybe the wind blew it down, but most likely a squirrel knocked it off. Squirrels are the usual suspects, but have you ever tried to round them up for questioning? Because they run up and down his trunk, Tree Guy has had each of his eyes and his mouth knocked off numerous times over the years. My husband has reglued the mouth a few times, and last summer he gave it a new coat of paint. He takes good care of his tree buddy.

Michael, two, communes with Tree Guy, 2015

I didn’t want the maple tree by our deck to become Tree Guy. My husband pointed out the eyes and nose in a store and said, “Isn’t this neat? I think it’s really neat! We should get this!”

Evan, almost three, hugs Tree Guy, 2019

I didn’t think it was neat. I’m not a let’s-turn-our-trees-into-faces kind of person. He’d shown me these faces before, but never with such eagerness. It’s hard to resist youthful enthusiasm in an adult, and I had to admit this particular face did have a friendly, calm appearance. We struck a deal: the tree face could come home with us as long as it would be the only one in our yard. (A neighbor a couple blocks away had a face on every tree in her yard, and it was creepy.)

My in-laws with Tree Guy as Carman Miranda, 2008

My husband kept his word. Tree Guy wears the only face in our yard. Over the years his face has amused guests and bewitched our grandkids. He greets me every time I walk out the back door. His looks change throughout the year. In winter, snow and ice transform him into Old Man Winter. In summer with flowering plants hanging on each side of him, he becomes Carmen Miranda about to sing, “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat.”

I hope we find his eye in the spring. But if we don’t Tree Guy will still be with us. Perhaps I can talk my husband into making a wooden eye patch for him, and he can become a pirate, ready to chant, “Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum!”