The Yearly Teeth Cleaning: A Reflection on the Passing of Time

Cabela and Ziva stand by the door of the vet’s exam room. Tired, they sway on their feet like a couple of soldiers who’ve just returned from a lengthy skirmish at the front. Cabela has been through more, and she struggles to keep her butt in the air and her back paws planted on the smooth, slick floor. They look at me, their superior officer, and wait to be told, “At ease, girls, dismissed.” I look at the vet, this is her briefing, so my dogs and I wait.

They haven’t really come from a battle, but from having their teeth cleaned. They were anesthetized and x-rayed. Neither of them had to have teeth pulled.

Cabela in shorts

My dogs watch me watching the vet. We all seem to know the drill. Be quiet, listen, nod. The more efficiently we can do this, the quicker we can go home, Cabela and Ziva because they’re worn out, me because I want to cry. My dogs are 14 and 11½ years old. These days the sand trickles faster through the hourglass.

Cabela had a benign cyst, the size of a small rubber ball, removed from her left hindquarter. She has a two-and-a-half-inch incision and a dozen stitches. The vet says Cabela shouldn’t lick her incision. I head off any discussion of her having to wear a cone: “I have a pair of shorts she can wear.” Medical treatment with dignity.

I wonder if I’ll have Cabela, the oldest one, put under anesthesia for a nonemergency surgery again, or perhaps any surgery. The older she gets, the riskier surgical procedures become. Today I worried—more than in the past—that one of my dogs might not wake up. I chose the option to have the vet call after each dog’s teeth cleaning was done instead of waiting until they were both done.

The vet explains Ziva has bone loss in her jaw, but she still has enough bone to avoid having teeth pulled. This time. Cabela has bone loss too, but less than Ziva’s.

The vet relays all this to me and shows me x-rays from this year and last year.

I trust the vet—I don’t need to see the pictures. But I don’t say this. I stand at attention, and pull myself up as tall as I can, perhaps to make up for my dogs who sag under the lingering effects of anesthesia.

The vet clicks an icon, and ghostly black-and-white images of Ziva’s teeth parade across the computer screen. I feign deep interest, but I want to go home. My dogs’ noses are nearly touching the exam room door, willing it to open.

The vet wants to explain the medical stuff—like a fourth root on one of Ziva’s molars that she hadn’t seen before. She sent the x-rays to a veterinary dentist for a consultation. I tell her that’s fine. I knew her before she was a vet, and she’s been our vet for over twenty years. She’s doing her job, taking time with us, treating us with respect.

She asks if I have any other questions, and I don’t. She can’t tell me how long Cabela and Ziva will live. She can’t tell me how long I have before I sit in front of doctors who explain age-related medical stuff to me.

I watch my dogs and see my future.

Book Review: Meet Me on the Midway: A History of Wisconsin Fairs by Jerry Apps

Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press, Nonfiction history, 264 pages

Reviewed by Victoria Lynn Smith

Meet Me on the Midway: A History of Wisconsin Fairs by Jerry Apps presents an engaging and informative history of Wisconsin’s state and county fairs. His book focuses on the stories of agricultural societies, county extension agents, fair organizers, judges, volunteers, exhibitors, workers, and 4-H and Future Farmers of America members. Because Apps never forgets that history is the story of people, he pulls readers into the fascinating behind-the-scenes world of state and county fairs. Readers will also appreciate the generous servings of photographs, which are as delectable as fair food and as eye catching as the midway.

To read the rest of this book review click here: Wisconsin Writers Association–Book Reviews.

We’re Cool Here in the Mornings Now

Cabela, standing; Ziva resting

This morning Cabela pranced around the yard. Perhaps she was inviting her sister, Ziva, to play. Perhaps she was inviting me to throw a ball. The midsummer morning felt like a beautiful autumn day—cool, breezy, and invigorating, but warm enough to avoid an extra layer of clothes. At fourteen years old, Cabela is headed into her winter, but this morning she was a lovely autumn day, enjoying a frolic before her winter arrives. Something in the cool, breezy weather tapped into her memory of younger days. I wonder how many frolics she has left.

Ziva didn’t want to play, and it’s too risky for Cabela to play fetch. If she didn’t have four legs, she would need a walker, so I took them for a stroll. Cabela meandered from one blade of grass to another. A couple of years ago, she stopped strutting in front of me on our walks and looking over her shoulder as if to ask, “What’s taking you so long?” Now she dawdles behind me and moves when she’s good and ready as if to say, “What’s your hurry?”

I’m headed into the autumn of my years. The cool, breezy weather made me feel like prancing too, so I wore my blue jeans with holes in the knees. Perhaps at sixty-three, I shouldn’t because young people wear ripped jeans. But I feel like a summer day from my youth when I wear them. Since my twenties I’ve always had a pair of jeans with torn knees. I’ve never bought them that way. My jeans had to earn their holes by hanging in there with me day after day, year after year.

I hope Cabela walks with me through another winter and into another fall. I hope, if I need to live in a nursing home one day, I’ll have a pair of holey jeans to take with me.

Insurrection-Denying Republican Congress Members, Check Your Shoes for Toilet Paper

I tried to go paddle boarding yesterday morning, but the wind was 16 mph. When I stepped past the shelter of the buildings near the dock, the winds caught my board and almost whirled me around like spinner from a child’s board game. I would’ve struggled to get on the dock and put my board in the water. I gave up and went for a bicycle ride.

I’d like to say that struggling to hang on to my board was embarrassing, but . . .

Five minutes before my failed launch, I used the porta potty. Not a fan, but at my age I like to go right before I get on the water. My youthful days of taking an eight-hour road trip and not having to pee are way down the highway.

The porta potty was clean, but a long strip of toilet paper was coiled on the floor under the dispenser. Better than some things I’ve seen on the floors of portable bathrooms, and there was hand sanitizer. So, I entered and went.

After exiting the bathroom, something tickled my leg. I turned to look. Stuck to my shoe, like a streamer was the toilet paper that had been coiled up on the floor. The wind tossed it about.

I looked around. Yep, my first concern was how many people might see me. Then, while cursing people who throw toilet paper on the floor, I gathered up the paper and returned it to the biffy. More hand sanitizer. Lots more.

I didn’t share my embarrassing moment with anyone–too embarrassing. I knew the paper was on the floor, still I hadn’t been careful.

Then I watched the January 6th hearings last night.

I listened to Republican Congress members who gave speeches right after the January 6th insurrection and coup attempt. Those Republicans, fresh from the experience of wondering if they were going to die, called out Trump and condemned what happened. They knew Trump was a piece of toilet paper clinging to their shoes.

But then something changed because Trump’s base didn’t see it that way.

So, many Republicans started calling the insurrection and coup attempt “a tour of the Capitol Building” or “an overblown description by the leftist media” or “unimportant when compared to inflation.” They chose to ignore the toilet paper clinging to their shoes.

It would go like this:

“Hey, Republican Congress persons, do you know you’ve got pieces of toilet paper trailing from your shoes?”

“Oh, that? It’s a loyal constituent who wants a tour of the Capitol Building,” says one Republican Congress member.

“Only the leftist media can see that,” says another Republican Congress member.

“Do you know how much toilet paper costs now?” says a third Republican Congress member.

These are the same Republicans who ran for their lives on January 6th, who called Trump and begged him to help them, who decided the stolen election narrative had to end.

Fortunately, there are Republicans who understand the difference between tourists and insurrectionists, who know some behaviors are beyond partisanship, who comprehend that a dictator would be a bigger threat than cyclical economic trends.

As for the Republican Congress members who are ignoring the toilet paper on their shoes, thanks for making my embarrassing moment yesterday pale in comparison to your embarrassing conduct.

Although, I’d give anything to still be too embarrassed to talk about my porta potty episode in exchange for a country where I’m not worried about what is going to happen in the next election cycle.

Paddle Boarding and Tree Guy

After the Fourth of July, I had promises to keep. So, Tree Guy got a pair of earrings on Wednesday, and I went paddle boarding on Saturday.

Tree Guy’s looking good, but Friday morning I discovered a squirrel had messed with one of his earrings. Every summer I forget about the hooligan squirrels until I find dirt and a section of flowers on the ground. Searching for an easy place to bury seeds for the next winter, squirrels dig in the flower baskets hanging from Tree Guy’s earlobes. Joke’s on the squirrels because I empty the baskets in the fall and return them to the farmers market so they can be reused. I stuck bamboo kabob skewers in the baskets and made plans to replace the damaged flowers. Yesterday morning I discovered one of the skewers on the ground, no doubt used as a javelin by one of the wayward squirrels.

After fortifying the hanging baskets, I went paddle boarding for the first time this summer. Last year I started paddling in June. But this year a long, cold spring latched onto the heels of a long, cold winter.

Mayflies on my screen this morning

I needed a reminder about how to attach my seat and ankle strap because once I connected them to my board last summer, they stayed put until I deflated the board in the fall. Heather, part owner of the paddle board shop, helped me. She talked about mayflies, and how late they hatched this year. I, too, had wondered where they had been. Heather described a recent moonlight paddle-boarding session where a flock of birds burst into the air, zooming and darting, feasting on newly hatched mayflies. She was excited to share her story, and I was happy she did.

Getting on my board and paddling away from the dock was like riding a bicycle after winter recedes—muscle memory kicked in. The water was smooth, the breeze a whisper, and the air hot. Even though I saw other paddle boarders, small fishing boats, and large pleasure craft gliding through the water, it was quiet. Perhaps because the heat and still air created a meditative atmosphere that compels people to lower their voices and move silently.

As I paddled around the northwest tip of the island, I watched billowing cloud formations compete for space to present shifting images.  A pair of clouds became two bear cubs standing on their hind legs, playfully boxing with each other. A moment later one cub morphed into a zaftig fertility goddess, and the other cub became a roaring lion with a flowing mane. Scanning the sky, I found a wolf, its snout tilted toward the heavens in a silent howl at a still sleeping moon. I spotted a laughing puppy and a resting dragon along the way.

A pair of paddle boarders put in from their home along the island, and on one of the boards, a yellow lab sat with its back toward their destination. Its owner said the dog was learning to stay on the board. Me too. On days when the water is rough or when a wake created by a motor boat rolls past me, I sit on my board and paddle kayak style.

I rounded the southeastern tip of the island and noticed tiny dead creatures floating on the water’s surface. I used my paddle to lift one of them out of the water for a closer look. They were exoskeletons. I wondered if they belonged to mayflies that shed their nymph skins then rest on the water’s surface to dry their wings before they can take flight. Later, I googled a picture of a mayfly’s nymph skin, and it seemed to match. Given Heather’s description of the recent mayfly hatch, it made sense.

Another paddler I met waved and said, “Summer’s finally here.”

“Yes,” I answered. And while I was out on the water, I forgot about the squirrels in my backyard preparing for winter.

[For more information about mayflies read my blog “Mayflies.”]

Book Review: The Audacity of Goats (Book Two) by J. F. Riordan

Why Did I Read This Book?

I read The Audacity of Goats because I read North of the Tension Line, the first book in J. F. Riordan’s series, and loved it. If you want to read my review of the first book, click here. If you think you might like to read the first book in Riordan’s series, you may want to stop reading this because some of the information will be spoilers for the first book.

What’s this book about?

Audacity, defined as boldness, daring, courage, bravery, and fearlessness. All the characteristics people need for every day life, like how to manage a long-distance romance, how to get along with a spouse, how to fit in, how to stand your ground, how to deal with unreasonable neighbors, how to win a local election, how to tell a lie if it’s for the greater good, how to let your child grow into adulthood, how to takedown a corrupt politician, how to master a difficult pose in yoga.

In addition to its share of fog and snow, Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin, becomes shrouded in mystery. Blood-curdling screams shred the night. At first, Islanders who hear the shrieks worry someone is being hurt, but no bleeding bodies, alive or dead, are found. Some Islanders think it’s bored youth having fun, some think it’s ghosts, others think a crazed person is hiding on the Island. Curious but rather unfazed, the Islanders carry on. They’re more concerned about long winters and the upcoming local election.

Fiona Campbell reluctantly decides to run for town chairman against her conniving, nasty neighbor, Stella DeRosiers. Inhabitants who were born on the Island mostly admire Fiona but consider her an outsider. Conversely, Islanders detest Stella, but she’s one of them. Jim, the local DNR officer, is crazy about Fiona, but she’s in a relationship with Pete, whose work takes him to dangerous parts of the world.

Roger and Elizabeth return from their Italian honeymoon, and Roger worries about how to be a good husband. The Angel Joshua, advises Roger to join his yoga class, so he can get in touch with his feminine side and improve his relationship with Elizabeth. Never one to do things halfway, Roger embraces the whole downward-dog-savasana-namaste yoga scene.

Pali, full-time ferry captain and part-time poet, thinks his writing muse had departed. Not being able to write steeps him in moodiness. He contemplates giving up poetry so he can be a good husband, father, and captain, instead of a melancholy shadow in his own life.

Ten-year-old Ben, Pali and Nika’s son, has a secret he can’t share with adults because he knows they won’t understand. Ben has been taught that lying, breaking rules, and shirking one’s honor are wrong. But he’s facing circumstances that aren’t colored in black and white, so he bends his moral code.

What makes this book memorable?

Book Two is a second date that goes as well or better than an exciting first date. Riordan’s cast of memorable characters are back along with a few new ones, and their daily walks through the pages of life provide plenty of laughs, groans, gasps, and an occasional misty eye.

Riordan deftly portrays ten-year-old Ben’s coming-of-age dilemma. His predicament takes me back to my childhood and the struggle between the clarity youth and the murkiness of growing up. When Emily Martin, a new character, shows up on the page, I have fun rolling my eyes and thinking, “Oh, please, Emily, do you hear yourself?” right along with the Islanders.

The stakes for the characters in this book are small when compared to a thriller where the hero is striving to save the world, but Riordan’s use of structure and point of view create suspense around the ordinary, making The Audacity of Goats both a page turner and a meditation at the same time, all while making us smile and laugh.

What’s next?

I’ll read Book Three, Robert’s Rules of Order, followed by Book Four, A Small Earnest Question. I’m savoring these books, sipping them like a rare wine. When I finish them, I’ll miss Riordan’s captivating characters, finely woven stories, and lilting humor. However, I’m cheered because I recently learned that Book Five, Throwing Bears for George will be released on July 25, 2022.

Something Published: “Show and Tell to Remember”

My humorous essay “Show and Tell to Remember” won honorable mention for humor and will be published by the Bacopa Literary Review in September 2022. Other 2022 contest winners can be found at Bacopa Literary Review Editor’s Blog. The 2022 edition of the Bacopa Literary Review will be available in September 2022.

If you’re interested in entering next year’s contest to have a chance be published in the Bacopa Literary Review in 2023 and possibly win money click here to review the rules for the 2022 contest and bookmark the website. I believe the themes change each year. There was no submission fee. Bacopa Literary Review, an international print journal, is published by the Writers Alliance of Gainesville in Gainesville, Florida.

Update—Tree Guy Has It All Together Again

Tree Guy with his summer hairdo and refurbished nose

For those of you who may have missed the other Tree Guy posts, let me summarize: Tree Guy had a bit of a rough winter. In January he lost an eye during a snowstorm. When I found his eye and rehung it, I noticed his nose was gone. Through the rest of January, February, and March, I looked for Tree Guy’s nose, hoping to find it as the snow retreated, but fresh snow kept falling. Finally, at the end of March, my husband spotted the nose frozen in the snow. I tried to pick it up, but it was stuck in the snow’s frozen mantle. A few days later, with the precision of an archeologist, I dug it out. Good thing because it snowed the next day.

When I rescued Tree Guy’s nose, it needed a paint job. My husband took it to work, painted it gray, and rehung it in May. But the shade of gray blended in with the tree trunk. This bothered Tree Guy because he’s proud of his schnoz—he might lose it, but he never hides it. Of course, my husband understands Tree Guy because he’s the one who purchased Tree Guy and installed him on our maple tree. He has always watched over him. I’m the relative newcomer to the game of “How Is Tree Guy Doing Today?”

Tree Guy with the wrong paint job

I mentioned the too-dark-gray color to my husband, and he agreed. He already had plans to take the nose back to work and repaint it a lighter shade of gray. The second paint job is perfect, so there will be no fifty shades of gray noses.

It was a long, cold, snowy winter for Tree Guy. He worried about his eye then his nose. But he’s come through, and this spring he sported a new hairdo. He looks sassy with his asymmetrical patch of green, leafy hair. A tree expert told me that small shoots along a tree trunk, such as Tree Guy’s new hairdo, should be cut off. But I don’t have the heart. Tree Guy had a jittery winter. I get it. This winter I read about plagues, like tuberculosis, the Black Death, and syphilis. And I read Russian short stories, which are mostly bleak and fine companions to winter and stories about plagues. After reading the “The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol, I concocted a crazy theory that Kovalyov lost his nose because he had syphilis and that Gogol’s story was really about the syphilis epidemic before antibiotics, a time when some sufferers had their noses rot away. With each passing day of winter my crazy theory became more conceivable. I reread “The Nose” to see if I could make my theory work—I couldn’t. But I enjoyed the story even more the second time. I thought about researching my “The Nose”—syphilis theory online, but I didn’t want to get caught up in crazy nose-conspiracy theories.

Yes, Tree Guy has it all together again, and he’s sporting a new hairdo. And me, I ditched my theory about Gogol’s story “The Nose,” then I had two inches trimmed off my hair.

We’re enjoying summer while it’s here. After the Fourth, Tree Guy will get two flower-basket earrings, and I will go paddle boarding for the first time this season. (It was a cold, windy spring on the shores of Lake Superior.) Next winter Tree Guy will hope to keep his face intact, and I will read more Russian short stories.

[If you missed the earlier blogs: Tree GuyTree Guy UpdateTree Guy’s Nose Is Still MissingAnother Tree Guy Update, and Tree Guy’s Nose Is Safe.]

It’s Not Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, But . . .

On Sunday I made strawberry-rhubarb crisp. I’m not much into cooking these days because cooking causes dirty dishes. And I’m not into washing dishes. But I had three reasons for making the strawberry-rhubarb crisp.

One: Rhubarb is plentiful. If you have any growing in your garden, you know what I’m talking about. You ask people, “Say, could you use some rhubarb?” If they say no, you ask, “Are you sure? I’ve got plenty.” You bring bags of rhubarb stalks and set them on the lunch table in the breakroom or the coffee table in the church hall. I don’t grow rhubarb, but I never have to buy it in the grocery store (where I recently saw a tiny package of it for two dollars and change). I have connections. I know people desperate to share their abundance of rhubarb.

Two: I found a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb crisp in Southern Living that I could make in my Le Creuset Heritage Tart Tatin Dish. (I had no idea the dish had such a fancy name until I looked it up to get the name right.) I bought my Heritage Tart Tatin Dish because it was orange and sexy. These are, by the way, two good reasons to buy a kitchen implement. Another rule for buying a kitchen implement is that it should serve two purposes. (I’ve been known to break this rule, but only if the single-use implement will get lots of use, like my garlic press, lemon squeezer, or mango slicer.) Until last Sunday, I had only used the orange, sexy Heritage Tart Tatin a few times in the last ten years to make jalapeño corn bread. So, making the strawberry rhubarb crisp gave my dish dual-use status. It’s not just another pretty tart dish.

Three: My grandmother Olive made the best strawberry-rhubarb pie or any other kind of pie. I haven’t had a good piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie since I lived with her. I don’t bake pies. I cheat and make crisps because I don’t know how to make crusts. Grandma Olive made pie crusts from scratch, and they were as a pie crust should be–flakey, tender, and golden brown. She also knew her way around the fillings. She never made a pie with canned fruit filling. Baking a strawberry-rhubarb crisp was the closest I was going to get to Grandma Olive’s pie version.

The crisp turned out well. I served it with whipped cream or ice cream. The filling is equal parts strawberry and rhubarb, so it’s tart, even with the cup of added sugar. You have to like tart if you’re going to eat something made with rhubarb.

If you have your very own Le Creuset Heritage Tart Tatin Dish and you want to make the recipe from Southern Living, you’ll need to adjust the quantity of rhubarb and strawberries. I used three cups of each, instead of four because I was worried my tart dish wasn’t deep enough. (Please, no jokes about my shallow tart dish.) I didn’t reduce the amount of sugar or any other ingredient. Also, I didn’t have any chopped roasted salted Marcona almonds, so I used some chopped unsalted roasted almonds. That makes this a healthy recipe. (As long as we don’t mention the brown sugar in the oat topping and the cup of sugar mixed in with the fruit.)

Grandma Olive with my sister and me (in the foreground)

When I served the strawberry-rhubarb crisp, I thought of Grandma Olive. I miss her. She and Grandpa had a big garden with their own patch of rhubarb and strawberries. I wonder how much rhubarb they tried to foist off on friends.

I saved this recipe, and I’ll make it once a year in the early summer. I don’t want to strain my rhubarb supplier.