Minion Saves Halloween

My four grandkids come trick-or-treating this evening with their parents. A grim reaper, a Pikachu, a hamburger with the works, and a firefighter.

And then I hear a small doctor (or maybe he’s a nurse) who’s about five years old.

“Trick-or-treat,” says the wee medical professional dressed in blue scrubs, pinned with a name badge. He smiles and looks at me with anticipation, holding out a small white bucket. His mother is standing with my daughter-in-law.

“I don’t have any candy,” I say. I didn’t buy any because I decided not to pass out candy. What I have in the house are four plastic zip bags with small toys, fancy pens and pencils, and lip balm for my grandkids.

The wee medical guy repeats, “Trick-or-treat” because surely the lady who just told him she doesn’t have any candy is confused. It’s Halloween. There must be candy.

I go inside and grab the four bags of goodies for my grandkids. As I slip the goodies in their trick-or-treat bags, I keep apologizing for not having something for the wee lad in blue scrubs. His mother says that it’s okay and explains to him that the lady didn’t know he was coming.

The little boy’s cheeks quiver, the corners of his mouth tilt down, and tears fill his eyes.

I’m so sorry, I say again. It’s okay, the mom repeats.

But it’s not okay. He’s a little boy, maybe five. He doesn’t understand. It’s not okay that he’s left out. And he’s too young to understand that some lady doesn’t have candy or something for him. He has done his part. He is dressed up. He has said, Trick-or-treat. He has watched four other kids get a treat, but he is getting the trick.

I think about finding something for him. I think about my purse. I have things in my purse. It’s like Mary Poppins’s bag. But there is nothing fun in my purse for the little medical guy.

Because we’re all standing in my driveway, I think about my van. Bingo. I have toys in my van.

“Wait a sec,” I say. I open the sliding door and look at several small toys. I grab a Minion because when you wind it up and push down on its curl of hair, it vibrates. Perfect because the wee fellow in blue scrubs deserves something fun, something interactive, something to evaporate his tears before they slide down his cheeks.

I hold it in front of him and demonstrate how to make the Minion vibrate. I place the pulsating toy in his hands, and his face lights up, like I’ve just handed him a beautiful beating heart.

I back up several feet and tell my grandkids and little medical dude to line up so I can take their picture. This Halloween my annual picture will have five children in it. I want that sweet little boy to feel welcome, not left out, so I only take pictures of all the children together.

Later I look at the pictures. My four grandkids are smiling at the camera. But little medical guy? In every picture, he is holding the Minion cupped in his hands, smiling at it like it’s a newborn he just helped deliver. It’s Halloween, it’s a time of pretending, it’s sweet spooky magic.

I’m glad I keep stuff stashed in my van. Medical dude doesn’t know it, but when I look at the picture of him looking at his Minion treat, and I see his smile, it’s clear that he gave me the better treat.

Book Review: Meander North by Marie Zhuikov

[Meander North can be preordered through Itasca Books. It’s currently available at Zenith Bookstore, and will be available in other bookstores November 21.]

Marie Zhuikov’s newest book, Meander North, is a collection of essays, many from her blog Marie’s Meanderings, which she started writing in 2013. I look forward to each new post by Zhuikov, so when I had a chance to read Meander North, I was excited. Zhuikov selected some of her favorite blogs, then added essays, some of which have appeared in other publications.

Many of Zhuikov’s selections are about getting outdoors and enjoying nature. In her humorous essay “How X-C Ski Starvation Can Lead to Impaired Judgment,” she writes about one of her first cross-country skiing adventures of the season: “I . . . desperately needed to do something to break out of my winter slothfulness and raise my heart rate above seventy beats per minute.” Even though a mist turns into raindrops, Zhuikov slips on her skis and heads out on the icy trails. With caution and strategic moves, she completes her first cross-country ski of the season, and while she does, we hold our breath, admire her tenacity, and think about some of our own foolish escapades.

Zhuikov’s essays about her adventures are so enjoyable because they’re relatable. Her love of the outdoors and her ability to maneuver through nature shines through in her writing. But she is with us, inviting us along, never making us feel left behind. She makes us believe we can get out in nature and be adventurous too. That we can lower ourselves into a canoe or a whitewater raft, or that we can stand along a river and learn to fly fish.

Zhuikov’s essays connect with us because she is not afraid to let us peek at the moments when her life doesn’t go smoothly. Sometimes the outcomes are humorous, like in her story “Just Your Average Winter’s Day Walk and Squirrel Attack” about a walk with her wonderful eighty-pound dog, Buddy, that turns into a comedy of misadventures. Other times the outcomes are poignant, like in “An Evening Dog Walk” about a romance that didn’t work out. Occasionally, she shares heartbreak, like in “The Lake, It Is Said, Never Gives Up Her Dead.”

Zhuikov rounds out her collection of nature essays with an eclectic selection of entertaining and informative writings that cover a wide range of topics. Some cover Zhuikov’s adventures as a citizen of Duluth, such as, “Marie Versus the Post Office” and “My Neighborhood Rezoning Zombie Apocalypse Saga.” Other heart-warming essays like “I Saw Three Ships on Christmas Day” or “Kissing in the Coat Room in First Grade” are about her family or youth. She wraps up her book with a section titled Bookish Adventures where we get a taste of Zhuikov’s life as a writer and a reader, and where she introduces us to the wonderful poet Louis Jenkins.

Winter is coming so grab a copy of Marie Zhuikov’s Meander North, curl up in a cozy chair with a glass or mug filled with your favorite beverage, and start by reading “Cold as a Cage,” the first essay in her collection. And for those of you who live through winter every year, nod in agreement and laugh hopelessly as you read: “The cold defines our movements. Northern Minnesotans walk with shoulders hunched and hands in pockets, limiting our time outside to the bare minimum for the task at hand.” But know that you are a survivor because you are inside where it’s warm, ready to smile and laugh and shed a few tears as you join Zhuikov on her meanders through life.

[Follow Marie Zhuikov’s blog at Marie’s Meanderings. Check out her author’s page and learn about her other books and writing. Attend the Meander North book launch at Zenith Bookstore on Thursday, November 17, 2022, at 7:00 pm CST. Preorder Meander North at Itasca Books.]

Field Research on the Pandemic

There’s talk. Is the pandemic over? Are we still in the midst of the pandemic? Will COVID surge this winter? What about the rumors of a butter shortage?

I could do some research on the CDC website. Or the World Health Organization website. I could interview Dr. Anthony Fauci at the NIH. Or Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Instead my six-year-old grandson and I did some field research in a bathroom at a Cold Stone Creamery. Of course, we ate ice cream first–protocol, you know.

We spotted this toilet paper roll in the bathroom. My grandson asked why it wasn’t inside the holder. (He also asked why I was talking a picture of toilet paper.) I asked why it wasn’t locked up inside the holder.

During the beginning of the pandemic (a.k.a. The Great TP Shortage), this unsecured toilet paper might have been purloined. Don’t let the size of this roll make you think it would’ve been too big to steal. Sure, a person couldn’t slide it into a pocket. But it would fit in my purse, and there are women who carry bigger purses than me. Some people carry backpacks.

Our scientific research findings: The confidence displayed by the people who didn’t steal this roll indicates they believe The Great TP Shortage is over.

Later that afternoon my grandson took me to get the new multivariant COVID shot. On Sunday, I bought one pound of salted butter and one pound of unsalted butter. Now, it’s wait and see.

Sloth and Me

It’s International Sloth Day, so I thought I’d say a few words about my writing buddy, Sloth. Yes, I named him Sloth. I borrowed the idea from my granddaughter who named her stuffies sensibly: Puppy, Teddy, Foxy, and Spidey, a stuffed spider I bought her when she was fascinated by spiders.

I bought Sloth in a small gift shop. When I met him, I fell for his smile, an adorable sweet grin that said, “Gee you’re wonderful, I’ll always be your friend.” He cost more than a sensible, mature person like me wanted to spend on a stuffed toy, but I bought him and tucked him in my purse, like I was Paris Hilton and Sloth was Tinkerbell the Chihuahua.

Sloth took up residence on my writing desk, sitting astride my electric pencil sharpener. After I moved my writing office from the living room into a spare bedroom, Sloth decided to sit on the bookshelf.

I used to joke I kept Sloth nearby when I wrote to remind myself there was someone even slower than me. Rather cheeky of me, still I pictured Sloth typing three words per minute. But recently my writing process from a rough draft to a finished piece is so slow that I make Sloth seem like a jaguar pouncing through the forests of South America.

Perhaps, I began to think, Sloth was mocking me with his sublime smile. That he always knew he was faster than me. That if he could get his three toes on my keyboard, he’d clack out prose at speeds much faster than me.

Then I looked at his smiling face again. Sloth doesn’t mock. He understands slow. He understands pacing. He understands conservation of energy. Sloth has his own international day, hoping to bring awareness to deforestation and loss of habitation for sloths.

Writers have an international day, too, on March 3. Sloth thinks I can finish writing something by then, especially if it’s flash. Cheeky fellow.

Campy Halloween Skeletons Settle in Harbor Springs, Michigan

Bogey

Bogey, my mother’s dog, loves Lake Michigan, so this afternoon I took him to Harbor Springs, a small summer town snuggled up along the eastern shore of the lake. It’s Bogey’s favorite place to walk. He knows when he is going to Harbor. The only place he loves more is a pet store, where he tries to shoplift anything he can fit into his mouth.

First, we stopped at his favorite clothing store. He got lots of hugs from a woman who works there, but she was out of dog treats. He kept holding up his paw and pleading, but only received another hug and another apology. He was clearly disappointed, reminding me of a little boy who tells his great-aunt, “But I wanted a toy train, not fuzzy footie pajamas.”

After we left the store, Bogey enjoyed his water-view walk. He sniffed the grass, did his business, and watched a pair of ducks swim along a beach. Dogs get over disappointment quickly.

My favorite! The headstone reads: RIP Summer 2022

Next, we headed back to Main Street, where I noticed boney visitors who’d stopped by Harbor Springs dressed for Halloween. Bogey had to wait for me while I walked up and down the sidewalks and photographed twenty-seven snappily-dressed skeletons. I know I didn’t get pictures of all the skeletons, but I had fun trying to find as many as I could. Excitement lurked on every block and around every corner. Costumed skeletons have become a Harbor Springs Halloween tradition. And this year there are seventy-five skeletons creaking about.

Tonight the wind howls off Lake Michigan, and it’s raining in spurts. In the hours before dawn, snow is expected before turning back to rain. The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory. And I wonder how the skeletons will stay warm in all this weather–they don’t have any meat on their bones.

Infinity of Joy

Coming back from a trip to the library, July 2022

“Nana, you have an infinity of dishes,” says Evan, who is nearly six; who tosses words into the air and pairs them with unlikely partners; who strings together metaphors like a bohemian necklace; who loves puns, making up his own then laughing and asking—Do you get it?

A punster, a mixer of words, a stringer of metaphor, he should be a writer, and I tell him so. He answers, “But I can’t write any words.” I remind him he’s starting school, he will learn.

For a moment the infinity of dishes that tracks through my kitchen from cupboard to table to counter, waiting to be stacked in the dishwasher or hand washed, depending on their taxonomy, gives me pleasure because Evan’s linguistic artistry gives me pleasure.

Book Review: Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah

Why did I read this book?

While returning home from running errands, I listened to only ten minutes of Kerri Miller’s fifty-minute interview with Oscar Hokeah on Minnesota Public Radio, but that was long enough to be intrigued by Hokeah and his novel Calling for a Blanket Dance. When I arrived home, I ordered the book from my library through the inter-library loan program. Because a library book has a “use by date,” Hokeah’s novel landed on the pinnacle of my reading pile; and its rising to the top–like delicious cream–was richly deserved.

What is this book about?

The story focuses on Ever Geimausaddle, who is Native American and Mexican. Each chapter in the book is narrated by one of his relatives, and the last chapter is narrated by Ever. Through these family members, we watch Ever struggle as a child and an adult, and we learn about his extended family and their place in his life.

In the first chapter, Ever’s grandmother Lena Stoop introduces us to him when he is six months old. Ever and his parents, Everardo and Turtle, are returning to the United States from Mexico when they are stopped by three Mexican policemen who severely beat his father and rob his parents. Throughout the attack, Ever’s mother tries to keep him from waking. She doesn’t want him to witness the violence, but he wakes up and sees the brutality and rage.

Lena travels to a border town in Texas to pick up her daughter, son-in-law, and Ever, returning them to Oklahoma. Lena tells her daughter that she is concerned about what Ever saw. Even though he won’t remember the episode, their Native American culture teaches that babies and young children shouldn’t be exposed to violence: “They could be witched. Their spirit forever altered. A witching was almost incurable.” Lena’s daughter snaps at her mother, calling her superstitious, but then she falls silent because she, too, is worried about what her baby boy saw.

Ever’s father suffers permanent physical and emotional damage from the beating, but Ever’s mother, with the help of relatives, strives to keep her family intact. However, the memory of violence that Ever’s family experienced can’t seem to be conquered or at least forced to retreat.

What makes this book memorable?

Every time I had to put Hokeah’s novel down, I looked forward to the moment I could pick it up again. Through his masterful prose and skillful use of twelve different narrators, the reader comes to understand Ever and his family: their pain and disappointments, their hopes and dreams, their failures and successes, and their capacity for love and forgiveness.

Hokeah incorporates themes of poverty, inter-generational trauma, discrimination, marginalization, and redemption throughout the story the way an artist uses exquisite but understated brush strokes to make a painting come alive–strokes so subtle, yet so integral to the work of art, that without them, the picture would be flat and lifeless. Hokeah’s landscape of story, theme, and narration make Calling for a Blanket Dance a richly constructed novel, drawing readers in and holding them until the last page.

Walking in the Wind with the Dogs

The view as we started our morning walk

Yesterday, Ziva, Bogey, and I went for our first walk at 8:00 a.m., our second walk at 1:30 p.m., and our last walk at 4:30. We let the 20-mph winds off Lake Michigan push us down the road, until we had to turn around, then we leaned into the wind and pretended we were walking to school, uphill, in a snowstorm, for five miles. A bit histrionic but fun.

Ziva’s and Bogey’s ears flapped and fluttered in the wind, but my ears were tucked under my stocking cap. I liked stocking caps when I was a girl who played in the snow, but when I turned thirteen, I wouldn’t wear a hat in winter, no matter how cold it was. I wasn’t going to mess up my hair. Instead, I arranged my long, not-so-thick hair over my ears, trying to keep them warm.

Now I have four favorite knit stocking caps, and when it’s cold, I wear one. I even have a knit hat with earflaps that ties under my chin. I’m not letting my head or ears freeze. My nana always told me, “Keep your head and your feet warm, and the rest of you will follow.” I think about her when I put on a stocking cap and a pair of wool socks. Nana repeated her “warm head, warm feet” advice to me a lot when I was a foolish, hatless teenager, dashing through cold winter days.

One of my granddaughter’s leaf creations, October 2020

Yesterday’s picture theme: autumn-colored leaves. I took oodles of photos of newly fallen leaves because I could see that each one was unique, deserving to be photographed. If my granddaughter had been with me, she would’ve collected the leaves, oohing over each one, handing them to me to hold as she collected more to use in art projects.

Around 9:00 p.m., I took the dogs out in the yard for their last potty break of the day. The swirling wind whipped up a smorgasbord of scents, stirring something primal in Ziva and Bogey. They sniffed the air and the ground, weaving in and out of bushes, looking for little critters. Under the full moon, they chased each other, zooming in circles, like a couple of young pups with the crazies. Autumn makes me feel that way too.

Overlooking Lake Michigan on our morning walk
Moonlight in Michigan
(The sky around the moon was much darker, but this is how my phone camera interpreted the light.)

An Early Morning Walk with Ziva and Bogey

The morning rainbow

When I walked Ziva and Bogey this morning shortly after sunrise, the sky was a jumble of dark clouds and bright blue patches. The sun illuminated gold, orange, and red leaves, giving the impression they were lit from within. Of course, the dogs had to wait while I snapped pictures, and I never tire of taking pictures of trees dressed in fashionable autumn colors. When the dogs became impatient, I reminded them that I spend lots of time waiting for them while they smell blades of grass, tree trunks, and mailbox posts.

Finally, we turned down another road, and I spotted part of a rainbow. Out came my camera phone, again. As I alternated between walking and taking pictures, the rainbow became an arch, one end appearing to dip into Lake Michigan and the other end appearing to stand in a field about a half-mile away, giving the impression that if the dogs and I set off across the field, we would find the end of the rainbow with a leprechaun and a pot of gold.

As a child, I knew about leprechauns who guarded their gold at the end of the rainbow from people who tried to steal it. My sisters and I fantasized about finding the rainbow’s end and the leprechaun with his riches, but we knew it was a folktale.

If the tale had been true, I’d have picked the leprechaun over the gold, which I knew meant wealth, but only in the way a six- or seven-year-old understands wealth. Besides, I lived in a comfortable home with plenty of food in the cupboard. But a leprechaun was a magical two-foot-high man with orange hair, dressed in green, smoking a pipe, and speaking with an Irish brogue. According to folklore, if we would’ve caught a leprechaun, he would’ve granted us three wishes in exchange for his freedom.

This morning while walking on the country road, watching the rainbow form a half circle through the sky, I wished that the fields and trees in this enchanted place would stop disappearing. In the eight years I have been visiting my mom, ten new homes have been built, and each one stands on an acre of land. Each new house means a loss of trees and fields. A loss of habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and small critters that I don’t see, but the hawks who perch in the trees are evidence of their existence.

Today, looking at the rainbow arching over the still undeveloped fields, I don’t wish for gold or to meet a magical leprechaun protecting his stash. I imagine a leprechaun at the end of today’s rainbow protecting a field, keeping it safe for insects, birds, and small critters, and I wish that each homeowner in this neighborhood would leave a strip of field along their lot lines.

An Autumn Stroll with Ziva and Bogey

Ziva (my dog) and Bogey (my mom’s dog)

Crisp autumn days are my favorite time to walk my dogs. I watch the shifting scenes of autumn: trees turning shades of red, orange, and yellow; leaves dropping gently to the ground—then days of high melodrama when howling winds and heavy rains come to rip the once-vibrant leaves from their stems, stripping the trees bare.

As the rich autumn shades—all warm hues on the color wheel—replace the cool hues of green, autumn wraps me in nostalgia, carrying me back in time to my youth. I’m warmed by memories of raking leaves into circular paths resembling the yellow brick road; of walking through the woods with oak, hickory, and maple trees awash in fall colors; of gathering acorns and hickory nuts while a blanket of dried leaves crunched under my feet.

I’ve been in Petoskey, Michigan, since Tuesday, and I’ve been walking Ziva, my dog who came with me, and Bogey, my mother’s dog. Petoskey, nestled on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, is beautiful anytime of the year, but October is my favorite time to visit. The weather, scenery, and vegetation are a blend of southeast Wisconsin, where I grew up, and northwest Wisconsin, where I live by Lake Superior. Coming here is like returning to the fields and woods of my youth, while almost feeling like I haven’t left home because Lake Michigan keeps me from missing Lake Superior.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, sunshine, warm breezes, and fall colors filled the days, and the dogs, my sister, and I walked the country roads in my mother’s neighborhood. My sister went home yesterday, but I’m still here with my mom and the dogs. Today, the rain and wind arrived, pulling autumn-colored leaves from the trees. The dogs and I still walked, but we timed our strolls between shifts of rain. Bogey has a raincoat, but Ziva would rather get wet than wear one. I could’ve carried an umbrella, but the strong winds would have turned it inside out.

On our second walk of the day, I had the dogs pose by a vignette of pumpkins, squash, mums, and hay bales arranged by one of my mom’s neighbors. I’m going to have a 5 x 7-inch photo made and frame it, a reminder of a gray but lovely autumn day when two big-hearted dogs kindly let me take their picture on a blustery day.