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.

Happy Birthday, Cabela!

Cabela, December 2020

Today is Cabela’s birthday. She’s 14 years old. In dog years that’s about 83—if I calculate it based on the new formula. When I was young, I would’ve multiplied her age by 7, and she would’ve been 98. But today Cabela’s age is calculated using new math. She likes that.

Her full name is Cabela Grace. She was named after Cabela’s, the outdoor and sporting goods store, because we bought her near the store. Once, when she was a puppy— and having the crazies—she ran into the wall instead of down the hall. I added Grace to her name. She has many nicknames: Snickerdoodle, Range Rover, Ichabod, Sneaky Pete, Kadiddlehopper, and Our Bell or Bell, but never Bella.

When my son comes to visit, she likes to have a silent moment with him. He puts his face near hers, and she looks at him intently. Sometimes my son speaks to her, and sometimes it’s just a wordless exchange. He was the one who picked her up out of a small pen and held her. She nuzzled under his chin. He asked us to take her home. So, we did because who can resist an eighteen-year-old boy who adores a chocolate standard poodle puppy. I believe Cabela remembers her first snuggle with him. I will argue with any animal psychologist who says this couldn’t be possible.

Cabela was born on a farm an hour west of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The couple who owned the farm raised dogs. Emmet raised Labradors, and Ruth raised standard poodles. They did not raise labradoodles. Hunters often bought Emmet’s Labradors. But sometimes a hunter bought one of Ruth’s poodles. Some hunters are smarter than others. Cabela would’ve made a good hunting dog. As a puppy she pointed at birds, had a soft mouth, and loved being outside in any kind of weather.

Ziva, Cabela’s half sister; same father, different mothers; December 2019

If Cabela were a literary character, she would be Bartleby the Scrivener. She’s stubborn and if she could speak, her catch phrase would be “I would prefer not to.” She prefers not to enter the vet’s examination room, but she does and she’s good and the vet loves her. She prefers not to stop eating her sister’s dog food, but she’ll stop if I take the dish away. She prefers not to move if she’s settled into a spot, but if I pick her up, she’ll go along with it.

The vet once told me that Cabela had the heart rate of an athlete. “That’s because she is an athlete,” I said. Cabela used to do hot laps around the house when she got excited about a dog, a car, or a delivery truck that passed by. She’d run like a greyhound, circling the house four or five times. Or she would approach our pine tree and launch herself six feet into the air along the tree’s trunk. When she played fetch, we had to lob the ball up into the air, so it would bounce off the ground because she liked to leap up and catch it in her mouth. But like all athletes, the laps became fewer and slower and the leaps up the side of the tree become shorter and shorter. And last summer my husband and I decided we had to toss the ball low to the ground. Her old hips have sidelined her. She likes her walks short and her naps long.

Cabela has a signature look. She’ll give us the puppiest puppy eyes, raising one eyebrow, then the other, alternating them up and down, slowly, melting our hearts. This is how she asks to go outside or for a walk or a ride or for supper or a treat.

She’s a daddy’s girl. She’s a loving girl. She kind to her sister, Ziva, and she loves our grandchildren. She’s a good dog. And that’s what we should all hope to be at our best.

Room to Write

[This essay was published on Brevity Blog, June 6, 2022.]

A couple of weeks ago, within twenty-four hours, both Stephen King and my mom told me I needed an office for writing. I decided if Mom and Mr. King agreed about something, I needed to listen.

My office space along the wall

Of course, Mr. King was talking to me from the pages of his book On Writing. He advised me (okay, he was talking to all writers) to have a space of my own with a door that closes. He wrote Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a trailer, but there was a door that closed. He never mentions if he ever threw a load of dirty clothes in the washer. I would have washed and dried clothes and written between the cycles.

Then Mom called. I felt too blue to just put a smile in my voice and chitchat about weather and family and the latest movie she had seen. Spurred on by Mr. King urging me to have an office with a door and frustrated by the traffic patterns in my writing space, I was weepy about not having a quiet place of my own to write.

My office space in the living room had worked if I was home alone, but my amygdala had begun to associate it with interruption and chaos. The living room is a thoroughfare from one side of the house to the other. When my husband is home, he likes to stop off and chat as he motors through. My grandkids also play in the living room three days a week. They inhabit the space with toys and voices and nonstop movement. While playing, they chatter with delight and argue with rancor, all of it mall-level noise. So, it didn’t matter if my husband and grandkids weren’t in the house when I tried to write because my brain would anticipate interruption and commotion anyway, leaving me frazzled. Logically, I understood why I was antsy, but it’s not easy to calm down a fired-up amygdala.

Mom suggested I turn the spare bedroom, tucked at the front side of the house, into an office with a pullout couch. “You can take a nap on the couch when you’re tired, and you can use it as a bed when the grandkids sleep over.” I wondered what Mr. King would say about napping in one’s writing office.

Sloth on a Shelf: I write faster than he does!

I rejected the pullout couch solution, but Mr. King’s and Mom’s advice started me thinking. Over the next several days, I wandered in and out of my two spare bedrooms with a tape measure, sizing up the dimensions of the rooms and the furniture, arriving at a solution. I swapped a desk and dresser and bought a bookcase. For the first few days, I would wander into my new space and stare at it with wonder and love, the way I looked at my children when they were newborns.

It’s not a whole office, but I like it that way. It’s a little cramped, but when I sit at my desk, it feels like a hug, and in a pinch, the bed right behind me serves as a table. Mr. King says a writing office should probably be humble, so my space measures up. I can shut the door, so I’m not interrupted. And when the grandkids visit, they aren’t allowed to play in my room.

My amygdala does yoga. I breathe and write.

Pearls from Nana

Dear Nana,

Nana Kitty, circa 1940

Remember how you always said, “The early bird gets the worm.” And I would answer back, “I don’t like worms” because I wanted to sleep until noon. I thought you’d like to know that now I rarely sleep past 6:00 a.m.

Remember how you always said, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” And I would answer back, “I don’t care” because I wanted to watch the late movie on TV. I thought you’d like to know that now I usually fall asleep before 10:00 p.m.

Remember how you always said, “You can win more flies with honey than vinegar” when I was spitting mad and wanted to tell someone off. And I would answer back, “Vinegar is what she deserves” because I desired payback. I thought you’d like to know that now I believe honey is a better tonic.

Remember how you always said, “Turn the other cheek.” And I would answer back, “If I do, someone will just slap the other one” because I was hurt and didn’t want to forgive. I thought you’d like to know that now I try to practice the other-cheek philosophy.

Remember how you always said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” You were a widow scrapping by on a waitress’s earnings. But I wanted things, so once I badgered you into buying me a troll doll and another time a delivery pizza that you couldn’t afford. I thought you’d like to know I’m sorry, and that fifty years later I still have the doll. And the pizza didn’t taste good that night because I regretted my behavior before it was delivered. Best of all, I became good at saving money. You’d be proud.

Remember how you always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That was good advice. And I thought you’d like to know that after years of practice, I’ve gotten better. I could be such a wiseass when I was a teenager.

Remember how you always said, “Never trust a man who doesn’t like animals.” I embraced that advice. Some of the men I dated weren’t the best, but they all loved animals. My husband loves dogs. We have two. And he is the best.

Remember how you always said, “Silence speaks volumes.” I didn’t understand what that meant, but I never asked you to explain because I wanted you to think I was smart. I thought you’d like to know that now I get it. But I also know you didn’t mean that I should always be silent because you spoke up when it mattered.

Remember how you always said, “Wear clean underwear every day in case you get in an accident.” I never answered back because it made sense. As I got older, I discovered that piece of wisdom was a great source of comedic mockery. But I thought you’d like to know that it’s still stellar advice. And I bet the mocking comedians change their underwear every day because their mother or nana told them to.

With love,

Your granddaughter who is wiser because you always took the time to say . . .

Excavating Tree Guy’s Nose

[If you missed the earlier blogs: Tree Guy, Tree Guy Update, Tree Guy’s Nose Is Still Missing, and Another Tree Guy Update.]

Pictures of snow in March look like bad abstract art.

This morning I went outside to retrieve Tree Guy’s schnoz. I tried to pick it up but discovered it was frozen into the icy snow. I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning, it was 9° with a 9-mph wind. And if that were a mathematical story problem, the answer would be a windchill of -4°. (Don’t ask how this would change if one train was leaving Grand Central Station at 9:00 a.m., traveling at 60 mph, and another train was leaving Union Station at 10 a.m., traveling at 55 mph. I didn’t care when I was in school, and I still don’t care.)

I didn’t try to muscle the nose out of the snow. Increased force is usually the wrong answer to most problems. I found a stick and scrapped snow away from the sides of the nose. I tried to lift it again, but it wouldn’t budge. The nose appeared to be intact, so I decided against digging underneath it because it might break. Impatience is usually the wrong option for most situations.

I hoped the space I created along the sides of the nose would allow the sun’s warm rays to melt the snow from under it. On Tuesday the temperature is supposed to reach 41°. If the icy snow hasn’t released the nose by that evening, I’ll cover it with a bucket because it’s supposed to snow on Wednesday and Thursday.

Tree Guy doesn’t want his nose to be buried again. At this point in his life, he doesn’t appreciate history repeating itself.

Another Tree Guy Update

Tree Guy

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

This evening my husband walked into the house from the back yard, tapped his finger on the side of his nose and said, “I saw the nose. I saw the nose.”

I wanted to ask, “You saw Kovalyov’s nose?” But I didn’t. My husband doesn’t read Russian short stories.

So I said, “What?”

He grinned, a very big grin. “I saw the nose.” He used his silly voice. “I saw the nose.” He kept tapping the side of his nose.

Because I reread Gogol’s “The Nose” a few days ago, I pictured a gigantic schnoz dressed in uniform. But I knew my husband didn’t see Kovalyov’s nose because you couldn’t pay him to read Russian short stories.

So again I said, “What?” because I still didn’t know what he was talking about.

“The tree’s nose,” he said. “I can see it in the snow now.”

The blob in the center is the back side of Tree Guy’s nose.

Turns out, I haven’t been the only one walking to the edge of our deck and looking over the side. I should’ve known. After all Tree Guy was my husband’s idea.

I couldn’t believe I thought about Kovalyov’s nose before thinking about Tree Guy’s nose. And I’d forgotten to look for it the last couple of days. I’ve been distracted, and it’s been cold.

But neither of us went outside to retrieve the nose this evening. The wind was whipping, the temperature was below freezing, and the windchill was a single digit. I was sitting on my couch with a wool scarf wrapped around my neck. Neither of us wanted to climb on the unstable snow pile. Two days ago our grandson climbed that pile and got his foot stuck. When he yanked his foot up, his boot stayed–buried six inches down. I rescued the boot by digging it out of the snow with my bare hands.

Tomorrow I’ll save Tree Guy’s nose because more cold and snow are predicted next week. March wants to go out like a lion.

My husband will give the nose a fresh coat of paint if needed. Then he’ll reattach it to Tree Guy’s face. Like it had never been missing.

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old

Last Monday when I took my nearly twenty-year-old sewing machine to be tuned and cleaned, I looked at a new machine that was the same brand but a step and a half up from the one I own. I’m not sure I would’ve considered buying a newer model if there hadn’t been a pandemic.

The finished quilt top: I will machine quilt it and bind it, then give it to my sister-in-law. My next project will be another T-shirt quilt.

When the lockdowns happened in the spring of 2020, being able to quilt kept me sane. I was home alone during the week because my husband worked in a business that was deemed essential, and I couldn’t see my children and grandchildren because we all stayed in our own bubbles. With all the death and uncertainty, dicing up fabric and sewing it back together was familiar and calmed my nerves. I could quilt without leaving the house because I have a sizable stash of fabric. I made a T-shirt quilt, two lap quilts, and two wall hangings and gave them to family and friends. I made a throw pillow and gave it to my dogs for their stuffed chair. I wanted a second machine because if there’s another lockdown, and something happens to one of them, I would be able to keep quilting.

The new model had features that would make machine quilting and appliquéing easier, helping me expand my quilting skills. But I wanted to sleep on it, so I left my old machine for a tune up and postponed buying the new one. Long ago, I made a rule for myself: All big purchases could only be made after I slept on it for a night. Over the years there were many purchases I never made but very few regrets about the ones I did make.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I was still enthusiastic about the new machine, so after lunch I went back to the store and bought it. When I returned home, I unboxed it and put it on my antique dining room table, which I use for sewing. (Don’t shudder. The table isn’t dainty.) The new machine looked especially modern and sleek on the old oak surface. It stood among a cutting mat, rulers, a rotary cutter, and fabric, becoming a part of the quilting landscape. I turned my back on it and did some writing, cleaning, and cooking. I stayed out of the dining room and away from the new machine. My old one sat in a shop, waiting in a queue for service, unaware it had been replaced. Regret seeped into my psyche. My old machine and I had pieced many quilts together: quilts for family and friends; quilts to welcome new babies into the world. By suppertime I stood in the kitchen and cried, wishing I had waited two nights instead of one.

Would I actually do more machine quilting or appliquéing just because I bought a new sewing machine? For the rest of the evening, I left it untouched. I kept picturing my old one sitting on the technician’s workbench. When it came home, I’d have to store it in a closet instead of returning it to the oak table because I knew it would become the spare.

On Wednesday I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and thought about the new machine with deepening regret. I decided to hide it in a dark corner of the closet and shut the door. An absurd idea. So, I set a goal for Wednesday: make friends with the new machine by making a quilt. I have a closet full of fabric and quilt kits that I’ve purchased over the years since I started quilting in 1994. I never had a sleep-on-it rule for buying fabric.

I selected a package of precut strips because I had a simple pattern for a Jelly Roll Race Quilt that would allow me to use all the strips to create a quilt that was quick and easy. (At the speed I sew, I should call it a Jelly Roll Stroll Quilt.)

I sewed a test strip with two short scraps. The new machine sewed a perfect quarter-inch seam. An essential feature. Then I sewed my strips together making one long strip. The new machine has a bigger work surface, making it easier to sew fabric together. A solid improvement. The redesigned quarter-inch foot did a better job of keeping the fabric in place as it passed through the feed dogs, so I didn’t have to keep repositioning it. A welcome timesaver.

Best of all, the new machine sounds like my old one because underneath its modern, sleek exterior, it has the same motor and frame as the old one, which I’d used for almost twenty years. Hopefully, I can use the new one just as long. I’ve got a lot of fabric in the closet.

The first quilt off the new machine will be a gift for my sister-in-law. The package of precut strips was originally purchased by her sister Jen who passed away from cancer in 2018 before she could sew them into a quilt. Jen gave me the strips before she died because she knew I liked to quilt. I’m piecing together the gift from Jen as a gift to her sister, connecting the past to the future while listening to the old familiar rhythm coming from the inside of the new sewing machine.

My new machine and I are going to be friends. But I will keep my old one. Perhaps each one of my grandchildren would like to sew a quilt, and my old machine will make new friends. I know where they can find some fabric.

[To find the instructions for making a Jelly Roll Race Quilt, click here. To read about one of my pandemic quilts, click here.]

I’m Thinking

The Thinker

“Nana, be careful. You almost stepped on me,” Charlie, my three-year-old grandson, said.

“I’m trying not to, but you’re walking willy-nilly around the kitchen while I’m cooking breakfast.”

“No, I’m not,” he said. “I’m thinking.”

I stopped to watch as he paced the length of the kitchen and back. The top half of his little body leaned forward, his eyes focused on the floor, and his hands pushed against the sides of his hips. Damn. He was indeed thinking. I didn’t ask him for his thoughts. He kept pacing, and I kept making breakfast.

The next day we were back in the kitchen. I walked past Charlie and he started to twirl around. I did that as a child, spinning and spinning until I could barely stand. During one of his rotations, he smacked his hand on the chair.

“Watch where you’re going,” he said, rubbing his hand.

My three-year-old grandson often mimics phrases he has picked up from adults or his older siblings. I love it when he quips, “That’s not how my day goes” after I ask him a question or make a request. At his age it’s funny, but in a few years, he’ll be accused of being a smart aleck when he imitates adults.

“I didn’t bump your hand. You hit it on the chair while you were spinning around.”

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I was thinking.”

I wanted to tell him he needs to pay attention while he’s thinking. I didn’t because I would be standing on the San Andreas Fault as I said it. This past week I’ve come close to putting peanut butter in the fridge, dirty dishtowels in the recycling bin, and regular milk in my other grandson’s cereal. He’s lactose intolerant. If someone had asked me “What ARE you doing?”  My only defense would’ve been—“I’m thinking!”

My problem? I spend a lot of time thinking about writing while I’m doing mundane activities. It’s worse when I’m working on a specific story or essay. I’m surprised that the kitchen scissors don’t end up in the toothbrush holder and my toothbrush doesn’t end up in the junk drawer.

Cabela has many talents, but she’s not good at babysitting me.

At the end of January, I had a seismic-thinking episode. I was sitting at my computer writing a story but had to stop because Cabela, my senior dog, needed to see the vet for a shot. It was a subzero day with lots of windchill, so I went outside, unplugged the extension cord from the outside outlet, then started the van. Because it’s tough to unplug the cord from the tank heater cord, I decided I’d do that just before I left.

Five minutes later I was ready to go. I noted the extension cord was still plugged into the tank heater. I planned to unplug it, but first I loaded both dogs in the van and placed my purse on the front seat. Then I got in the driver’s seat and drove off. I was writing in my head. My hands might have left the keyboard, but my brain was still at the computer.

Cabela was a good patient. We were soon back home, and I was writing again. A few hours later, I took out the garbage and noticed only one cord on the driveway. Someone had pilfered one of our extension cords. But that was ridiculous, why not take both of them. Maybe an unselfish thief? Couldn’t be. Perhaps my husband had driven off with the cord plugged into his tank heater. I doubted it. He’s not a writer, so he’s never thinking about a story. I must have driven off with the missing cord hanging from my van. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t remember having unplugged it from the tank heater. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was my mistake.

My husband was going to think I was crazy. He was going to ask, “How can you not unplug the extension cord?” It would be a rhetorical question because he knows I’m capable of such things. He was going to be upset about his missing extension cord. But he was going to be more freaked out about me being okay. I was freaked out about being okay—I’m at that age.

My only excuse would’ve been “I was thinking.” His retort would’ve been “Yeah, but not about what you were doing.”

It had been hours since I’d been to the vets. But I got in the van and went to look for the cord. I drove less than eighty feet. Curled up at the corner of our lot, where the street intersects with the avenue, was our yellow extension cord sunning itself.

I stopped the van and retrieved it. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I gave thanks for the kind person who had picked up the cord, coiled it, and set it on the corner. Then I hoped it wasn’t one of our neighbors who would ask my husband, “Was that your extension cord in the road the other day?”

I wasn’t going to tell my husband. But I called a friend and confessed because I needed to tell someone.

To myself I vowed to always unplug both ends of the extension cord before starting the van. Promising myself to stop composing stories in my head while doing routine stuff would be futile.

No one has mentioned the cord to me or my husband. I haven’t mentioned it to my husband, and he doesn’t read my blog. And if he somehow gets wind of this story, I’m going to say, “I was thinking. Charlie gets it.”

Litter Critters Redux

Reading the new Little Critter books

My mother carried the first Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer into our house. She loved Mayer’s stories and drawings, and she thought Just Go to Bed was hysterical. By the time my second son was four years old, we had eighteen Little Critter books.

Last week my grandson Evan, five, discovered Little Critter books are filled with humorous illustrations. After looking at the pictures in one of the books, he handed it to me and said, “Can you read this to me? It’s funny.”

While I read the book, Evan discovered irony. He laughed at the words Little Critter said and pointed out that Critter’s words didn’t match what he was doing in the pictures. “These are really funny books,” he said. I admired his ability to grasp the gap between what was being said and what was happening. So much of life is like that, and it’s not always amusing.

Evan enjoyed the books even more when I told him that most of them had belonged to his dad when he was a little boy, and a few of them had belonged to his uncle. Now, before I can read one of the stories to him, he asks who the book belonged to, his dad or his uncle. Most of the books have an inscription with a name and date on the inside cover. But some don’t, and it makes me sad that I forgot to inscribe on them.

After reading all eighteen Little Critter books to my grandsons in a marathon session, Evan asked if more books had been written. We did some research, and bought Just Fishing with Grandma (2003), Just a Little Music (2010), What a Bad Dream (1992), and Grandma, Grandpa, and Me (2007).

Minutes after the mail carrier delivered the books, my grandsons each grabbed two and scampered up on the couch. Evan looked at each book, silently studying each page. Charlie looked at each book, voicing his own dialogue for each picture.

I thought about my boys when they were young and how they loved new books. I remembered reading to each of them every night before went to bed.

After my grandsons finished previewing the new books, I read to them. Evan pointed out Little Critter’s small ironies. Charlie looked at one of the other books, while I read. He always feels the need to “read” a different book while I’m reading to him.

When I finished reading the books, I inscribed their names and February 2022 on the inside of each cover.