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.]

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.

The Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato, Minnesota, 2022

A Delicate Balancing Act by Kimber Fiebiger; downtown Mankato; made me think about the writer’s life

The Deep Valley Book Festival is set in Mankato, Minnesota, a charming town tucked in by rolling tree-covered hills and edged by the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers. This is the first book festival I’ve ever attended. My daughter-in-law and I drove down on Friday afternoon, a warm sunny day that premiered some stunning fall colors.

After we checked into the River Hills Hotel–a cozy and clean establishment with a friendly clerk–we headed to downtown Mankato for a walk then dinner. It was quiet for a Friday night, but I imagine if the Mankato Mavericks had been playing, the streets would’ve been skating with hockey fans. We had a good meal at the Pub 500. Our waitress was friendly and efficient. She carded my daughter-in-law, but she didn’t card me! Of course, that’s probably because I didn’t order a drink; otherwise, I’m sure she would have. I had a delicious fish taco.

We were back at the hotel by eight o’clock, doing what book festival attendees should be doing on Friday night–reading books. I read “The Victim,” a short story by P. D. James, recommended by my daughter-in-law. It was an engaging murder story. I handed my daughter-in-law a copy of the Wisconsin Writers Association Anthology 2022: Jade Ring and Youth Writing Contest and suggested she read the first-place fiction story “Notes to the New Facilitator of the Reminiscence Writing Group at Sunnyvale Retirement Community” (p. 22) by Nancy Jesse and the first-place nonfiction essay “Mormon Girl Hair and the Styrofoam Harem” (p. 6) by Adrianna McCollum. Both of these pieces of writing are top-notch, engaging, and excellently crafted, deserving of their first-place wins, and my daughter-in-law agreed.

After that we went to bed, each of us reading a book we had brought with us. I read Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah, a wonderful novel that I’ve loved reading. You can listen to an interview with Oscar Hokeah on Minnesota Public Radio’s Talking Volumes.

On Saturday morning we arrived at the book festival just before nine o’clock, and we planned to stay until it ended at 4:30. We were motivated by the hourly drawings for books and the opportunity to hear author Curtis Sittenfeld talk about her writing.

We made sure we stopped at all the tables, sometimes briefly, other times lingering to listen to writers speak about their books, which included children’s and YA literature, fantasy, mystery, thriller, romance, historical fiction, memoir, nonfiction, and poetry.

A book festival is filled with writers, but they are there to sell their books. There are no writing classes. The local library had a table, and Content, a bookstore from Northfield, Minnesota, also had a table. I noticed two publishers who were selling books by authors they represented. I asked one publisher if they were a traditional publishing house–they weren’t. The representative of the company said they like an author to put up fifty percent of the cost of publishing his or her book. I didn’t ask the other publisher about their business model.

Authors work hard at a book festival. They sit or stand for hours and talk about their books to people who look, smile, and listen, but often leave without buying a book. I bought two children’s books, two novels, and a nonfiction book. My daughter-in-law bought some books too. We plan to exchange our books with each other.

We finished touring the festival around noon. We sat and each of us started reading a book we had purchased. I read Facets of Death by Michael Stanley, a fast-paced Detective Kubu story that captured my attention, a good thing because I won another Detective Kubu story, A Carrion Death in a drawing being held by the author. My daughter-in-law read Bingo Barge Murder by Jessie Chandler, which she enjoyed, saying it was humorous.

When reading made us hungry, we left to have lunch at Applebee’s, then went for a walk. But we soon returned to the book festival to check the small white board to see if we had won any books–we hadn’t.

The book festival was held at the WOW! Zone, an interesting place for a book festival. The WOW! Zone has a bowling alley, a game arcade, and food. It was noisy, but fortunately, most of the booksellers were tucked into the restaurant that had been converted into a makeshift venue, and so the noise wasn’t too bad. We wanted to read more because we had almost two hours to pass before Curtis Sittenfeld’s talk. Seating in the WOW! Zone was limited, so we ended up at a table in the bowling ally and read to the rumble of rolling bowling balls and clattering pins. But when I’m reading a good book, background noise fades away.

By three o’clock, I was tired and we had a four-hour drive home. But I had heard Curtis Sittenfeld speak on a Zoom talk and enjoyed listening to her, so I didn’t think about cutting out early. Sittenfeld began by saying that she has done hundreds of talks all over the country, but this was her first time giving a book talk in an arcade. The audience laughed with her because we understood. Most of us had spent the whole day or part of the day at a book festival held in an arcade. Sittenfeld was kind, charming, informative, and entertaining. The hour flew by.

With our bags of books, my daughter-in-law and I headed home. We had new reading material, and we were ready for the upcoming winter.

Books I bought:

Facets of Death by Michael Stanley because after reading a paragraph, I liked the writing, so I took a chance that the story would also be good.

Tuckerbean in the Kitchen by Jill Kalz because the book festival was the same day as my grandson’s birthday. He turned six, and I think a story about dogs cooking will appeal to him. Plus the illustrations by Benton Mahan are adorable.

Temple Times: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing, Medusa Tells All by Rebecca Fjelland Davis because my granddaughter likes stories about strong girls and women. And because a friend recently told me that Medusa has received a bad rap, and this story helps set the record straight.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld because she was there, and I wanted to have a book for her to sign. And because I’ve read American Wife by her and liked it, AND because Eligible is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which I love and have read three times. Plus I’ve seen three different movie versions of Austen’s enduring novel.

Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman’s Path from Small-Town America to the Symbionese Army by Rachael Hanel because I’m interested in why a person joins a cause that is violent. And because I read Hanel’s memoir We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, and it was beautifully written. I had to pre-order Not the Camilla We Knew because the book won’t be released until December 2022.

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.

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.

Christmas in Michigan—The Trip Over

Bogey

December 23, 2021

My husband, our two dogs, and I missed Christmas in Michigan last year because of the pandemic. This year with our vaccines and boosters completed, we decided to make the nine-and-a-half-hour drive to spend Christmas in Petoskey with my mother and her dog, Bogey. As a bonus, my sister and two nephews came too. We were a gathering of six, well, nine with the dogs. And we count the dogs.

We have two dogs: Cabela, 13½, and Ziva, 11. A few years ago, my husband and I agreed not to board Cabela anymore because of her age and stiffening hindquarters. And if we weren’t boarding Cabela, we couldn’t board Ziva. She doesn’t like being without a family member unless she’s at home. And she’s never liked kennels. She a bit claustrophobic—a condition I understand. We had been fortunate to have a place to board Cabela and Ziva where there was a spacious double-run kennel they could share because the door between their two sides could be left open. Ziva tolerated this because she could be with Cabela. Once, after feeding the dogs, one of the staff forgot to reopen the door between the two kennels. Ziva remedied the problem by chewing the latch and opening the door herself. So, the dogs go to Michigan with us—Cabela because of her age and Ziva because she would be traumatized if we left her at the kennel without Cabela.

Nine and a half hours in a car with two dogs isn’t without its trials; although, it’s easier than when I made the trip with my two young sons. My dogs don’t argue with each other in the backseat or sass my husband or me. Well, maybe Ziva does because we’re not sure what she says when she’s talking. My dogs can’t ask, “How much longer?” or “How come we can’t fly?” even if they look like they’re thinking it.

Ziva gets car sick sometimes; my children didn’t. I prepped the van by layering the floor with towels and car blankets and stashing paper towel in the back. On the trip over, Ziva threw up three times, but only small amounts. Neither dog eats breakfast before we leave for Michigan. Cabela won’t eat that early in the morning, and Ziva, concerned we’ll leave without her, isn’t about to put her face in a dish of food. She keeps her eyes wide open and follows us while we pack and load the van.

Ziva needs at least four or five potty stops. Something about riding in a vehicle makes her want to piddle—me too, but if I’m honest almost anything makes me want to go. When Ziva has to go, she puts her front paws on the center counsel of van and noses my arm or my husband’s arm. We stop at gas stations with green space where we can walk the dogs. Cabela won’t always piddle because even at 13½, she has bladder stamina that most people of a certain age, like me, envy. I remember when I was young and could ride eight hours from Milwaukee to Gordon, Wisconsin, without going to the bathroom. One of my sons liked to stop a lot to go potty, but it wasn’t due to a weak bladder. He just wanted an excuse to get out of the car because he hated long rides. Once, on a trip to northern Illinois, I pulled into every rest stop along I-94, so he could “go to the bathroom.” It added at least a half hour to the trip, but after every stop his mood improved. He was the one who was miffed because we didn’t fly.

Ziva

After we arrived at my mother’s house, we put the dogs inside so we could unpack the van. Ziva cried and cried until my husband and I finished unloading the van and took our coats and boots off. Then she curled up on my mother’s couch and went to sleep, finally convinced we wouldn’t leave her. Cabela was already snuggled up in an upholstered chair. She wasn’t worried we would leave her. Bogey slept by the kitchen table. My sister and nephews would arrive the next day on Christmas Eve.

Cabala

My mother, my husband, and I sat around the kitchen table and ate lamb curry takeout, a scrumptious beginning to our Christmas visit. Still, I gazed out the kitchen windows at the brown fields and leafless trees and hoped for snow.

Day 29—Earrings without a Turtle

Circa 2017

These earrings remind me of Bayfield, Wisconsin, because I bought them on a day trip to Bayfield with my mom. I liked the curve of the hoops and dainty pearls. After paying for them, I slipped them in my ears because I’d forgotten to wear earrings that morning.

Over the span of fifty years, I’ve been to Bayfield with family and friends and have fond memories of the small town on the hills overlooking Lake Superior. But one of my favorite memories of Bayfield doesn’t include me.

***

My mom took my first son to Bayfield when he was three years old and still an only child. I had to work, so they went by themselves. On the way to Bayfield, they found a turtle on the side of the road, and Mom stopped and put it in her car. When they arrived in Bayfield, Mom found a hardware store and bought a wash tub for the turtle. My son had a new pet, and the pet had a new galvanized home.

They ate lunch at a restaurant and Mom let my son order fries with his sandwich. If we ordered my son a meal with fries, he’d eat the fries and leave the meal untouched. Most of the time, we didn’t let him order fries. But he was with Grandma. He had fries for lunch—just fries. His sandwich went uneaten. But grandmas don’t scold about that sort of thing.

Mom went into a few clothing stores where my son entertained himself by crawling into the middle of circular clothing racks while she shopped. He invented his own world.

In one dress shop, he fell in love with a clerk named Sabrina. She was about twenty, petite, with big brown eyes and dark hair in a pixie cut. Mom said he followed Sabrina around the shop, talking to her, smiling at her, looking at her moon-eyed. He wasn’t happy when they left the store, and he was parted from his new love. But that’s the way it often is with a first love—it breaks your heart. My son’s May-December romance was doomed. But his three-year-old heart rebounded quickly. After all he had his turtle. And Mom took him to the shore so he could throw rocks in Lake Superior.

Before leaving Bayfield, Mom had second thoughts about bringing the turtle back to my house.

“Do you think the turtle will miss his family and friends?” she asked him.

My son thought so.

“Do you think we should take the turtle back to his family and friends?” she asked.

He did.

They set the turtle free, and returned with an empty wash tub. My son had parted with his first love and his pet turtle, but by the time they arrived home, he had moved on.

“How was your day?” I asked when he came in the house.

 “It was the best vacation I ever had!” he said.

Mom had a way of making an ordinary outing into a small adventure for her grandchildren.

***

On the trip to Bayfield when I bought these earrings, it was just Mom and me. My sons are grown with families of their own.

We didn’t see a turtle or toss rocks in the lake, but we had lunch and ate our fries and sandwiches. The dress shop where my son fell in love with Sabrina has been closed for years, but Mom and I still reminisced about her and my son’s first case of puppy love.

When Mom retells the story, I wonder about Sabrina, who’d be in her fifties now. Does she still live in Bayfield? Did she ever have children of her own, perhaps a little boy who fell in love for the first time when he was three?

Day 25—Grand Marias Earrings

Today’s earrings are silver with Thomsonite stones, which are found in Minnesota.

Over the years my mother and I have trekked to Grand Marias every June. We like to eat at the Angry Trout as soon as we get to town. If the weather is nice we eat outside, but last time we ate inside because it was cold. June is capricious in the Northland.

After lunch we visit small art galleries, walk along Lake Superior, and shop at the Lake Superior Trading Post. Mom bought these earrings for me at the Trading Post in June 2019, the last time she came to visit. June 2020’s visit didn’t happen because of COVID-19 lockdowns. And this year’s visit was on-again-off-again, as COVID cases rose and fell, and we all got vaccinated. Ultimately, this year’s visit was canceled too. Instead my husband and I went to see Mom in July.

One year Mom and I took my sons, about 13 and 8, to Grand Marais for a few days. We stayed in a small hotel on Lake Superior. The boys had their own room with a TV and a remote control. They thought that was big stuff.

We started each morning with a hearty breakfast at the Blue Water Café, a cozy diner that both locals and tourists enjoy.

The first day Mom and I dropped my sons off at a small lake to fish. Flies were the only thing that bit. The next day we booked them an afternoon outing on a charter fishing boat on Lake Superior. They came back with a lake trout, but I don’t remember who caught it—maybe the boat captain. While they fished, Mom and I walked around town. She and I weren’t baiting hooks or cleaning fish.

For lunch one day, we gave them some money and sent them to Sven & Ole’s Pizza while Mom and I ate at a charming old home that had been converted into a restaurant. Grand Marais has a little something for everyone.

Mom had wanted to take us to Disney World, but I’m glad we went to Grand Marias instead. I liked our quiet vacation in a small town surround by natural beauty. I liked letting the boys fish and eat pizza and have a hotel room to themselves.

I like my Grand Marais earrings. They look good with that gray, white, and pink hand-me-down sweater Mom gave me.

I miss Grand Marais.

[To learn about Thomsonite stones click here.]

Middle of the Ocean

September 6, 2021

I went paddle boarding on Superior Bay today because every day I get on the water before winter is a treasure.

Along the outside of Barker’s Island, northeasterly winds pushed against me and made the water choppy. To avoid becoming a human sail shoved in the wrong direction, I knelt, paddled fast, and kept the board moving forward.

After I rounded the tip of the island and entered the calm waters on the marina side, I stood up, slowed down, and looked around. The jubilant sky was azure blue with wispy clouds, as if Bob Ross had painted them with a wide brush, using bold, sweeping strokes of brilliant white paint, while cooing, “Let’s add happy clouds in the sky.”

It’s a tale of two sides of the island when the wind comes out of the northeast, and I could’ve made up for lost time. Instead, I paddled as if I were strolling through botanical gardens. White clouds lilted across the blue sky. Ducks swam on the water and took flight when I neared. Boats pulled out of slips, headed to open waters. Children ran on the sandy beach, then dipped their feet in the lake.

I glided by the marina and noticed my favorite boat—a 66-foot yacht named after a righteous Disney character—moored at its slip. Someone polished its gleaming white surface while listening to the song “Middle of the Ocean.” The soothing lyrics and lazy tune serenaded me, as I edged by the yacht, which could cross the ocean if it wanted to.

When winter comes, I wonder if my dream yacht will sail for warmer waters or enter winter storage.

I’ll deflate my paddle board and go snowshoeing—and hum the tune “Middle of the Ocean.”

Belt Safari

[Note: I wrote the rough draft for this essay last August. This August I dusted it off and polished it up because the event still makes me smile. And because sometimes, I procrastinate!]

I pull on my shorts and turn to grab the belt from the blue jeans I wore yesterday.

Empty belt loops stare at me.

I look on the floor, under the bed, and on the hook in the bathroom. No belt. I search the living room and my closet. No belt. I rummage through a load of clothes in the washing machine. No belt. I’m now looking in places I know I won’t find it, but I’m desperate. It’s my favorite belt, and it’s reversible—brown on one side, black on the other, an accessory with dual functionality.

I’m shocked that I can’t find it. It’s not one of those wide belts from the 1980s, resembling a four-lane highway, but it’s still forty inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide—bigger than the earring I lost for two months, then found in the bottom of the dishwasher. I don’t look for my belt in the dishwasher.

I wonder: Is my brain short-circuiting? Am I in a science-fiction movie? Did my grandkids put it somewhere?

I can’t blame my grandkids because I was wearing the belt yesterday when their mom picked them up. But I want to; it would be easier. When I was a child, anything my parents couldn’t find was blamed on my siblings and me. Convinced we usurped the item and lost it, they yelled, “Find it, right now.” While this was occasionally true about the kitchen scissors or pencils or the clean clothes we hid in my sister’s closet because we hadn’t folded them, it wasn’t true about some things my parents couldn’t find—like random pieces of mail from the stack by the phone. But unable to find my belt, which has vanished, I understand my parents’ belief that the unexplained disappearance of an object must involve children.

My grandsons, Evan, almost four, and, Charlie, almost two, arrive. The belt search must wait. I tell myself, Go about your day and the belt will reveal itself. I hope it doesn’t take two months like my earring. I’m still not looking in the dishwasher.

Distracted by busy toddlers, I forget about the belt, for the most part. Still, in brief interludes, I search where I’ve already searched. The absurdity of looking again and again on the floor, under the bed, and on the hook in the bathroom isn’t lost on me. I even look in the belt loops of pants I didn’t wear yesterday. There’s a line I won’t cross—I don’t look in the dishwasher. If I had time, I’d have a meltdown, but Evan and Charlie provide too many diversions.

“Look at this, Nana,” Evan says.

“Hi, Nana,” Charlie says.

“Can you read me a story?”

“Eat, eat.”

“Can you put new batteries in my train?”

“Di-dy.” Charlie’s pooped his diaper.

“Nana, I hafta go potty.”

“Outside?”

“Can I watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?”

“Me thirsty.”

Variations of these conversations go on all morning and into the afternoon. When Charlie takes a nap, my work load is halved, and I wonder about my belt.

“Evan, help Nana look for her belt.”

“Okay, where is it?” he asks.

“It’s lost.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t find it.”

“Why?”

Evan’s interested in finding the belt, but he’s asking why a lot more than he’s looking. I open my junk drawer, find a small pen flashlight, and turn it on.

“Evan, take the flashlight and look under the couch and behind the couch for my belt.” I know he won’t find it, but I hope to slow his jabbering, so I can concentrate on finding my belt.

He accepts the flashlight like he’s Luke Skywalker and I’m Obi Wan Kenobi, and I’ve handed him a light saber. (Flashlights fascinated my siblings and me when we were little, and thinking about it, I remember my parents looking for those too.) Evan wields the light in corners, under furniture, and in closets. He keeps asking, “Why did you lose your belt, Nana?” He’s looking for my belt in places where it won’t be found. But the belt has inexplicably vanished, so maybe it’ll turn up in a place that defies logic.

While Evan is brandishing the penlight, I retrace my steps from last night, hoping to jog my memory. Nothing comes to mind.

After fifteen minutes of looking everywhere but the family room where Charlie is sleeping, Evan’s fascination with his light saber wanes, and I can’t think of anywhere else to look. We pass the rest of his brother’s naptime with books, blocks, and Evan’s occasional, “Why did you lose your belt, Nana?”

When Charlie wakes up, he’s surly. The three of us go outside because fresh air improves Charlie’s mood. We walk across the deck, descend the stairs, and traipse across the grass on our way to get toys from the shed.

I spot a long, brown entity stretched out tip to tail in the grass, sunning itself under the warm afternoon July sky after last night’s cool rain.

“My belt,” I shout.

“Where, Nana?” Evan asks.

“There.” I point. “Sunning itself like a snake in the grass.”

Similar to video replay, it comes back to me, what I couldn’t conjure up earlier when I tried.

I dozed off last night while watching TV, and when I rose to go to bed, my dog decided she wanted to go potty. But I had to go first. When I finished, I pulled up my jeans but didn’t zip or button them or buckle my belt. I was tired and figured I’d just have to undo it again in a couple of minutes. I went outside with the dog, who piddled, then I went back inside to bed, but not before my belt slithered onto the grass.

“Why is it in the grass?” Evan asks.

“It fell out of my belt loops last night when I took the dog outside.”

“Why did it fall out?”

I explain.

“Nana, was your belt really a snake in the grass?” he asks.

“Yes, a sneaky snake sunning itself so it could dry off because it spent all night in the rain.”

“But was it really a snake?”

“No,” I say, “but do you think it’s fun to pretend it’s a snake?”

“Yes.” His face grins in all directions. He asks me to tell him the story again. He wants all the details. He’s sorting out what happened and why. I’m not sure what Evan learns from my experience, but he never laughs at me or asks me why I didn’t buckle my belt or zip and button my pants.

I learned I should buckle my belt when I leave the house. And, I maintained some dignity—I never looked in the dishwasher.