A furry good job of reading

The doorbell rings, I open the door and nobody is there. As scripted, I exclaim in surprise that the doorbell rang but nobody is here.

On cue, a 5-year-old in a puffy pink coat barrels around from the side of the porch squealing with laughter. She runs into the house, throws her coat toward the hall tree (but not exactly on it) and races to the front room carrying a stuffed white puppy dog in one arm and dragging a tote bag filled with books with the other arm.

She will be hanging out with us for a few hours today and has brought some early-reader books to read to Grandma.

She climbs onto the loveseat with the faded yellow floral print, courtesy of 20 years of sunshine streaming through the windows, and pulls out “Biscuit and the Great Fall Day.” Biscuit is a yellow puppy featured in simple-sentence adventures for early readers.

“Biscuit and the Great Fall Day,” she softly says, giving me ample time to study the cover.

“Can’t wait!” I say. But I must wait.

She slowly turns to page one, filled with fall pictures, which she gives me time to absorb; then slowly turns to page two, also filled with fall pictures, also giving me more time to absorb. Page three is blank, yet we pause and absorb. This is followed by the title page, then another picture page (is it time for lunch?) and finally the story begins.

“It is a great fall day, Biscuit,” she reads. “Woof, woof!”

She is not using her finger to follow the words, simply pausing, thinking and giving the synapses time to fire. She hesitates before “great.” That “g” with the tail hanging down is a memory prompt for the word “good,” a word more familiar to her.

“Great” is a set-up; it has two vowels side by side. It’s the old, “The first one does the walking and the second one does the talking.” This is a curve ball to our young batter. She holds the “g” in her throat, starts to unleash “goo-“ then abruptly skirts the “d” sound, slides into the “r” sound and finishes off with “great.”

She hits the ball out of the park!

Because reading is more inviting when it is enjoyable, I coach her on Biscuit’s dialog. “Read it with feeling,” I tell her. “Make it sound like a dog would say it—like your dog would say it.”

“Woof!” She emits a guttural woof, sounding like a two-pack-a-day smoker.

The next “woof” comes from deep in her throat and catches a gargling quality.

At the next “woof,” she pauses, squints her eyes ever so slightly, straightens her spine and finds a comfortable and convincing, “woof,” which is good—I mean great— because “woof” is the entirety of Biscuit’s vocabulary.

The next day on the phone with her mother, I mention that I taught her little one to read with color in her voice, whereupon you-know-who “woofs” in the background.

Our daughter, who taught early elementary, deadpanned, “They don’t teach that in school, Mother.”

Of course they don’t, which is why little ones should come to Grandma’s house.

 

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Nothing personal, but just fix the bathtub

We’ve had a lot of home repairs lately. Our house is a lot like we are, slowly aging and in need of occasional patchwork.

We are grateful that we are not aging alone, that we are accompanied on this journey by our unpredictable furnace, faltering air conditioner and 60-year-old pipes with lime and calcium buildup.

What’s ironic is that the service companies always want us to buy a “membership” that guarantees a service call without the gigantic service call fee for 12 months — all of which sounds remarkably like our Medicare Advantage plan.

In any case, we needed a plumber to rip out plumbing in a bathtub not long ago, and before he arrived I received a text saying, “Your technician is on the way. Mason is married, has two kids and enjoys the outdoors and hunting.”


That was nice they told us a bit about the plumber, but then I wondered if they sent the info so we could vet him. You know, make sure he was legit and not some unscrupulous imposter working his way into the house to see if we had any old VHS tapes or landline phones he could steal and sell online.

I contemplated how I could chit-chat with Mason, or whoever he was, to verify his identity. When a plumber comes to the door, puts on the paper footies and walks in, do you hit him with: “How is the wife? School going well for the kids? Did you get a deer this fall? What is your favorite state park?”

I can, will, and often do, talk to just about anybody, but even for me this seemed invasive.

But wait—would Mason expect personal info from me to verify my identity?

Did I need to go into my marital status?

If I started talking about our family—the kids, their spouses, all 11 immensely talented grandkids—Mason could be here for dinner. “We’re out of venison, but do you like smothered pork chops, Mason?”

It dawned on me that I wasn’t just getting a contractor, I was getting a relationship. I didn’t want a relationship. I wanted a plumber. One who would be quick, neat and know what he was doing.

Turns out Mason was just that. I was glad I had not probed the personal information the company sent in advance. Although, when he left I did yell out, “Give our best to the wife and kids, Mason!”

We will ask for him by name next time.

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Sick and tired of being sick and tired?

Let’s do this the easy way: Raise your hand if you haven’t had the crud this winter. You know, the coughing, hacking, sore throat, sudden onset of fatigue, runny nose, stuffy nose.

Everybody we know is in one of three groups: they are either currently sick, have recently been sick or are waiting to get sick.

Some people mix and match, others order a la carte – there’s something for everyone.

Some of the grands’ new pastime is getting tested for strep. They swap names of antibiotics like kids once swapped baseball cards.

One of their pediatricians said there used to be a wave of colds every September after school started, but now it is wave after wave after wave.

Welcome to the post-COVID new normal.

To mix things up, one wing of the family recently passed a stomach bug around. A 6-year-old said that her 8-year-old sister, who couldn’t hold anything down for two days, was “like a waterfall—it kept coming and coming!”

Soon after the stomach bug passed through, they all came down with colds. A new day, a new virus.

It’s been ages since the lot of us all tried to get together. We make plans, contingency plans, and contingency plans for our contingency plans. Then someone announces that someone picked up something and everyone freezes in place because nobody wants a third, fourth or twenty-fifth round of this stuff.

I am not sick and have not been sick, which puts me in the third group – waiting to get sick. It’s coming. I know it’s coming; I just don’t know when it’s coming.

“I was coughing last night,” I tell my husband. “Did you hear me coughing? I think I’m getting it.”

“You weren’t coughing.”

“Then I must have dreamed I was coughing and maybe the dream was a premonition.”

“You’re not coughing now.”

“Maybe not, but feel my head. Do I feel warm?”

“You just got home from the gym.”

“I think I should lie down on the sofa to be safe. I don’t feel sick, but I could be on the verge of being sick, so maybe I should take it easy for a while—you know, an ounce of prevention and all that.

“Say, how are we on Popsicles? Ice cream can be soothing, too. Could you make some homemade chicken noodle soup? I can tell you where the recipe is and step you through it.”

No response. I bet his throat is sore and he can’t talk.

My plan is to stay proactive, eat oranges and spinach salads, down vitamins, remember not to lick my fingers when attempting to open the plastic produce bags at the grocery and drink lots and lots of water.

I drink so much water that my Fitbit registered 2,000 steps last night from all my trips to the bathroom.

I may not sleep much, but at least I’m not sick—although I am feeling really, really t . . . i . . . r . . . e . .  .

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Funny what you sometimes remember

I sometimes wonder how accurate childhood memories are. Experts are somewhat divided on the matter; but what aren’t experts divided on?

I tested some childhood memories when I came across the old blue diary with a tarnished lock that I kept in fourth grade. My memory was that fourth grade was routine and uneventful. Sure enough, every single entry said, “Went to school. Practiced piano.”

Sometimes I just wrote “ditto” for the day’s entry. There was no need to lock the diary.

Last fall I had a chance to return to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I was born, and our family lived until I was almost 9. I have often replayed the 13-block walk to school in my mind. Details seem vivid, but surely they have been embellished by imagination.

Retracing the old route to school, long-forgotten memories crystalized.

“Old Man Scott’s house,” I said, as we passed a tumble-down shotgun house. As a girl, I never saw Old Man Scott, but I knew he kept a goat and that grown-ups shook their heads over the state of his place. Old Man Scott may be gone but, from the looks of things, the goat may still be around.


On  a corner lot sat Green Chapel where I attended vacation Bible school one summer. One day, the church ladies asked if someone would play the piano while they collected an offering.

I took a seat at the rickety upright and played the only song I knew by heart – “Shortnin’ Bread.” “Get out the skillet, get out the lid, Mama’s gonna make a little shortnin’ bread.”

When I told my mother I had played “Shortnin’ Bread” during the offering, she did not seem pleased. I know for certain that I remember that one correctly.

The old neighborhood has not fared particularly well, but the house where we lived looks good. It has been cared for despite the half-dozen cars now parked in the side yard where a sprawling vegetable and flower garden once flourished. I could smell the purple iris and pink peonies in bouquets Mom would send with me to school with for my teacher. I could see Dad polishing his car on Saturdays in the gravel drive.

We retraced the route I used to travel to my three great-aunts’ house with garden produce strapped to the back of my red bike. Straight four blocks, turn right, turn left, another four to go. The final stretch was on the same route the city bus traveled. When that beast roared past belching black exhaust, I always wondered if I would be sucked into the engine. But each time, the lettuce, beans, radishes and I all lived to see another day.

When the whole family went to visit those three aunts, the second or third time my younger brother and I banged the porch swing into the porch rail, Mom would send us uptown to get my brother a haircut. It wasn’t until we moved away that his hair ever had a chance to grow longer than a quarter-inch. My brother’s recollection is that I never went with him to the barber shop, that he always went alone.

Funny what you remember, what you think you remember and how others remember differently.

Memories can be both friend and foe; hard ones spring to mind as easily and unexpectedly as the good ones. The hard ones land with a thud and often attempt to dig in and roost. Good memories whisper softly, linger briefly, then drift away on a gentle breeze.

If your good memories outnumber the not-so-good memories, and if you can summon a good memory to the forefront at will, you have been blessed. Remember that.

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This dog is a fashion plate, fur real

Our granddog wears a hoodie. I can’t believe I just wrote that. The part about having a granddog. And the part about a hoodie.

Our daughter and family treat their new dog like family, which every family in the history of time has done and is also why the dog got a new hoodie for winter.

The hoodie is of pale pink sweatshirt material and even has a pocket on top. Probably for the dog’s gloves, lip gloss and cell phone.

The hoodie has sleeves. There’s something about a dog wearing sleeves that come halfway down the legs that make you wonder if the dog might be able to hold a fork and spoon.

It also makes you want to hand the dog a pen and say, “Here, write your name.”

For some reason, it all looks entirely doable.

Dog clothes are not foreign to me. I sewed a lot of my own clothes in high school and often made my dog a matching wardrobe piece, which was a basic rectangle that tied underneath.

He always wormed out of my creations. Apparently, the dog had something against navy blue windowpane plaid. Big patterns were hip back then. He didn’t like the red and green plaid I made for him either.

My brother and sister-in-law would never try to dress their dog. It is a huge German Shepherd that weighs 85 pounds. When the dog is in your face and smiles big, your first thought is always from Little Red Riding Hood, “Oh Grandma, what big teeth you have!” The dog is not amenable to cute, cuddly clothes. However, the XL dog will try to sit on my brother’s lap, but there is no chair big enough.

Different dogs, different choices.

Dogs that do accessorize often appear personable, the sort of dog you would enjoy chatting with in a slow-moving checkout line.

Still, I casually inquired as to why a dog would wear a sweatshirt inside the house. “I don’t wear a jacket inside,” I said.

Five people turned and yelled, “That’s because you’re cold-blooded!”

I might be.

I casually mention that the dog has a thick coat of fur and at one time dogs lived outside. I also mention seeing a picture of wolves in Yellowstone National Park that were burrowed into the snow and catching a few zzzz’s in the sun.

Later that day our daughter called and said, “Guess where the dog is?”

“In the kitchen making dinner?”

“No, she’s outside. Guess what she’s doing?”

“Going to Starbucks for a coffee?”

“No. She’s burrowed in the snow and is quite content. Just like the wolves.”

“You know what this means, right?” I ask.

“That our dog enjoys being outside,” she says.

“No. It means you’ll have to put the pink hoodie in the dryer when she comes inside.”

 

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Online mix-up heats up the kitchen

A text arrived saying a dress I ordered online had been delivered to our front porch. And so it had, in a large and heavy box.

I lugged it inside, heaved it onto the kitchen counter, opened the box and pulled out another box with a picture of a griddle on it. Inside was a large griddle, double burner—the griddle of a grandma’s dreams. The picture on the box indicated it could easily handle eight pancakes at a time.

Perhaps the text about the delivery of the dress had been in error. Perhaps one of the kids sent a griddle as a gift—you know, a gift that says, “Keep feeding us, keep standing at the stove, keep those pancakes coming and we’ll keep coming over.”

I texted each of them and the response was the same, “No, we didn’t send a griddle—but when will you be making pancakes?”

There was no gift card, no note, no invoice, no receipt or paperwork of any kind, just a griddle.

Next came an email saying the dress had been delivered. It included a picture of the box left on the porch and a picture of the dress that was theoretically inside the box. But there was no dress in the box, only a griddle.

I don’t have shoes to wear with a griddle.

Furthermore, a griddle does not provide adequate coverage. Oh sure, I could see some young starlet on the rise trying to wear a griddle. But it’s not me. Not my size, not my color, not my non-stick surface.

Yet, the griddle began growing on me. Literally. My metabolism is now so slow that I gain weight just thinking about food. Even leafing through cookbooks is high-risk. Pictures add pounds.

The griddle would be great for breakfast for a crowd . . . bacon . . . French toast.

Truthfully, the griddle had more possibilities than the dress . . . Philly cheesesteak sandwiches . . . quesadillas.

With all this thinking about food, should the dress ever arrive, it probably wouldn’t even fit.

I was now on the fence about trying to straighten out the mess. Initiating a return could mean a trip to the store without any paperwork and subsequently being charged, arrested and hauled away for theft. (Like that happens anymore.) My metabolism may have slowed, but my imagination remains in overdrive.

I checked the price of the griddle online. The dress had been more expensive. It would not be an even swap, even if they threw in rib-eyes, fresh-catch and pork chops to sizzle on the griddle.

I hauled the griddle to the store and explained the situation to a clerk. Without batting an eye, she said this happens frequently, credited me for the dress and asked if I wanted to reorder it.

I said no thanks.

“The griddle is on sale,” she said.

Mind reader.

 

 

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When your selfie is less than perfect

My newsfeed said that the internet had been “set on fire” when Martha Stewart, 82, posted a sultry selfie of herself in front of a hotel bathroom mirror the morning following a rough 8-hour flight.

She looked good. Really good. She looked so good I almost didn’t recognize her.

Her skin was glowing, her eyelids weren’t puffy and she didn’t have a single visible wrinkle on her face. Who wouldn’t like a selfie like that?

You know why Martha takes good selfies? Sure, there are creams, fillers and doctors, but she takes good selfies because she has long arms.

I can’t take good selfies because I have short arms. They’re not flipper short, just not long enough. I’m a big fan of the 20-foot closeup.

I probably took a total of three selfies last year. The reason I took them was to try and scare myself into doing something about my hair.

It didn’t work.

Apparently, I don’t scare easily.

Martha and other celebs do not take selfies to scare themselves or others.

If I shared a selfie the morning after a long flight, friends and family would think it was a call for help. They would be frantically phoning 911 and sharing my location.

I don’t know many people who wake up with jet lag, stumble into a hotel bathroom, look in the mirror, think, “man, I look good!” and whip out a camera.

Well, nobody except Martha. But she also makes her own bread and raises donkeys.

I stumble to the bathroom most mornings, look in the mirror and think, “Who is that and what did you do with Lori?”

It’s the same startled reaction I have when I unlock my car, catch a reflection in the driver’s window and wonder who that woman is. Then I realize I know her, because I am her.

Some people just have better genes. You get what you get. Like the song says, “Be happy, don’t worry.” Besides, if you worry you get worry lines.

You know what the great leveler is? The cameras above the checkout stations at Walmart that record you as you scan items. Every single person on the planet looks like a felon on those cameras. Something tells me Martha doesn’t shop Walmart.

I’m happy for any woman who has a good hair day, a good face day and a good wardrobe day, all on the same day, and gets a good photo of herself.

My mother, who wrinkled like 100% cotton in the dryer, used to cup her face in her hands and say to me, “Behold your future.” To which I would cup my face in my hands and say, “Behold your future caretaker.”

Then we’d both laugh so hard we both added six more laugh lines.

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Determining what stuff is his, hers and theirs

We’ve been having issues with possessive pronouns lately. Forty-five years of marriage and we’re still carving out our turf.

A green light on the refrigerator door indicates it is time to order a new water filter. The reminder has been glowing green for more than a week, yet I successfully managed to ignore it. I file the little green light under the category of “nagging.”

Yesterday, my husband says, “Have you ordered a replacement for your water filter for the ‘fridge yet?”

Did you catch that? “Your” water filter.

Why does the water filter belong to me? I didn’t birth it or potty train it. I’ve never even unboxed one, let alone removed an old one or installed a new one.

I am the one who orders the hard-to-find rascals, so I suppose that “technically” makes them mine. I unruffle my feathers.

On the other hand, he buys the furnace filters, so that makes them “his.” I love sharing.

I began thinking about other things he might think are “mine.”  The kitchen comes to mind. I’ll take that. The kitchen is “mine,” but the garbage disposal is “his,”—as in, “Your garbage disposal is acting up again.”

The lawnmower has never been “yours,” or “mine” or even “ours.” It’s always been “the” mower. I would like to take this opportunity to officially make it “his.”

Glad that one is settled. He can thank me later.

The garden is “mine” most of the time, but sometimes it is “ours.” The gutters are “his.” So is the roof.

“How is your roof today?”

The leaf blower and small power tools are “ours.” We both use them, though I am usually the one who knows where to find them.

I have no desire to make the chainsaw “mine” or even “ours.” No contest, he can have it. I hereby yield the chainsaw.

We used to have “his car” and “her car,” otherwise known as “your car” and “my car,” until he retired. “His” car became “the” car because it is newer and gets better mileage. Whew. A definite article saves the day.

We share a bathroom, but it is “the” bathroom, not “yours” or “mine.” Neither one of us wants exclusive rights because we both know that to own it is to clean it.

We share “the” hairbrush (mainly because I have three other ones in another drawer), but it is “my” blow dryer. What hair he has left can air dry.

I am eyeing the washer and dryer and realize they have never, ever in the history of us been assigned a possessive pronoun.

He’s a smart man. He wouldn’t dare.

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Don’t needle her; she’s pine

Cradled in the palm of my hand is the gift that keeps on giving. It is not returnable nor refundable. It never decays, disintegrates or fully disappears.

Behold, the artificial pine needle.

Each year we wrestle the Christmas tree and greenery from their large plastic tubs, see all the pine needles nestled in the bottom of the tubs, and are relieved to think they have already done their shedding.

Ho, ho, ho. The joke is on us.

As soon as the tree is up, and garlands are in place, the shedding begins.

The tiny hard-to-grab needles wedge between the hardwoods, huddle in dark corners and lurk under furniture. They multiply faster than plastic containers with no lids.

Based on the volume of pine needles consumed by the vacuum, our tree and garlands should be bare—Charlie Brown-style Christmas.

Manufacturers boast that their artificial trees replicate the realism of live long-needle trees. Maybe shedding is part of the realism. That said, we have three white pines and two firs in our backyard that don’t shed this much.

Last week I found two artificial pine needles stuck to the ironing board cover. Considering how infrequently I iron, I’m considering having them carbon dated. Just curious.

Last summer I found one in our safe deposit box. It’s our fault for not locking it.

When we whipped out the Scrabble board a few weeks ago, three pine needles were clinging to the cloth bag holding the letter tiles. On the upside, it prompted me to make the word conifer, thereby scoring 50 bonus points for using all seven tiles.

Loose pine needles seem to have the upper branch this year. Emptying the vacuum again, I ponder switching to the leaf blower.

This morning there were a half dozen in the dustpan when I swept the kitchen. My theory is they smelled cinnamon rolls baking. I’ve found them under the kitchen table, stuck to my good winter coat and on a sofa pillow. I have no comfort or joy.

A few years ago, we bought a real tree. It didn’t solve the stray needle problem; it only compounded things with pine scent that triggered allergies.

As of two minutes ago, I have nabbed all the stray pine needles in sight and am once again in the lead. Of course, the day is young and more will surface tomorrow, the day after that, next spring, next summer and next Christmas.

As Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” would have said, “Tradition!”

The only good thing about finding stray pine needles throughout the year is that Christmas never ends.

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The Second-Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The biggest problem with the small nativity play turned out to be casting. Who knew 5-year-olds could put an entire production in jeopardy?

Every parent of a 5-year-old just raised their hands.

The plan was that Brown Eyes, a 5-year-old grand, would be Mary and Blue Eyes, her 5-year-old cousin, would be an angel.

Brown Eyes was happy with the role of Mary. In hindsight, this makes sense. Who would refuse top billing? Meanwhile, Blue eyes was digging in her heels, refusing to be an angel.

She wanted to be Mary.

A lot of liberties have been taken over the course of history interpreting the manger scene in Bethlehem, but at no time has Joseph ever had two wives.

I said I would see how adamant Brown Eyes was on being Mary and asked if Blue Eyes’ stance was “Mary, or she walked.” Talk about navigating a tense situation. I suddenly understood why Hollywood agents often skim money from the talent they represent.

The response came that Blue Eyes was softening and considering the angel role—providing Brown Eyes would be an angel, too.

Blue Eyes has golden hair, a sweet smile, a soft voice and plays hardball. She may one day do well in sales.

When Brown Eyes was asked if she would yield the role of Mary and agree to be an angel with Blue Eyes, she put her hands on her hips and matter-of-factly asked, “Do I get to fly?”

If Blue Eyes is stealth, Brown Eyes is “go big or go home.” Brown Eyes had every right to ask if she might play the role airborne.

Brown Eyes’ mother explained that she would not be flying, but she would have a star. It was a good bargaining chip. Brown Eyes seemed satisfied but was no doubt imagining a star that would be remote-controlled and shoot lasers.

Brown Eyes later asked an aunt if she had met Mary (Jesus’ mother).

“No, but I hope to someday,” came the answer. “Do you know where I could meet her?”

“Israel?” Brown Eyes asked.

“No, that was a good guess, but she isn’t alive anymore.”

Brown Eyes’ next guess was heaven.

That was an interesting question; however, I thought Brown Eyes would ask if her Labradoodle could come to the manger, which would mean Blue Eyes would want to bring her big black lab that lands both font paws on your shoulders to say hello and lick your face, which would meant her siblings would insist on bringing the ducks, the chickens, the cat and the rabbit, and the whole thing would be over before it ever began.

The line was drawn on live animals, but one who plays violin is bringing her fiddle and another is bringing his guitar. Chances are, someone will load the drum set as well.

With cardboard stars wrapped in aluminum foil and angel costumes made from white satin pillowcases, it may not be a polished operation with all the bells and whistles, but it may capture the heart of Christmas: An invitation to draw close to the manger just as you are, with whatever you have.

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