I recently pet-sat for my daughter’s four dogs: two large boxers (Titan and Hazel) and two small mini pinschers (Rubble and Remi). They’re all friendly and affectionate, but each has its own personality, as well. Remi is the youngest and just turned one. She still exhibits a LOT of puppy-type behaviors, like pottying indoors on occasion, grabbing things to run away with them, and chewing on anything she gets her paws on.
When I went to their house, I took my laptop to work on freelance editing and also made sure to pack a few books I’m reading. One was an early Christmas gift from my sister, Terri. We both love mysteries and like many of the same authors. One of our favorites is UK author, Elly Griffiths. She has three mystery series, and I especially like the two featuring Ruth Galloway and DI Harbinder Kaur. Knowing for sure I’d like it and hadn’t read it yet, Terri sent me the latest Harbinder Kaur book, Bleeding Heart Yard. It’s a great story and pulled me in immediately.
One evening, I had the book set well back on the nightstand, thinking I was being careful. But I hadn’t considered that jumping up on the bed to reach interesting objects was easy for Remi. The next thing I knew, the sound of ripping paper met my ears. My wonderful new book was flung to the floor with pages 321/322 ripped out and lying in several pieces. (Sorry Terri!) I rescued the book right away and set the pieces aside, realizing the pages were from later in the book and wouldn’t be needed right away.
The next morning, I decided the best way to make sure I hung onto all the pieces was to tape them together and back into the book. A few were too small and mangled, so I certainly hoped enough of the print remained to get the gist of the paragraphs. With tape in hand, I began reconstructing, while matching up words.
Suddenly, to my horror, I realized my eyes had landed on a section with an all-important sentence…”X X has admitted to the murders.” What are the chances that in those 30 seconds of jubilant grabbing and chewing, Remi would choose one of the few pages that revealed the killer?! I had to laugh, though. It was almost as if she were playing detective and sharing the solution to the mystery with me.
Lucky for me that my main goal in reading a mystery isn’t just to solve the puzzle, although I do that to a certain extent, of course. I love the way mystery series authors weave their interesting characters into suspenseful plots and reveal more about the people in each book. Will I finish reading Bleeding Heart Yard even though I know the name of the culprit? You bet! That doesn’t make much difference to me, except that I’ll be reading from a somewhat different perspective. I’ll be looking to see just how artfully the author reveals the rest of the clues and keeping an eye out for any red herrings.
So Remi wasn’t “in trouble.” But I certainly was reminded to be even more careful about where I set things when she was around!
A case of “the nerves” sometimes attacks when a person doesn’t know what to expect. I experienced such jitters, so maybe my little story can help tame your fears!
During a regular checkup, my eye doctor told me I had cataracts. Those are like clouds in your eyes and not in a good way. The doctor said I should have an eye surgeon remove them.
In the past, I’ve had a few operations. And I knew this was a common eye procedure. But I was so dang scared of anyone fooling with my eyes. I put that decision off for YEARS!
Finally, my glasses no longer helped me see well enough. The time had come to face facts. I needed operations to remove cataracts from both eyes!
One of my friends had already had cataract surgery and really liked the doctor. I asked him for the surgeon’s name. Before I could change my mind, I made the call.
The first appointment was a lot like a regular eye doctor visit. This included me trying to see and guessing at fuzzy letters. The medical worker also put drops in my eyes to dilate them for other tests.
Even more drops numbed my eyeballs. They did that to lightly touch them with an instrument to check the pressure. I had trouble keeping my eyes open for that test!
I also suffered from what they called “dry eye.” They told me to use artificial tear eyedrops at home for several weeks. Then I went back for pre-surgery eye measurements.
An office person gave me two appointments because they usually operate on one eye at a time. “Leftie” was the cloudiest and would be fixed first.
With my dates in mind, I set up transportation. I also filled out online medical forms for the surgery center.
The day before my first operation, I had to start using special drops in Leftie. I would use those according to a schedule for many days and was still using them when I prepared “Rightie” for surgery. I won’t lie. Those drops burned a bit. But they were super important to keep my eyes safe!
The night before eye surgery, I had to stop eating or drinking by midnight. My stomach had to be empty when they used anesthesia to help me feel calm during the operation.
The morning of the big day, I arrived at the center before sunrise. With check-in completed, the minutes dragged by. I wanted the entire experience behind me.
After what felt like forever, someone led me into the inner rooms. Friendly medical workers baptized Leftie with many types of drops to dilate and also prevent pain and infection during the procedure.
When my turn had almost arrived, they asked if I wanted to use the bathroom. “Yes, please,” even though my last drink was hours before, and I’d only taken a sip of water with my morning pill.
One understanding person assured me I could have my choice of beverage soon after the procedure. Margaritas were not on the list. But a soda, which I rarely drink, sounded very good.
They gave me a net for my hair, a cotton gown to wear on my top half, and slipper socks for my feet. The temperature in that area was kept chilly. I was happy my comfortable jeans could stay in place.
The doctor and the anesthesiologist took turns coming into the little room to talk with me. Then, a medical worker numbed my hand and inserted an IV tube with a little needle prick, so I would be ready for the anesthetic. They also stuck a few small patches onto my chest to help track my heart during the operation.
Next, someone came and whisked me away in a wheelchair to the operating table. Easy-peasy. I felt pretty calm by then. They placed something soft under and around my head to help it stay in place.
After seeing my doctor show up, I remember little except voices and lots of colored lights in Leftie. The next thing I knew, the operation was over! They helped me sit up slowly and guided me back to the wheelchair.
I have hazy memories from the next few minutes. Soon, a person wheeled me back to the small room and then outside to meet my daughter. Whee! I wore special sunglasses because my eyes were dilated to the max. To others, I probably looked more like an alien from outer space than a movie star.
At home, I had to avoid lifting and bending for a few days. I felt extra tired that afternoon and binge-watched a favorite TV show. I slept VERY WELL that night.
The next day, I went to the doctor for a recheck to test Leftie’s sight and pressure. Everything was good! I would go back in about a week for another recheck. My glasses no longer worked for me, so I needed someone else to drive.
The date for Rightie’s operation would arrive in a few weeks. I didn’t feel quite as nervous about that because I knew what to expect! Meanwhile, I used the special drops in Leftie and kept watch on the calendar for the day to start them in Rightie.
Being humans, we’re each different. You might wonder what made me the most nervous. I admit to worrying a lot about them touching my eyeball to measure the pressure at each checkup. I’m a world-class blinker and can’t stop when something comes at my eyeball!
I felt a little better after sharing my struggle about that with the kind and gentle medical workers. And I tried anxiety-calming techniques, like deep breathing and counting combined with breathing. I also tried distractions, like thinking about other sensory things in the room (what I could hear and smell, for example).
Of course, various doctors and surgery centers do things in different ways. But if any part of the cataract removal process makes you nervous, you might try those relaxation ideas. I hope reading about my positive experience helps you win against your own jitters!
EPILOGUE: Try to be flexible. The date for Rightie’s operation was changed by the surgery center just a day in advance. But I now have two “new eyes!” Becky
I’ve never really liked Sundays very much. As a kid, I dreaded the afternoons when I invariably discovered I still had homework to complete. As a working adult, Sunday evenings usually reminded me that I had not accomplished enough or experienced as much fun as I had anticipated.
As a retired teacher, I could say that all days are now weekends. OR I could really claim that all days are weekdays, given that I rarely skip working on my freelance editing. But, somehow, this first day of the week still can get me down. I call this feeling that settles over me “The Sundays.” Maybe you get that, too?
I find that fixing myself some comfort food goes a long way toward making me feel better. And what better comfort food than a hearty stew! I no longer eat meat, so my stew involves mainly veggies with a spicy black bean burger thrown in for added flavor and thickening. Use whatever ingredients you prefer and have on hand. Those pictured above will find their way into my stewpot this afternoon. The only ones that originate from my balcony garden, today, are the rosemary and jalapeno. But they will help to add some depth to the flavors.
Here’s the basic recipe. Use what you have, in the proportions you like:
“THE SUNDAYS” STEW
To water or vegetarian broth add favorite veggies: potatoes, peppers, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, onions, garlic, etc.
After cooking for about 1/2 hour, add a black bean burger. Continue cooking for another 1/2 hour or until broth is thickened and veggies are softened but not mushy.
Welcome back to Climate Movement Monday in which I highlight frontline communities in need of support. The climate crisis is on full display this week with hurricanes and typhoon-related storms causing mass destruction. I’m listing local organizations that accept donations. Every bit helps, no amount too small. WESTERN ALASKA was hit on Friday and Saturday […]
Tracy Abell is a nature enthusiast, climate activist, and author of both fiction and non-fiction. She blogs each Monday about climate issues to help keep readers informed about how we can all make a difference. Please check out her blog! ~Becky
Write postcards to make sure people who care about climate vote in the Tuesday, November 8th elections. Choose from state and local races with elections this November where progress on climate is possible, but only if climate voters show up. They mail you free postcards, so you just need postcard stamps and a pen! Please sign up today! Without a healthy planet, nothing else really matters.
Please note: although the drop-down menu for the number of cards to order begins with 200, I found that you can add a message in the “Drop us a note” field near the bottom to request a lower number, if you wish!
The weather has been VERY hot and dry, here in Texas. I’m no longer surprised when “my dove” now visits the balcony for a drink, even while I’m sitting right there! I have a few green tomatoes, so far, and already ate several peppers from my plants. Time will tell if I’m able to give the plants enough water and just enough sun to keep things growing in this heat. The cactus, to the left of the shelves, is the happiest.
Wings of a Dove
by Henry Van Dyke
I At sunset, when the rosy light was dying Far down the pathway of the west, I saw a lonely dove in silence flying, To be at rest.
Pilgrim of air, I cried, could I but borrow Thy wandering wings, thy freedom blest, I’d fly away from every careful sorrow, And find my rest.
II But when the filmy veil of dusk was falling, Home flew the dove to seek his nest, Deep in the forest where his mate was calling To love and rest.
Peace, heart of mine! no longer sigh to wander; Lose not thy life in barren quest. There are no happy islands over yonder; Come home and rest.
And, finally, one of my mom’s favorite songs. I remember as a child, I had to stay home from school, sick, one day. She played this song, over and over again, as she cleaned the house. I remember feeling very surprised:)
Grab some control over the NRA instead of them controlling you! Tell them what you think! LATER: more than 325,000 people told the NRA not to meet in Houston just a few days after the shootings in Uvalde, Texas. Although the convention still took place, it was also met with many protestors!
Here is a link for parents, grandparents, and other caring adults to help their kids deal with trauma related to school shootings. And here is another solid article on this topic from NPR.
I have no idea about the names of the people in the photo shown above. But I know the house intimately. It was built around 1900 and had been updated countless times when I moved in over 20 years ago. The house still needed a great deal of work, and it really started to shine during the years when I was lucky enough to live there.
A kind resident of the small, Upper Peninsula town loaned me this old photo. They had known someone who lived on the street and realized I might be interested in this historical image of my house. I formed the mat around the copy of this picture with remnants of vintage wallpaper found hiding in the walls during renovations.
After mulling over my story, “Dinner for Two,” for years, I finally knew the missing piece. The house needed to play a more important part as a character, along with the man and then the woman, known only to the reader through the man’s recollections.
I’m pleased to say that my story now appears in UP Reader #6, which is published by Modern History Press! Because this just came out, I can’t share this tale with you, yet. But I’m happy to now post a story that I told you about last year…”Sumac Summer.” This is based on memories my father told me from his own childhood and was such fun to write. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about this young boy’s suspicions of a possible poisonous mistake!
“Philip, why are you still awake?” Mom whispered. She carried a lantern to avoid the bright hallway bulb.
“Too hot,” I murmured, from my spot by an open window. Four brothers snored nearby. My six sisters were quiet in their room down the hall.
“A few more minutes and back to bed,” my mother warned, as she left on tiptoes.
Something outside moved from the shadows. Dr. Justin walked the path to my friend’s house with his black medical bag. Was Danny sick?
The stairs squeaked, and I dove for my pillow. I ignored the need for an outhouse visit, pressed my eyes shut, and fell into a sweaty sleep.
The air was even warmer when the rooster crowed the next morning.
“Looks like our next-door neighbors moved out,” my big brother, Harold, said at breakfast.
“No way. Danny’s my best friend. He wouldn’t leave without telling me.”
“When I delivered their newspaper, the window shades were still closed, and their car was gone,” said Harold.
“Dr. Justin was over there last night,” I said. “I wonder what happened.”
“I bet they didn’t move,” said my oldest brother, Ernie. “They probably got sick and died from poison, or something.” He clutched his throat and fell to the floor with a choke.
“Don’t tease,” Mom said with a frown. “Danny’s mother mentioned that his father had health problems. She said they might move closer to family in New York.” ***
By the end of that week, I decided Danny was gone for good. Harold reminded me it was my turn to cut the grass. I grabbed the wooden handle and gave our mower a push across the lawn. By the time I finished, the sun was high in the sky. My cheeks were on fire, and my mouth was dry as dirt.
I guzzled water at the kitchen pump and grumbled. “Why can’t we ever buy soda pop from the market?”
“Treats like that cost too much for a family of thirteen,” said Mom.
“Could we make more root beer?”
“That wasn’t cheap, either. And we had a terrible mess in the basement when a bottle exploded.”
“I have an idea for a drink,” Dad said, as he walked into the room. “It’s almost free and not messy to make.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Sumac (‘sue mack’) juice. It’s been years since I made any, but I remember the steps.”
“Never heard of it.”
“The sumac tree’s red berries can be used to make a lemon-flavored drink,” said Dad. “Some people even call it sumac lemonade.”
I pumped another cup of water and listened.
“The family next door has gone. No one cares if we cut berries from those sumac trees between the two houses,” Dad continued.
“Guess not.” Even though the neighbors had only been gone a week, I missed Danny. He’d been my best friend and could even make doing chores seem like fun.
Dad eyed the trees through the kitchen window. “We’ll soak the berries in water until it’s pink and lemony. Sugar or honey adds a bit of sweetness. The flavor will be strongest when the clusters turn dark red. Here in Northern Michigan, we won’t see that until late summer.”
A quick look at Mom told me she was okay with his idea. Hadn’t my parents ever heard of poison sumac? With a gulp, I swallowed the words so they wouldn’t escape from my mouth. What if Ernie was right? What if Danny’s family was poisoned? I wanted to trust Dad on this. But it might make us sick, or even worse!
When I checked outside, the skinny leaves on the short, thick trees were mixed with light green flowers. I didn’t see any berries.
Sleep didn’t come easy that night. I jerked awake. “Argh!!!” Danny and some strangers with hollow eyes and red drool on their lips visited my dreams. Could that nightmare be a sign that sumac juice might not be safe? ***
Within a few weeks, little green berries appeared. They turned a rosier color each time I dared to peek at them. No words popped into my head to warn my parents they might be poisonous. I had to learn the facts before it was too late. Since it was summer vacation, I couldn’t ask my teacher. The library was the best place to start.
“Chores are done, and I’m going for a bike ride.”
“Sorry, Philip,” said Mom. “You’ll need to watch your younger brother and sister. I’m late for my women’s meeting.” The screen door slammed before I could argue.
Paul and Eunice weren’t too heavy, and I could pull them to the library in our wagon. The shortest way took us past the blue water of the bay. If only we could trade places with the people who played in the waves without a care in the world.
The air was cooler inside the small, brick library. My sister and brother ran toward the picture books. I started my own search for adult books about trees.
“Philip Ross, I haven’t seen you here in a long time,” said the librarian after a while. “Could I help you find something?” She eyed my sister and brother. Had they emptied all those books from the shelves?
“Ah…no, thanks. We should get going.” I grabbed Eunice by the hand and Paul by the shirt. The walk back home with the wagon was even hotter, and I hadn’t learned anything helpful.
Once we got in the yard, I reached to check the trees and found blood-red berries. Some clusters were even covered with white, sticky stuff. We were almost out of time. My new idea felt scary, but I had no choice. I wiped my hands across my pants and planned for the next day.
I awoke early to a gray morning. After sneaking from the house, I steered my bike through quiet streets. I headed to the drug store, where one of my older sisters had an afternoon job. While I waited by the locked door for the owner, Mr. Keiser, I peered down the road through the fog.
Teacher told us that druggists go to college for a long time. That’s how they learn to make safe medicines. Mr. Keiser should also know which plants were safe. His tall body finally appeared from the fog. I ignored the lump in my throat and told him my problem. With a strange look, he motioned me inside the store.
“Aren’t you one of Pastor Ross’s boys?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, I’m Phil.”
“Tell me the details.”
He sat on a high stool, and I began with the way Danny and his family had vanished. I ended with my fear that Dad didn’t know the red berries were poison.
“Your worries are over,” he said. “That’s harmless sumac. You can tell by the red or purple clusters that point toward the sky. The sticky part you described has the strongest lemon taste,” he added.
“Is there a kind of sumac that’s poison?” I asked.
“Yes, but that looks very different. It has green or white berries that hang down.”
“Gee, thanks,” I said in relief, and stuck out my hand to shake his.
“Make sure you always check with your parents before eating anything that grows in the wild,” Mr. Keiser reminded me, as I turned for the door.
I flew toward home on my bike and jumped off before the wheels stopped turning. Fat drops of dew sparkled on deep purple berries. “They’re ready,” I yelled, at the back door. “It’s sumac juice time!”
As the sun slipped lower in the sky, I sat on our wide porch with my family. Dad filled glasses with sumac juice for everyone. Mom added frosty chunks from the large block the iceman had just brought. The drink was cool, sour, and sweet on my tongue. Everybody liked it, except Eunice, who didn’t like most things.
“Afternoon,” said the mailman, from the bottom step. Mom traded him a glass of juice for a few envelopes. He drank it and talked with my parents on the shaded porch.
Mom sifted through the mail as soon as he’d gone. She held up an envelope, written with ink. A cloud of worry crossed her face. “It’s a letter from out East,” she said and opened it. Her frown soon disappeared. “Philip, it’s from Danny’s mother. She says they left early that morning to beat the heat and apologizes for not saying good-bye. She’ll work in her family’s store while her husband recovers,” Mom folded the page. “Time will tell, if they’ll move back to Michigan.”
“I’m glad they’re okay,” I said and turned away to hide my sadness.
“Danny sent you a note, Philip.” She raised a paper written in smeared pencil.
I grabbed it and hurried to the side yard that overlooked my friend’s old house and the sumac trees. Danny’s story made me laugh out loud. On their way to New York, he and his mother had to change a flat tire. He described the scene so well that I pictured them in mud up to their knees as they search for a dropped lug nut. Maybe I could think of a tale to send back?
I had a whopper of an idea. I’d write about a missing friend, fear of a poison potion and a tasty ending!
Beyond picture books, my next fondest memories of reading as a child were of the Trixie Belden mysteries. And I have my older sister, Terri, to thank for my love of books! She often read to me when we were kids, and she still tells me about great series she has heard about or read that I might want to try.
Although I enjoyed Nancy Drew’s antics, Trixie was always my favorite and seemed more like a “real kid.” I still have several treasured copies of Trixie Belden books from our childhood.
If you also loved those books or would like to learn more about them, here is a great article with background about the settings and authors!