Dog Days

Dog Days.

Dog Days

Young blood must have its course, lad, and every dog its day.

-Charles Kingsley

It is the last, sultry, sticky, week of August.    Our old dog, Maggie, keeps low to the ground with her belly flattened against the cool ceramic tile floor in the family room.  Smart dog.  Today I felt like joining her.  When she isn’t passed out on the floor, she paces from room to room, looking for both kids because she knows that things are about to get pretty dull around here again. Her kids are going back to college.  Yesterday, before the Boy left, Maggie let him smother her with Boy kisses and got one last good ear scratching. Today, she is restless and searching and kind of morose, missing something.  Missing them.

Me, too. I’ve been remembering other Augusts when the dog and I were both a lot younger and less inclined to mope around than we are today.  Augusts when we welcomed the start of new school years and the peace and quiet that followed.  Oh sure, the kids pretended that they wanted summer to last forever, but I knew that they were getting bored. They were just as ready for the familiar routine of school and activities as their mother was.

Fresh starts are good.  And nothing says “back to school” like a pile of new notebooks, a pencil case, and a big pink eraser.  I wonder how many boxes of crayons, pocket folders, and mechanical pencils I’ve purchased over the years.  I do know that when we moved the last time, I must have found about seventy markers in every color of the rainbow.  Why did I keep buying new packs of the darn things all of those years?  And then there was the yearly “I need a new backpack” conversation with a particular little fashion conscious female child who always seemed to have a perfectly logical excuse for why the previous year’s model just wouldn’t do. Her brother is a junior in college and he is still using the same backpack I bought him when he started the eighth grade. Maybe it all evens out in the end.

Now that they have good summer jobs,  they do not ask their mother to buy their school supplies and there was no mad dash to Duluth or the Twin Cities to go school shopping, either.  They were making their own money, not spending mine! Besides, they are finally at the age when they are trying to impress people with their newly acquired knowledge instead of their blue jeans.  This is good.  I have cleaned and rearranged my home office and will go back to the task of teaching college English to the sons and daughters of other mothers and fathers while the dog sleeps on the rug near my desk.

If you are a parent of young children, when you take those first day of school pictures for the scrapbooks this year, pay really close attention.  Those little kids of yours have probably been driving you nuts for the past month.  But on the first day of school, stop and really look at them. Admire your freshly scrubbed, starched precious moppets. The ones standing there all excited with broad smiles and sharp new haircuts.  Smell them if you can get away with it. Compliment them on their choice of  first day of school outfits right before you give them that hug and send them on their way.  Do this even if you are planning to run inside the house, crank up the stereo  and dance a jig with the dog as soon as the bus pulls away. Time passes much too fast in the life of a mother of small ones.  Much, much too fast.  And you are going to miss those little characters even if you ultimately end up with seven extra pink and purple backpacks and seventy magic markers once they’re grown.  Trust me on this.

It is the last week of August.  Dog Days.  I think a mother said that first.

We’re gonna make it after all….

She is building a nest.   Her nest.  This is not surprising.

She’s watched me build nests her whole life.

But her nest is tiny.  A nest soon to be filled with too many clothes, too many shoes, books and posters and a futon that has been transported by her long-suffering, pickup owning Uncle Maffy more times than anyone (no matter how much he loves his niece) should have to move a futon.  It is a nest for one smart little black-feathered bird.

It is an efficiency apartment, which seems proper since she is one of the most efficient people I know.  She is also very independent and mostly fearless, too. As long as she doesn’t have spiders for roommates, I’m pretty sure she’ll do just fine on her own in the big city.

And let’s face it.  I do most of the worrying in the family anyway.  But my baby bird is excited about building this little nest of hers, and so I’m washing her clothes and watching her pack as I listen to her plans for her first place with a mixture of awe and envy.  And for some reason,  I keep thinking about those old Mary Tyler Moore episodes.  I wonder if Mary Richards’ mother felt this way when Mary spun around in a circle and threw that beret of hers up in the air. I don’t remember Mary’s mother ever hauling plastic bins into that big old Victorian house she shared with Rhoda, do you? Maybe Mary had uncles, too.

I suspect there will be times when this nest will seem lonely and a little too quiet.  Moments when she will question whether making the decision to live by herself was the right one and even times when she wishes she’d moved into a house full of giggling roommates closer to campus instead.

But tonight, as she sorts and folds her clothes, deciding what to take to her new apartment, she is excited, ready to embark on the next adventure. And in spite of all of my mother worries, I’m excited for her, too.  She is unencumbered, free, and doing what she loves.   She has the guts to venture out into the big world in a way that I never really did at her age. And I’m proud of her for it.  She will never be as free to set her own course as she is right now.  She does not know this yet, but I do.

For this little bird of mine, I’d say that the senior year of college with her whole life spread out before her waiting to be lived is the perfect time for a nest built for one, wouldn’t you?

You go, Girl.  Pretty sure you’ll look great in that beret.

I love you to the Moon…..Mom

The Place in the Middle

On Saturday, I was making her doughnuts in her kitchen and she was right there next to me, coaching me along.  At least I think she was.

Thirty years ago, as a young bride, I’d asked for her doughnut recipe.  She recited it from memory while I wrote.  One of us left off the flour.  Or maybe she just figured that I’d know how many cups I needed because she knew how many it took to create the world’s best fried doughnut.  Who knows?

The only thing I know for sure is that I’ve tried many times to duplicate that darn doughnut recipe.  Sometimes, they turn out like hockey pucks with holes in the middle and sometimes, they look promising until someone takes the first bite and discovers a gooey, uncooked, really bad excuse for a doughnut instead.

But I keep trying, and since I was in her kitchen and it was summertime and I was missing her, I tried her recipe again.  I measured and stirred,  then patted the dough and cut out perfect little rings.  I heated the oil and then popped a doughnut hole into the fat to see what would happen.  When the hole sizzled and rose to the surface without burning, I was encouraged.  But it swam around looking pale and lost. Unfinished.  So I monkeyed around with the heat setting and tried another test hole. The wonderful little ball of awesomeness turned a crispy, golden brown.  I scooped it out and popped it in my mouth.


Pretty sure I heard angels singing.  Doughnut angels.

I’m not one of those people who posts recipes or reads cookbooks just for fun.  While I admire people who spend hours perfecting fancy dishes to serve their families and friends, I’d rather paint a room or dig in the dirt.  That is unless I’m baking something that makes the people I love smile and remember her because it is a recipe of hers.   Her pies do that.  Her doughnuts do, too.

There are certain August afternoons when the river is sparkling and there are sunfish under the bridge and little kids I don’t know are yelling, “Grandma!  I caught one!” when it happens.  Days when the wild blueberries are ripe and she’s not there to pick them when a girl misses her grandmother more than all the other days in the year.  And on those days, baking something she baked in a kitchen that was hers is about the only thing that makes things better.

My sister gave me the ultimate compliment after she sampled one from that batch on Saturday.  She told me it tasted just like the ones Gummy used to make.  High praise.  High praise, indeed.

Sometimes love is a doughnut.  And sometimes love is the empty space right smack in the middle.

If You Give a Chipmunk a Cheetoh…

I am currently waging war.  It isn’t pretty.

After a springtime mouse infestation of Biblical proportions up at the cabin, we made it through the rest of the summer critter-free.  Then, a few weeks ago, my son and his friends spent a weekend there and between roasting marshmallows and chugging beer, they fed chipmunks junk food which I’m sure made hanging out by the fire circle much more entertaining than it might otherwise have been for young people used to college fun nine months out of the year.

Now, I like chipmunks as well as the next person, having spent summer afternoons of my childhood feeding wild critters, too.  One chipmunk, “Shorty”, became so tame that it was possible to pick him up and feed him while he sat there munching peanuts left in our palms.  As chipmunks go, he was a unique little dude.

A chipmunk in the yard is fun, but a chipmunk trapped in the cabin is not.  And if you are a chipmunk,  being discovered at 8 a.m. sitting on top of the clock radio in the living room can be pretty painful if you have the bad luck of sharing the place with two soft-hearted, soft-headed, chipmunk-feeding twenty-two year old almost-men.  I won’t go into the gory details, but their plan to rid the cabin of the little striped squatter involved first, a high-speed chase into the utility room in the general vicinity of a set mousetrap,  the chipmunk getting only partially caught in the trap, a split-second decision to “off” the mortally injured chipmunk by firing a BB gun at pointblank range in the general vicinity of its head, and finally, when this didn’t work, bludgeoning the chipmunk to death and ending its misery.  I am not making this up.  I couldn’t make stuff like this up. This actually happened.  In MY cabin.  If I doubted what I’ve read about college age men and their late pre-frontal cortex brain development before this sad misadventure, all of my doubts were erased as I sat listening to the two twenty-something men at my dining room table after the chipmunk’s untimely demise.  Good Grief.  Really?

After the weekend of the execution,  I went up to the lake to cut grass and spend a couple of days there with the dog.   I discovered where the deceased had found his way in and promptly filled the hole with steel wool to keep his relatives out and figured that things would get back to normal.

Unfortunately, my roommate that weekend was a very old, very deaf, very lumpy beagle with the nose of a dog half her age.  Maggie paced around the cabin until she found the chipmunk hole and  promptly tore all the steel wool out of it.  But this was just a start.  She needed a bigger hole, which she made after pulling the baseboard off in a fit of beagle-insanity.  She was a beagle on a mission in hot pursuit of whatever had left that fabulous chipmunk-y aroma there behind the easy chair the week before.

So as I’ve said, I am at war.  My enemies?  A family of chipmunks addicted to junk food and a geriatric beagle keen on home demolition.

And I’m pretty sure that I’ll be banning the feeding of Cheetos to chipmunks up at the cabin for the rest of the summer.

Sorry, boys.  I think it was the BB gun that did me in.