a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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Recently a person in their early twenties looked and me, wrinkled their nose, and declared something smelled funny. I immediately sniffed my shirt sleeves, starting at the armpits. It wasn't that. I also sensed the foul aroma near my cuffs. I washed my hands after the incident, but apparently, I should have scrubbed my arms too. I began to explain, "Do you know what a corn bag is?"
"Yeah, you use them to play Bags, you know? You throw the corn bag to a deck about twenty feet away, trying to put it through the hole for points." They explained, "You also try to knock your opponent's bags off the deck to keep them from scoring."
"Yes, I'm familiar with the game," I said, "but I thought those bags were filled with beans." We both looked doubtful, second-guessing our knowledge. I researched it later. The bags can be filled with various materials: field corn, popcorn, beans, rice, wood pellets, plastic beads, aquarium gravel, or anything else you want to fill them with – but not kitty litter.
One article specified cat litter would break down inside until it became a bag of dust - unless it got wet, in which case, the filling would clump. Another article said the game of Bags is also called: Cornhole, Bag Toss, Sack Toss, "or whatever y'all call it in your part of the country."
This younger person sincerely thought the game was one their generation created. "It's been around for centuries in various forms but is most commonly called Shuffleboard." They acknowledged seeing such game tables in some of the pubs. "Bags is sort of a cross between that and throwing Horseshoes," I said.
Having no idea what that was, I suggested to them, "Lawn Darts?" They looked at me as if I was really old and possibly crazy. "Anyway, when I was a kid, we called the game Bean Bags." They seemed interested, so I continued.
"We didn't have fancy, high-gloss finished decks with painted lines for scoring; we drew circles on the driveway with chalk. When we didn't have chalk, we etched lines with a piece of lime-stone gravel. It was like scratching circles in the dirt with a stick to play marbles."
They were baffled, "Marbles was an actual game?" Their reaction caused me to feel old, giving me aches and pains that weren't there when this little chat session started. Suddenly I needed the kind of corn bag I had initially been talking about!
"Never mind the games; we're getting way off the subject." I continued, "A corn bag is a cloth bag, with dried field corn in it. You put it in the microwave for a minute or so, then place it on whatever part of your body hurts. The corn holds its heat for a long time, so it works like a heating pad without an electrical cord."
The younger person grinned with enlightenment, as did I. We were finally on the same page. "Okay, I know what you're talking about! My Grandma makes those for Grandpa, but I thought she filled them with rice." My smile went awry. Part of me wanted to walk away from this conversation – but I stayed to explain.
It all started in the kitchen earlier that day. I had some writing to do, but first, I seasoned a pork roast. Adding a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a cup of water, I put it in the crockpot and turned it on high. I was wearing socks but no slippers; my feet were cold from standing on the ceramic floor tile. I put a corn bag in the microwave oven, setting the timer for ninety seconds.
My cousin, Robin, made this corn bag for me with a tie-dye patterned cloth. A little larger than most, it was the perfect size for my intended use. When the timer beeped, I set the warm, colorful bag on the floor under the kitchen table. It was comforting to rest my cold feet upon when I sat down to write.
The words were coming to me quickly; I was on a roll. I didn't want to break my stride, but the hard floor soon drew the heat from the kernels. The corn bag was cold, and so were my toes. Working for nearly an hour, a quick break was in order.
We have a plastic lid in the microwave oven that we set corn bags on when heating them. I put the corn bag inside and set the timer for ninety seconds. I lifted the lid on the crockpot and checked my pork roast. "Oh my!" The seasonings were coming alive, and the aroma was amazing.
Smells are a powerful memory trigger. The scent of that roast reminded me of something I wanted to include in my story. I quickly went back to my laptop to write a couple of lines before I forgot them. Then a couple more lines, and just like that, the momentum I had going came right back to me. I kept pecking away at the keyboard.
Melissa called out from the living room, "Are you cooking something." Apparently, the fragrant seasonings were making their way to the other room.
"I have a pork roast in the crockpot," I boasted. "It smells awesome, doesn't it?"
"It really stinks," she complained, "can you turn on the exhaust fan." Wow! I've never had anyone tell me a roast in the crockpot stinks.
Trying to remember the line I was working on, I got up to turn on the fan, but it was already running. "Strange, I don't remember turning that on." I glanced at the microwave oven door – the light inside seemed a funny color. I'd check it in a minute, but first, I wanted to see why she said my roast smelled terrible. When I tipped the glass lid, the steam rose, smelling just as good as it should. I set the cover down and glanced at the timer on the microwave panel.
"How can that still have seventy-four seconds left?" It felt like time stopped for a moment. The digits, seven and four, weren't changing, but the two numbers to the right of the colon continued to count down. "Oh my God! That's seventy-four minutes left."
"What did you do?" was all I heard from the living room.
I quickly opened the door to stop the possessed appliance. Plumes of black smoke belched from the opening; the exhaust vent tried to capture them, but it was too much, and the smell was absolutely putrid! I slammed the door shut. "What is that? What did you do?" She was standing right behind me, so I couldn't hide it.
"I must have accidentally set the timer to ninety minutes instead of seconds." I was trying to answer her and figure out what I was going to do simultaneously.
"How could you possibly…? How long has that been in there?" She was not a happy woman.
"It hasn't been that long, and you can't get on me for entering the wrong amount of time." I defended myself by recalling where I had experienced this nasty, awful stench before. "Remember that time in Winona, when you burned popcorn, and it stunk so bad we had to throw away the popcorn bowl and the microwave?" (Smells are a powerful memory trigger.)
"That was thirteen years ago! You can't bring that up now!" The unhappy woman was getting unhappier.
"Oh, all of a sudden, there's a statute of limitations on bringing up what you did?" My reply was only making matters worse. "Besides, it's not my fault – the smoke detectors didn't even go off to warn me of the problem."
"That's because the microwave was so hot, it automatically turned on the exhaust fan." She snapped back.
I muttered under my breath, "…is that how the fan got turned on?" My attempts to minimize my error were working about as well as trying to put a fire out with gasoline. "Look, we can hash this out later. Right now, I have to figure out how I'm going to get that burning pile of grain and rags out of the house."
Wearing a pair of oven mittens with the non-slip finish, I used a knife to raise the edge of the glass turntable. I lifted it out of the microwave oven and set it in a large glass baking dish I had placed on the stovetop below. Melissa opened the back door, and I rushed the smoking mess outside to the deck. I returned with a quart bottle of water to extinguish whatever was burning.
I examined the charred pile of rubble and wondered, "Where did that plastic lid go?" I poked at the mass with a chopstick, "Oh, there it is." The three-inch tall cover had been reduced to a melted flat crescent; some sections of the plastic piece were just gone.
The corn bag itself, which used to be about an inch-and-a-half thick, was bloated to four or five inches. Amidst this disaster, I was able to find some humor, "I guess field corn will pop like popcorn – if it gets hot enough. Maybe I should save this and ask Melissa if she wants to have a movie night tonight." I quickly looked around to be sure she didn't catch me laughing.
About twenty minutes later, Melissa pointed out the window, "Your corn bag is smoking again." This time I saturated the smoldering mess. The once-mighty nuclear inferno was fighting to survive, but the full gallon of water was too much. The beast released two final puffs of smoke, then surrendered to its demise.
I went inside to wash my hands and face. I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair, and put on a clean shirt. I would be singing at 7:00 that evening at Saint Mary's Church in Silver Bay. I wanted to go over the music one more time before then, so I drove to Holy Spirit, in Two Harbors, where the cantor would be singing the same songs at the 5:00 mass. I could follow along.
The conversation with the younger person occurred on my way from one church to the other. "And so," I concluded, "I'll probably have to replace the microwave oven - that smell never goes away." I sniffed my sleeves again, near the cuffs, "I washed my hands well enough, but I guess I needed to wash a little further up my arms." They nodded in agreement, and we said our farewells.
I hummed through my songs while driving to Silver Bay. Turning into the church parking lot, I thought about the charred remains on my back deck at home. I had to laugh at the irony; the reason for an evening mass on a weekday? It was Ash Wednesday.
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We generally go through about two 500-gallon tanks of LP gas in a heating season. We had the tank filled mid-December. We were on the third day of a cold snap. The weatherman said the arctic blast of cold air was forecast to stay in our region for another week.
I checked my laptop. The temperature was negative 27 degrees, with a windchill pushing forty below zero. My trips outdoors needed to be useful and planned. I would check the fuel level in our tank and take June Bug out to potty.
Bundled up tightly, June and I walked out the door onto the front porch. June darted down the steps to find the squirrel that had been on the feeder. "Leave it alone and go potty." I stood for a moment to enjoy the cold air. Just to breathe was exhilarating. I thought, how many times I've stood here when it was even ten degrees above zero, taking deep breaths, filling my lungs with crisp, fresh Northwoods air and the scent of pine. Not today.
There was a tingling sensation around the edges of my nostrils every time I inhaled. In these temperatures, I didn't want to fill my body with bitterly cold air rapidly. I was very aware of my breathing being slower, as if trying to warm the air a little so that it wouldn't freeze my lungs. June was off to her business meeting in the yard. "This is awesome," I said. I genuinely love these cold snaps. "Cold weather brings out the best in people."
I walked down the steps and to the left. The snow squeaked under my boots. I only walked a few feet in the deep snow before getting on a path the deer had made through the yard. The walking was much easier there. June saw me heading away from the house and came plowing toward me through fresh snow.
Each time she came down on her front feet, she intentionally pushed her head into the snow, then lifting her head, shaking about, she threw a cloud of the white stuff around her with every leap. She was having a blast playing in the snow, and the cold didn't seem to bother her.
At the LP tank, June sniffed about the area. "What's this?" She wondered. The deer had packed the snow down in the area. Perhaps they huddle there using the tank and the pine tree as a windbreak, finding shelter from the cold. We'd been using the woodstove a lot on these colder days. The tank level was still more than one-third full. I would order more fuel just to be safe; I don't want the tank getting too low, especially with another week of this weather ahead of us.
June and I walked around the other side of the tank. There was quite a gap in the big pile of wood from me restocking the smaller stack up on the deck. "Maybe I should move more wood up to the deck while we're out," I said but decided I would take June in first. "Come on, Bugs, let's go inside."
June took off running and splashing through the snow. About twenty feet ahead of me she stopped, and gave me a helpless look as if to say, "Dad, my feet are freezing." June does not like me to pick her up, but she gladly let me lift her and carry her back to the house. "Thanks for giving me a ride, Dad." She tried to give me an affectionate kiss, but I turned away.
"I don't want my face wet from you licking me; it would freeze." She understood. "As for the ride, June, it's just what people do when it gets this cold – they help one another out." She offered me another kiss, but again I turned away. "Save the kisses for inside."
As we walked on, June asked, "Dad, is our woodpile getting smaller? Have the squirrels been taking our wood? I can chase them away for you."
"The squirrels are fine, June." I said, "With this cold snap, we've been using the woodstove a lot more." I chuckled and added, "We're going through firewood as if the stuff grows on trees." June and I shared a good laugh about that as I turned up the front steps to the house. Inside, I dried her paws, took my coat off, then June and I sat in front of the fire to warm up.
I had an early dentist appointment the next morning in Duluth. To allow travel time, I would leave by 6:30. I went out to start the van about fifteen minutes before I needed to leave. It was bitterly cold; the temperature was negative thirty-five degrees with a windchill of minus forty-six. When I turned the key, the motor sounded a bit labored as it turned over, but it did start. "Good girl," I said, then set the temperature to high and turn on the windshield defroster and parking lights. When I went back inside, the belts on the motor squealed and howled.
I finished getting ready and ate breakfast, then went back to brush my teeth. I filled my thermos with coffee and let June out one more time. I checked the time. "6:40. Darn it. Not a problem. I allowed a fifteen-minute cushion." I needed to leave right away to be on time, but I still went back to the bathroom to check my teeth one more time, making sure there was not pepper or anything else in them.
While I put on my coat, hat, and gloves, June came and sat by me, looking at me as if she wanted to go along for the ride. "Baby, it's too cold outside for you to wait in the van while I'm at the dentist's office." I walked back to the kitchen and gave her a treat. "Maybe next time, okay?" I gave her a rub on the head, then walked out the door.
Steam flowed from the exhaust pipes of the van as it idled in the driveway. The red taillamps made the rising cloud of steam glow with pink billows. It was pretty. When I reached for the handle on the driver's door, it was locked - with the keys inside. I must have bumped the knob when I got out. I have a spare in the house, but fortunately, the van has one of those digital code pads on the door. I climbed in and sat down on the cold, hard seat. "Too bad it doesn't have heated seats too."
I shivered, turned on the headlights, and shifted the van into drive. The tires made a crunching sound as I pulled away. I glanced at the clock. "6:45 - I'm still okay." It takes exactly one hour and fifteen minutes to get there. At the stop sign, I took my glove off to feel the air coming out of the vent. It was warm, but the large interior of the van takes a while to heat up. The steering wheel was still ice cold, so I put my glove back on, then turned right on highway 61.
As I went south to Duluth, I could see a car on the shoulder ahead. Its amber flashers cut brightly through the frigid air - I could tell there was no steam coming from the tailpipes. Perhaps the car wasn't running. As I got closer, I could see someone leaning over the car's front – but the hood wasn't up. I turned on my flasher and pulled over behind them.
I walked up to the car. A young man, probably in his early twenties, was fiddling with something on the vehicle. The wind chill was minus forty-six degrees, and he didn't appear to be dressed warm enough for this weather – he didn't even have gloves on. "Is everything okay?" I asked.
"Yeah," he replied, then explained, "my wiper blade keeps trying to come off. I'm just putting it back on so I don't lose it."
"I've had that happen before." I told him, then asked, "Your car's not running. Is it going to start okay?" It was an older car, which can often have many little things that need attention or repair.
"It should," he said. "My gauge doesn't work, and I know I'm pretty low, so I shut it off to make sure I won't run out of gas before I get to Beaver Bay."
"I have a can of gas in my van. You're welcome to it if you'd like." I offered.
He was polite. "Thanks, I should have enough to get to the Holiday station."
"Are you sure?" I told him, "I always carry gas just in case I meet people who've run low. It'd be no problem to give you a couple of gallons." I could tell he was considering my offer but then said he thought he'd make it. "It's pretty cold out here," I took my gloves off and offered them to him. "Do you want these? I have another pair in my van."
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a pair of worn, brown jersey gloves. He smiled and said, "I'm good."
"Okay," I said, "I'll tell you what; I can wait in my van until you get your car started, and I'll follow you to make sure you make it to Beaver Bay." He seemed genuinely relieved by my offer.
He smiled and said, "I would sure appreciate that, sir." I went back to my van. He got in his car and turned it over two or three times. Each time it started, coughed and died again. I opened my door to see if he wanted the gas – or offer him a ride to where ever he was going. Just then, his engine started. He revved the motor a few times, then pulled away.
He drove well below the speed limit the next five or six miles. His taillights dimmed, and his brake lights never came on as he turned into the gas station drive. I was pretty sure he ran out of gas and coasted in. I stopped on the shoulder to make sure he got to the pumps; if not, I could help him push his car the rest of the way. He got out of his car and waved at me. I gave a couple of toots on the horn.
Pulling away, I looked at the time. Now I was going to be late, and that was fine. If it had been thirty degrees outside, I probably would have driven on past. But it didn't matter if I was in a hurry; I wasn't going to just drive by someone stranded on the side of the road in these bitterly cold temperatures. I do believe cold weather brings out the best in people – even me.
I called the dentist's office to tell them I would be late and make sure they weren't going to reschedule me. "No problem," a friendly voice replied, "Drive safely, and we'll see you when you get here."
I rushed to the front desk, taking off my coat as I walked. "Hi, I'm Tom Palen; I have an eight-o-clock appointment. I'm sorry I'm late." I said, huffing.
She looked puzzled at her computer screen. "Mr. Palen, we have you down for nine. You're forty-five minutes early."
"Early?" I was confused. "I don't know what to do. I've never been early for anything in my life. Should I leave and come back?" We shared a good laugh about that.
She looked again at her schedule screen. "You're here for a dental cleaning. Actually, her first appointment canceled because of the cold." The receptionist said, "We can get you in now if you'd like." That sounded good to me.
When the dental hygienist finished, I paid my bill, bundled up, and went to my van. I climbed in and sat in the cold, hard driver's seat. "Boy, it didn't take long for the van to get cold again. I should have just left it running." While I let it warm up, I pulled down my sun visor. I opened my mouth wide, closed my jaw, and turned my head back and forth, looking at my teeth in the mirror. "They sure looked good." Then I ran my tongue across them from side to side. "They feel good too." It's a routine I go through after every dental cleaning. I don't know what I'm looking for; I just do it.
After running several errands in Duluth, I decided to eat before going home. Today I went to Perkins to breakfast for lunch. After the hostess seated me, I noticed two elderly ladies across the way. Their coats were on the bench next to them; they each wore their knitted scarves wrapped around their neck.
It appeared they had finished their meal and were enjoying coffee and conversation. I was eavesdropping as the ladies talked about how cold it was. "I don't mind this cold," the first lady said, "I just have to dress a little warmer and be careful." The second lady added, "I do believe people are kinder to one another when it's cold like this." I couldn't agree with them more. I wanted to join their conversation, but the waitress was coming with my coffee.
She set the coffee down, asking, "What can I get for you?" I took note of her name tag.
"Before I order, Jordan, could I get the ticket for those two ladies over there? But I don't want them to know who paid for their meal." Handing her my card, Jordan smiled and said she would take care of it.
When she returned, Jordan handed the ladies their receipt and told them someone had taken care of their ticket. There were several tables of people. They asked who paid for their meal. "They didn't want me to say." She answered, smiled, and wished them a good day. The ladies looked around the room. I remained nonchalant and kept looking straight ahead at my computer screen.
After the ladies left, Jordan approached my table, "That was a very nice thing you did," she said, setting their ticket next to me. On the back was a note. The handwriting was very neat and looked like my mom's: "Thank you to the anonymous angel that paid for our lunch. We will pay it forward also!! God Bless You." They made a smiley face with the exclamation points. I smiled, folded the note, and tucked it into my top shirt pocket. I'm not sure there is anything in the world that I appreciate more than God's blessings.
I bundled up and headed out to my van. Standing outside the driver's door, I reached inside, turned the key, and started the engine; then I climbed in. The thermometer read minus 14 degrees. I felt my hind end tingling - rapidly chilling on the cold, hard driver's seat. Unzipping my coat a bit, I reached in my pocket, took out the note, and shivered as I reread it. "I'd take a note like this over a heated seat any day!"
That note from those ladies completely made my day! I pulled out of the parking lot, thinking, "This cold weather really does bring out the best in people."
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My wife wheeled the trash can from the back to the front of the house. She cautioned me about the sidewalk behind her. "You might want to put some salt down on that icy patch." I had things to do, and salting the walk was not on the list. Besides, it's just a small, narrow walkway between the house and the bushes, and nobody uses it except us.
"People need to take responsibility and watch where they step," I told her, justifying my lack of concern. I rolled the can to the curb, dragging it down the steps along the way, then set it on the snowy boulevard. Walking back to the front door, I looked down, "I don't see any ice patches."
After work the next day, I used the snow shovel to clear small snowdrifts that worked their way across the front walk. "They must have missed us this morning," I said, looking at the trash can that still sat up right where I left it in the snow. Usually, after picking it up with the mechanical arm to empty it, they set the can back down several inches from it was sitting; often, it falls over on its side, and the lid is open. But today, there were no extras prints in the snow; no one had moved the receptacle.
Lifting the top, I was surprised to find it empty. "Man, he's good!" I said of the driver who put the can back in the very same spot, standing up with the lid closed. I grabbed the handle, pulling the trash can through the snow to take it around back.
Bang, bang, bang; it boomed like thunder with each step it bumped over. "This thing sure is loud when it's empty." I pulled the trash can along the west side of our house with my left hand and carried the snow shovel in my right.
My foot slipped just a bit on the slightly uneven sidewalk. Naturally, I put my other foot down to steady myself. Both feet began sliding and shuffling, desperately seeking dry ground. It was one of those moments where you don't have an opportunity to even think about what you're doing. Without conscious input, my body instinctively began making corrections to avoid a catastrophic injury.
My mind was trying to catch up to my swiftly moving feet, "What's going on here?" Things only got worse when I started thinking. "The trash can! Lean on the trash can to get your balance!" The receptacle's angle with additional downward pressure applied and the fact it has wheels - gave me a lesson on the physics of motion.
I started to fall backward. To keep the can from pulling me down, I released my death grip on the handle. The trash can took off like a hockey puck slapped with a stick! The hollow plastic drum made a heck of a racket when it hit the nearby tree and bounced back to the concrete. The hinged lid slammed against the sidewalk, like a drummer striking a cymbal at the end of a solo. Meanwhile, my panicking feet did everything they could to keep me upright. Releasing the handle gave me one free hand to assist.
I began flailing my left arm wildly through the air; that was not helping. Still behind in the game, my mind started barking orders to the thrashing hand. "Grab the bushes!" Lefty grabbed the leafless, dormant shrubs, but the branches were brittle. They snapped off, offering me no support.
I was now facing west with a handful of broken twigs, a full 90 degrees off my intended course. My feet continued doing their best to keep me from going down. In the back of my mind, I heard Michael Jackson's song, Billie Jean. Was I inadvertently doing the moonwalk? My brain, trying to help, shouted more orders: "Use the shovel. Steady yourself with the shovel, man!" I tried. I really did. I tried using the shovel as a cane or a walking stick.
Our shovel has an ergonomically correct handle to reduce pressure on your back when lifting snow. I briefly wondered why you never see an ergonomically designed cane with a disproportionately large base? I soon learned the answer.
As I poked and stabbed frantically at the ground, the curved handle entered the match and engaged battle with my knees. The shovel would be another contributing factor to my imminent demise. Holding on for dear life, I contorted in ways I didn't think were possible.
While the handle sparred with my knees, the shovelhead began striking at my feet like an angry rattlesnake. In the mayhem, I somehow turned 180 degrees from my original heading. There were too many elements involved in this attempted rescue mission. "Drop the shovel," was the new command from Brain Central, and so I did.
My left hand was still clasping the handful of broken twigs; my right hand now waved rhythmically through the air. My torso was thrown and tossed about as my lower body struggled to hold on. I felt like John Travolta riding the mechanical bull at Gilly's in the movie Urban Cowboy. This situation was not going to end well.
I envisioned myself being thrown from the bull, landing in those prickly, cold, stiff bushes. I could lose an eye. I wonder how many stitches would be needed to repair my torn body. Would I require a cast or two? Was a hospital stay in my future? If so, how long would I be in traction? I should never have attempted moving the trash can without a helmet and proper eye protection. "Lord, help me!" I cried out.
The shovel I heaved a second before deflected off the side of the house and began sliding back toward me. My left foot was going up, as my right foot was descending. The head of the shovel came to rest under my right shoe. Finally, I found solid footing on the shovelhead; unfortunately, the shovel itself was not stable.
My foot pushed backward, riding the scoop like a plastic saucer sled. The shovel stopped abruptly when the tool's wide handle grip struck the frozen base of the bushes. My upper body momentum caused me to lunge forward from the now stationary shovel. It was happening - I was going to fall.
Remember that trash can I dropped behind me a few seconds ago - the one which was now in front of me with the lid laying open on the ground? I was headed right for it! While reaching out, I opened my hands, preparing for a crash landing. My fist-full of broken twigs spewed ahead, landing in the lid.
I fell to my knees, also landing on the hinged lid. My boney knees crushed the sticks with the force of a swinging mallet. Ouch! I interlocked my fingers, hoping my clasped hands would keep me from breaking my nose when I face-planted on the front, which was now the container's top. Landing on my elbows kept me from falling all the way forward.
The chaos finally ceased - my exhausted body came to a rest. Anyone who has prayed on a kneeler in a church can visualize my position.
Since I was already on my knees, I used the moment to offer a prayer of thanks! Although I would be stiff, tomorrow - it seems I had once again eluded the services of paramedics, a squadron of EMS staff, and first responders.
I got back on my feet and looked around to ensure no one had seen this atrocity. There being no witnesses, I gathered my trash can and my snow shovel. I stepped to the right, avoiding the sidewalk, on the narrow space between the house and the concrete.
I looked back to examine the area where the incident occurred, "I wonder if that's the ice patch Melissa mentioned yesterday?" Shaking my head, I walked on, "Someone should put some salt on that before somebody slips and falls."
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It was cold outside when I woke up, a few degrees below zero. I opted to use the percolator to make coffee rather than the drip coffee machine. I filled the stainless-steel pot to the six-cup line with cold water. I placed the basket on the hollow stem, added three scoops of coffee grounds, and put the perforated cover on top. I lowered the assembly into the water, closed the lid, set the pot on the stove, and turned the knob - Tick, tick, tick, tick, woosh. I adjusted the blue flame below.
Above the percolator, I rubbed my hands together, warming them in the heat rising from the flame. Thinking a fire in the woodstove would sure be nice on such a chilly morning; I went out on the deck to bring in a few logs from the woodpile.
Wearing my buffalo plaid, flannel pajama pants, a Smokey Bear t-shirt, and my house slippers, I stood where the woodpile should be – but there was no wood. I shivered and recited a children's poem. "Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard – but when she got there, the cupboard was bare." That's exactly how I felt. I forgot to restock the small pile we keep close to the door.
I walked to the edge of the deck, staring at the big pile of firewood across the yard. "Why couldn't some of that be up here?" I seriously contemplated trekking over to gather an armload of logs. I looked down at my feet and bare ankles inside my slippers. In sub-zero weather, running across the snow-covered yard, still in my pajamas, would not have been exemplary of good decision-making skills. It was starting to snow. "I should have worn socks." I shivered and went back into the house.
Back in the kitchen, the coffee was perking with a steady rhythm. There's something about that sound that warms the soul - well, it usually warms the soul. That little excursion out to the deck had me plenty chilled. I poured a cup of coffee and wrapped my hands around the warm mug. "Oh, that feels good."
The mug warmed my hands, but my body was still cold. I wrapped an afghan from the couch around my shoulders, then stood with my coffee, looking out the bay window. The snow was falling much faster now. There were only a couple of chickadees at the bird feeder. Maybe it was too cold for the rest to come out yet.
A small red squirrel was in the pale green feeder that looks like an old-fashioned metal porch glider. The critter was sitting on his hind legs; his bushy tail pointed upward. He held and turned sunflower seeds using his front paws as he nibbled through the shell. Once he had the tasty treasure inside, he tossed the empty husk over the railing, and picked up another seed. He amused me: how fast his little jaws moved. I wondered where the little guy goes to stay warm on these bitterly cold nights. Just then, something spooked the squirrel.
He jumped from the porch, scurrying across the top of the snow, to the safety of a woodpile. He must have a nest in there because my dog June goes nuts running around that pile looking for him. "So that's where he stays warm." I smiled, thinking about commonalities between the squirrel and me. To get through the winter, he has nuts and food stashed all around the yard, where I have piles of firewood stacked all around the yard to get me through the winter.
I looked at my dark, empty woodstove, then at firewood outside. The snow was accumulating on the blue tarp that kept the logs below dry. I scowled, "That squirrel is using my firewood to stay warm while I stand here freezing." It just didn't seem fair. "I sure wish I had some of that wood in here." I rechecked the outside temperature; it was up to one degree above zero. "I don't want it that bad."
I just wanted a way to get warm. Even June was warm, curled up on the sofa. I had an idea that caused me to smile.
Happiness is telling your dog (who is not supposed to be on the couch) to get off the couch, so I can take a nap with my blanket - in the warm spot she left. "Oh, that feels nice." I said, tucking the covers under my chin.