a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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I was installing the oak trim boards in my house. I purchased unfinished wood, so each board and trim stick had to be clear-coated with the polyurethane finish – hand-sanded between layers.
Each day, I'd calculate the amount of wood I would need for the next day and make sure I had plenty of boards finished, dried, and ready to go to avoid a work stoppage.
After midnight Monday morning, I finished applying the second coat of varnish on the trim boards I would need for the day's work. Then, I cleaned up my brushes and headed for the shower.
Before getting in the shower, I decided to go ahead and toss my work clothes in the washer so I would have clean clothes to wear. I don't wash my work clothes with any other regular laundry.
I lifted the lid on the washer to make sure it was empty. Then, I set the dial to the "regular" cycle and pulled the knob. Water began flowing into the washtub. I added a small amount of liquid detergent to the water then removed my t-shirt and jeans, tossing them in with the rest of the work clothes. "I might as well wash my socks too," I said.
Standing barefoot on the concrete basement floor, wearing only my boxer shorts, I shivered. "It's chilly down here." I tossed the socks in with the load, closed the lid, and went upstairs.
Sunday had been a long day. I worked late. I was cold, tired, and my body hurt. So, the shower felt especially good. After I washed up, I decided to stay in the shower longer. I stood under the stream of hot water, letting it soothe my aches and pains. Besides, I had to wait on the washing machine.
I shut off the water, toweled off, and put on clean pajamas. I had every intention of staying awake long enough to put my clothes in the dryer, but that didn't happen. While sitting on the couch, listening for the washer to complete its cycle, I fell asleep.
A few minutes after waking in the morning, I remembered my wet clothes were still in the washer, and I had no other clean work jeans to wear. "Dang! Not having work clothes is going to throw my whole day off schedule."
I had to first coat the wood I needed for Tuesday to be dry and ready for sanding and the second coat in the evening. I wasn't going to chance getting varnish on a pair of good jeans, and varnishing boards in boxer shorts just didn't seem right! "What if a neighbor comes knocking on my door? What would the dog think?"
My dog June followed me down the steps. "If I can remodel an entire house alone, I should certainly be capable of handling a simple load of laundry on my own, right?"
Although I spoke rhetorically, June answered anyway. "Apparently not." Smart-aleck dog!
Surrendering to the notion that I was just going to be behind schedule, I put my clothes in the dryer then went upstairs to have breakfast while they tumbled to dry.
With my right foot on the first step, a lightbulb lit up over my head; I had an idea. I turned around quickly, nearly tripping over the dog. I walked back to the dryer with June at my heels. I turned the heat setting to high. "That'll make my jeans dry faster." I gave June a rub on the head, "I am a genius."
June gladly accepted my gesture of affection but continued looking on with skepticism. "Are you supposed to do that?"
"Why not? It won't hurt anything." I replied.
June warned, "Mom never uses the high heat setting when she does laundry."
I justified, "Well, mom's not here now, is she?" I could see the doubt in June's eyes. "Look, this will speed the drying process, getting me on the job closer to on schedule." I didn't want to hear any more from the dog.
Changing the subject, I announced, "Hey, this is Monday."
I slipped on my snow boots to take the trash to the curb wearing my pajamas. June ran off to the yard to do her morning business. I grabbed the mail on my way back to the house.
By the time I fed the dog, ate my oatmeal, and brushed my teeth, I heard the dryer's buzzer sound off. So, I hurried downstairs; June followed.
When I bent over and opened the dryer door, a blast of hot, dry air hit me in the face. I reached inside to grab my clothes. "Ouch!" My forearm touched the zipper and metal button on my jeans, and they were hot!
Upstairs, I tossed the clean clothes on the bed to fold later. Next, I took a T-shirt, shook it in the air a few times to cool it down, then put it on. It was still warm and felt good. Next, I grabbed my jeans, putting my left leg in first, then my right leg. I tried to pull them up. “Holy crikey! I must have put a pair of my wife's jeans in the washer with mine. Oh, this could be bad.”
I quickly removed the jeans, inspecting up and down the pant legs. "This is not good, not good at all!" I came across numerous dots of dried varnish on the denim fabric. I thought I had ruined a pair of her jeans...until I came upon a leather patch embossed "Wrangle." Confused, I looked the jeans over again. Yep. They were mine.
I put them on again and pulled them up. I struggled with the button. I took a very deep breath and sucked my stomach in as much as I could. I still couldn't fasten the button. "How in the heck do girls wear those skinny jeans?" I tried a trick I had seen women do on TV shows,
I laid on the bed, getting psyched up, then counted, "One, two, three, GO!" I simultaneously inhaled, arched my back, and sucked in my gut while trying to pull my waistband together. I was so close I couldn't give up. I held my breath, giving one final tug; I managed to fasten the button.
I was afraid to exhale, fearing I would blow the metal button off my jeans. I imagined it would pop off with such force it would shoot right through the newly finished sheetrock ceiling. Trying to avert any damage, I thought, "Hurry Tom, get the zipper up."
June looked on with merciless glee as I wiggled about, tugging on the metal tab to close my fly. Finally, finally, I had fastened my jeans. I laid there for a moment to rest.
When I stood up, I inhaled against my will, gasping. I think I shrieked a little too. "Ay, Yi, Yi!" I'd learned a whole new meaning of the term sung! "How could they be so tight?" I wondered. "They fit perfectly last night."
June was laughing. "Do you suppose this is why Mom never uses the high heat setting?" I gave her a snarling look of disapproval for her "I told you so" attitude.
"Not to worry, my little canine critic. I've got this." Jeans are always a little tight coming out of the dryer. I placed my outstretched leg on the edge of the bed then began reaching for my toes. An exercise regimen of bends and stretches should do the trick. I felt the jeans were loosening up, but not enough.
Maybe some squats. That'll stretch them out! I began the first squat. "Ouchy! Ouchy! Ouch!" Another not-so-good idea. Things got pinched that aren't meant to be!
June was laughing even harder. "Why don't you try the splits next? That might help!"
I had had an actual situation on my hands...or should I say, on my legs. To complicate matters, I wasn't sure I could get them off. I was determined to avoid calling 911 and was able to wiggle free.
Using common logic and obvious reasoning, I deduced: "Now, if these jeans got this tight by drying them on high heat, putting them back in the dryer on "cool down" should reverse the damage.
June looked at me with repeated concern, "Mom never does that when she's doing laundry."
"Well, Mom isn't here right now, is she?"
Another failure. The "cool down" setting didn't help; it just consumed more of my valuable time. I managed to squeeze back into the ill-fitting britches. The thought of trying a different pair of jeans hadn't even occurred to me. "I guess I'm just going to move a little more cautiously until the denim stretches back out."
While walking down the hallway with a window casing in my hands, I peered through a doorway. June was lying there sprawled out on the bed. "Get down! You know Mom doesn't want you on the bed!"
June didn't even raise her head; she just answered, "Well, Mom isn't here now, is she?" Smart-aleck dog.
I suppose I had been working for about a half-hour when I finally got some relief. First, the distressed denim gave way while I bent over to pick up some more boards. Then, when I felt the cool breeze, I realized I had ripped out the crotch of my pants.
I couldn't have cared less how ridiculous I looked. It didn't feel too bad, and the jeans seemed to fit better, so I kept working.
Then, I thought, "What if a neighbor comes knocking on my door. What would the dog think? Maybe I should change my pants." And so, I did. Fortunately, the next pair of jeans went on without such a fight.
Although I didn't get started on my work when I wanted to, it had been an educational morning. First, I learned the importance of proper heat settings. Additionally, I now understand what girls go through putting on those skinny jeans. But I have to say; there is no way a girl can know how a guy feels when he wears those skinny jeans. Yikes!
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Everyone knows that Yogi is smarter than your average bear. When he was about to get in trouble, his companion Boo-Boo would intervene to keep Yogi from getting into trouble with Ranger Smith. Yogi's problem always seemed to involve a picnic basket.
Ranger Smith placed the "Do not feed the bears" signs around Jellystone Park. Still, visitors would leave their baskets unattended, and the bears would find them. Probably because Yogi was known to use a pencil to cross out the word "not," making the sign read "Do Feed the Bears." Yogi was always on the lookout for a "pic-a-nic basket" and just couldn't resist stealing one at every opportunity. I loved watching those cartoons of Yogi Bea and Boo-Boor when I was growing up.
I grew up, did a lot of camping where bears live, and eventually moved to the north woods. I learned the importance of not only not feeding the bears but the necessity of proper food storage to keep your camp, or picnic site, bear-proof. Bears and people just don't make good partners when sharing the same food basket. Still, I inadvertently feed the bears and other animals.
We put out hummingbird feeders in the spring in anticipation of their return. Bird feeders with different seeds draw various birds that are fun to watch year-round. But unfortunately, keeping squirrels and raccoons out of the bird feeders is an ongoing quest, and in reality, a lost cause.
The birds and squirrels will spill and drop seeds. But nothing goes to waste around here; the deer and the bears gladly come around to clean up the ground below the feeders.
Although we have had bears in our yard in the past, we don't see them anymore. This is because June has well-marked our yard, keeping the bears at bay. (Dogs and bears do not get along and will keep their distance from one another.) We still see bears in our neighbors' yards, but they don't have dogs. Our neighbors tell me they also see bears going through our yard from time to time, but way outback. So the bears stay clear of our house - June's territory.
The bears will stay clear of June's area, but the deer come right up to the house for the treats under the feeders, all the while keeping a vigilant watch for that dog. I've even seen hoof prints in the snow ON our front porch a couple of times. The deer can't reach the feeders hanging on the porch railings from the ground. So, one deer was brave enough to come up attempting to rob the sunflower seeds on the porch! We enjoy the wildlife around our home and welcome all the animals.
When I am cooking and have carrot, potato, or apple peelings, I'll put them in the yard for the deer. If I have fresh fruits or vegetables that have aged, I put them out as well. The grouse are particularly fond of apples.
There are different theories on feeding wild animals. Some say you shouldn't; others say it's okay; each has logical reasons to support their position. But, this story is not to debate the issue.
Every fall, we have mice and voles that seek winter nesting inside our garage. I put food out for them too. Of course, the seed I set out for critters in the garage is inside a live trap. When I catch mice, I release them near the creek down the road. They can find new places for suitable nesting or become part of the food chain, the circle of life. We've been feeding the mice for a long time.
When Melissa and I were dating, she lived in a cute little cottage house in the country. One day, she went into her kitchen, where she saw a mouse run across the floor, taking shelter behind the refrigerator. Expressing no desire to be roommates with a mouse, she told me she would buy a trap.
I assumed she would get a typical mouse trap – a rectangular piece of pine with a very sensitive latch and a wire that held a spring-loaded copper-colored bar. It's the kind of trap that makes a very distinct snapping noise when it goes off; and hurts like the dickens if it trips in your hand while setting it. I'm not afraid to admit I was always (and still am) a little scared when arming one of those old mouse traps.
The basic mouse trap came in a two-pack for a dollar nineteen. Instead, Melissa bought a clear plastic live trap. I questioned her, "You paid almost twenty bucks for a mousetrap."
"I don't want to hurt him," she justified. "I just want him of my house." The same day she placed the trap next to the refrigerator, she caught the mouse.
It was a grey mouse with a short, fat little body with a relatively short tail. His head seemed too big for his body, but I suppose it had to be. The mouse had huge dark eyes, big, perky ears, and long whiskers on his fat little cheeks. Melissa took the trap about ten feet outside the back door to release him. She had more mice in the house than she knew.
Every morning when she woke, she had another mouse in the trap. Then, there would be another when she came home from work in the evening. There'd also be yet another mouse in the clear plastic box if Melissa came home for lunch. Each time, she'd set the rodent free and put more bait in the trap. It was interesting that she only ever caught one mouse at a time, in a trap that would accommodate several.
After about a week or so of this, I finally spoke up. "You do realize that's the same mouse you're catching over and over again." She adamantly denied it. "For Pete's sake, you catch him, then release him just a few feet outside the door, and he comes right back in." She claimed I had no training or knowledge on mousology.
"Come on, Melissa. Look at his body. Look at his face: the big eyes, giant ears, long whiskers. It's the same darn mouse every time." She continued to deny my claim. "Why don't you stop setting the trap and just put some food out if you're just going to keep feeding him?"
Her response was sharp and to the point. "Why don't you mind your own business? This is my house, and I will take care of the mouse problem as I see fit. I don't need your help." Wow. She really put me in my place and continued to set me straight, "Besides, Beans needs to eat, too."
"Beans?" I was taken back.
"Yes, his name is Beans, and he'll quit coming back when he wants to. Now, why don't you mind your own business."
From that instance on, anytime I would see Melissa setting Beans free in the yard, I would roll my eyes or shake my head – but I knew better than to say a word about it/him. In truth, I admired the compassion and affection she showed to a simple field mouse. It was just another reason I fell in love with this girl.
Eventually, Beans stopped coming around. Melissa moved to a different house. We got married and moved together to northern Minnesota. Beans will come up in conversation from time to time, and to this day, she gets a little defensive should I poke fun at that situation.
Just the other day, actually, a few weeks ago, I noticed something strange in the kitchen. "What on earth is a live Asian beetle doing crawling across the counter in January?" I was baffled, "They usually go away for the winter." So I took a small paper towel to pick him up carefully, to avoid squishing him. (They stink bad if you squish them.) I was going to wrap him in the paper and dispose of him by way of flushing. Lord knows there's probably a massive colony of Asian beetles in our septic tank.
Melissa came running into the kitchen, "No! No! Don't hurt him." Once again, I was puzzled. Melissa approached the counter, pushing away my hand of devastation. "Watch this."
She opened a sealed container, pinched off a crumb from a Harvest Glory Muffin I had baked, and set it on the counter about an inch away from the bug. The beetle made its way, climbing on top of the morsel. I must admit I was a bit amazed as I witnessed the tiny bug consume the entire crumb but still complained, "This is why I make muffins?"
"Just be quiet, so you don't scare him." Melissa watched, too, as the small, round bright orange bug with black dots enjoyed the meal. "Now watch this," she said when the bug had finished eating.
Melissa took a toothpick, dipped it in water, placing a tiny speck on the counter. The Asian beetle crawled to the water and drank it all until no sign of water remained on the surface. "That is amazing," I said.
With affection, Melissa reported, "He's been coming around for a few days now." I could tell she's been feeding him daily and had become attached to the beetle. Like a little kid who found a puppy on the way home from school, I was almost expecting her to ask, "Can we keep him." But, she doesn't need my permission to keep a pet pest in the house.
I started to speak, "You do realize…." My wife gave me a firm, cold glare. "Never mind," I said, retreating to the bedroom. I needed to pack for a trip that June and I were taking.
While I was on the road, Melissa called one day to report concerning news. "The beetle showed up for breakfast this morning. He's moving kind of slow. I'm worried about him."
"Melissa, you realize…never mind." I quickly changed the subject. "How are the deer doing."
Melissa was excited to report, "There's a baby buck that started coming around. I can't wait for you to see him when you get home." Each day, she updates me on the birds, the squirrels, the grouse, the deer, the beetle, and the new young buck.
This morning I sent Melissa a text: "Did you name the Asian Beetle?"
I received an immediate response, "I'm not telling you."
Yes, from Beans on – we feed the wildlife.
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It had been one of those nights when I slept so well I awoke before the alarm went off. I put on my robe then went to the kitchen. The LED lights on the humidifier glowed, illuminating my path down the hallway. The dim lights seemed a little brighter because my eyes were dilated; still, the soft green light was easy on my eyes.
My dog slept peacefully on her bed next to ours. June didn't wake nor follow me down the hall. That was very unusual as she's always is excited about her first visit to the yard in the morning, breakfast, and perhaps the prospect of someone throwing her toy to play catch, even in the dark.
No, today I walked down the hall alone. I wondered how cold it was outside. I knew the temperature was supposed to drop below zero, and the winds were forecast to provide us a bitter wind chill. The house was chilly, so I pulled the collar of my robe, closing it more snuggly.
The stillness of the morning was gentle. Outside I heard the metallic sound of something moving; it almost sounded like rusty hinges on an old sign swaying back and forth in the winds. But there are no signs near here. Maybe it was coming from the neighbor's sawmill just down the road.
I stopped in the hallway to listen. It was like sweet music with an easy rhythm trying to lure me back into a slumber. But, it would remain a mystery from where the noise came. I was not interested in finding its source – just its song.
Although my steps were silent, my bare feet were getting cold. I adjusted my robe again and went back to the bedroom for my slippers. Each step I took produced a soft clacking noise as the heel of my slippers contacted the wooden floor. It's a sound that annoys my wife, and I didn't want to wake her, so I continued, tip-toeing to the kitchen. At least for a few steps until I was distracted, then returned to my usual step.
I heard the boiler kick on in the basement. Then, the radiators sounded off a moment later as the hot water ran through the cold pipes, changing their temperature. It makes a crackling sound, like wood burning in a campfire. It is a beautiful sound that fills the soul with comfort and warmth; it's a sound of assurance that heat is on the way.
Down the hall and across the living room, I could see a brightness coming in the windows. The grey clouds had cleared during the night, letting the moon shine brightly, casting her light over the frigid north woods and into my house.
In the kitchen, there was something odd about the windows. They were moonlit but with darker areas shading parts of them. I could see it from the end of the hallway in the living room windows as well. The illusions were very distinct in the large bay window, where it almost looked like cobwebs had filled the corners. But too much area was affected, and the lines were much too coarse to be cobwebs.
I realized I was seeing shadows cast from trees and branches in our yard by a very bright moon in the dark sky. The Light bounced off the white snow bed in the yard, making the morning brilliant.
The brightness coming into the house created framed squares on the oak floor. Each is like a painting with a unique pattern of moonlight and shadows. It was simply amazing.
From the kitchen window, I looked over the backyard. The shadows from the pine and birch trees were so vivid they were almost surreal. Even the birdbath, topped with its mound of snow, cloned its own image from the light.
I turned to the window and noticed my silhouette cast over the kitchen floor, again framed in the moonlight. Walking room to room, my shadow was there, in every window I stood before as if it was following me. I began to question if I was awake or was I dreaming.
The sign, the wind, the boiler, the pipes, my slippers touching the floor blended to create a symphony. I wanted to dance with so much music, but everyone was still fast asleep; I didn't have a partner. That's never stopped me before. It was all too much for me to try keeping my feet still. So I started softly singing with the orchestra, an old Cat Stevens song: "I'm being followed by a moon shadow. Moon shadow, moon shadow."
I danced, but I was not alone. My own shadow became my partner, keeping perfectly n step with me. We danced our way toward the kitchen. Once I stepped out of the framed moonlight, my shadow left me, returning to the darkness. As I moved into each new frame, my partner rejoined me. "Leaping and hopping on a moon shadow. Moon shadow, moon shadow."
I would make some oatmeal for breakfast. Opting not to disturb the magical darkness, I didn't turn any lights on. Without wearing my contacts, I would have to squint to set the timer on the microwave.
I felt pretty proud of myself; Going to bed early, getting such a good rest through the night, and waking to a morning outpouring with serenity and solitude. I became curious just how much time I had until my alarm would go off and looked at the clock on the stove. The clock was wrong, but the microwave and coffee machine clocks read the same. Perhaps we had lost power for a while.
I picked up my cell phone. The cell phone is independent of the power grid and always has the correct time. "Oh my! It really is 1:27 in the morning." There is something special about getting up, preparing to start your day, and then realizing you can go back to sleep for another three and a half hours.
Not wanting to wake anyone, I tip-toed back to the bedroom. In the moonlight, I could see my wife's face. She was so beautiful and content. Our two cats, Salem and Eve, were fast asleep on her pillow, resting against the top of Melissa's head. I carefully climbed back into bed, pulling the covers up to my chin. June, sleeping next to our bed, took a big breath, relaxing as she let the air flow back out from deep within her.
I turned on my side, facing my wife. I held her hand, and she took a deep breath, Salem and Eve both started purring, and I smiled, "Cats. Cat Stevens." I gazed at my wife until I lulled myself back to sleep, softly singing in my mind, "I'm being followed by a moon shadow. Moon shadow, moon shadow."