Columns

Nothing Doing on My Birthday

This year when my husband asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I was ready.

“Nothing,” I said. “And I know just the place to do it.”

My reply didn’t have anything to do with pandemic-limited restaurant and entertainment options, and everything to do with needing a break and a change of scenery.

Both of those things are an option thanks to the generosity of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. They own a cabin at Diamond Lake that they keep open year-round, offering it to family members who want to get away.

Unlike many whose work situations have changed due to COVID-19, I’ve always worked from home. The short commute from my bedroom to my basement work area, with a detour to the kitchen for coffee, is a godsend. The downside is I’m never really away from work. It’s always waiting, just a few steps away.

Also waiting? Hungry men folk, needy cats, baskets of laundry and weekly shopping lists.

I’m not good at ignoring any of those things, which means days off feel pretty much like days on.

After checking the cabin’s availability with my sister-in-law, I took a deep breath. It’s wonderful to have something to look forward to, even if that something is doing nothing.

I called Mom to let her know we’d be out of town for a few days.

“But it’s winter! What’s there to do at Diamond Lake in the winter?” she asked.

“We’re just going to snack, sleep, watch TV, and do a jigsaw puzzle,” I replied.

Mom wasn’t impressed.

“Oh, honey, don’t do THAT! That’s what OLD LADIES do ALL the time!”

I pointed out that I’m in my 50s, and old-age is fast approaching.

“Well, you don’t need to rush into it,” she said.

But being at the lake is the opposite of rushing – it’s resting. From the moment we drove across the crusty snow, through the gate, we both relaxed.

After schlepping supplies from the car, I opened the slider and stood on the deck, bundled up against the cold. The frozen lake glinted in the afternoon sun. In the distance I spotted a lone ice-fishing hut. The deep tones of a wind chime, the only sound.

May be an image of nature, lake and tree

Meanwhile, Derek had set out some snacks and had opened the jigsaw. When we stayed at the lake in November, I had purchased a 1,000-piece puzzle featuring cats and books – two of my favorite things.

“Kittens? Books? Why didn’t you get a puzzle with whiskey and cars?” Derek grumbled.

However, he’d been quickly obsessed with what turned out to be an incredibly challenging puzzle, staying up till the wee hours and rising early to finish it before we had to go home.

We can’t do puzzles at home. For one thing, we have actual cats; for another thing we have no table space.

Mindful of our limited stay, Derek requested that this time I buy a 750-piece puzzle, which I did.

“Cats again!” he said, looking at the box.

I can’t help it if the only 750-piece puzzle I found featured cats. Of course, I didn’t look too hard once I’d spotted it.

May be an image of indoor

Aside from a lovely afternoon in Sandpoint, we spent the next three days cuddled up in the cozy cabin. Noshing on snacks, reading, binge-watching a new Amazon show, napping, and of course working on the puzzle.

The snow-shrouded lake provided a peaceful backdrop. One morning we were watching an ice boat skitter across the frozen expanse, its single sail, taut in the stiff breeze.

No computers, no work calls, no work emails, no cats waking me up demanding breakfast. It was possibly one of the best birthdays in recent memory.

Honestly, I still wrestle with the working mom mentality in which quietness and rest often seem self-indulgent. That’s why sometimes it takes a special occasion for me to give myself permission to do nothing. And when I do it feels blissfully satisfying, like fitting the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

If Mom’s right and my idea of a fun birthday moves me directly into the old lady category, I’m ready. Bring it on.

May be an image of mountain, nature, lake and tree

Diamond Lake in winter.

Columns

Sometimes you just need Christmas to linger awhile longer

Perplexed, he peers into our dining room from his perch on the deck, a red Christmas ornament dangling from his ear.

Rudy the Reindeer rarely sees this far into January.

That’s because I’m a by-the-book kind of holiday decorator.

In my home, Christmas music, movies, and décor are forbidden until the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when the autumn wreaths go down, and the Christmas greens go up. Our everyday boring, white stoneware dishes are packed away, and my fleet of Pfaltzgraff Winterberry is deployed.

All the artwork on my living room walls is replaced by Santas, skis and holiday prints. I pack away the garland of harvest leaves from atop the piano and unearth evergreen garlands dotted with twinkling white lights.

Out come the Nativities, the Norwegian Christmas candelabra, and of course, the leg lamp replica from our favorite holiday film, “A Christmas Story.”

I’ve finally embraced the artificial – our tree goes up when our sons join us for post-Thanksgiving Turkey Noodle Soup. We appreciate having all hands on deck to trim the tree, not to mention hefting heavy holiday bins from the basement.

The hanging of the greens occurs outdoors as well, with lighted garlands and small wreaths draped along our stair railing and around the front door, a small lighted tree replacing my cat figurine on the front steps, and a wreath with a burgundy bow bedecking the door.

After hanging the snowflake garland above the backdoor slider, Derek affixes Rudy the reindeer to his watchful post on the deck.

But what goes up must come down. Preferably on Jan. 2, and certainly no later than the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6 this year for those keeping track at home).

Like I said, I’m a stickler for rules and am counted among those who groan when my neighbors leave limp holiday inflatables in their yards well past the New Year.

However, as 2020, blessedly drew to a close, I surveyed the glimmering green and red warmth of our home. Our sons had untrimmed the tree before the New Year chimed, but I was left to dismantle the rest of Christmas alone, and frankly, for the first time I can remember, I wasn’t done with Christmas.

I wasn’t ready to dim the evergreen lights and quench the candelabra. I love our ski-themed wall, with the cross-country Santa figurine, swooshing on the table below.

And to my surprise, the leg lamp has grown on me, and I enjoy switching it on as darkness falls, knowing Derek will see “the soft glow of electric sex” welcoming him home when he pulls into the driveway.

Since our oldest son’s birthday is Jan. 8, I always keep the Winterberry dishes out until after his cake has been cut. That way he can eat birthday cake from a plate that says, “Joy” or “Cheer” or “Wish.”

But this year, Ethan enjoyed his birthday dinner among all the other Christmas decorations I hadn’t begun removing.

After his celebration, I slowly filled the green and red bins. Walter, our junior tabby, inspected each bin from within, as I carefully wrapped candles, glassware and greenery.

Derek was even slower to remove the outdoor décor, not that there was much to take down. Our youngest son, his usual holiday helper, was busy with work and school this year, so no lighted candy canes, reindeer or trees dotted our front yard. Even so, he was reluctant to remove the garlands and wreaths.

We didn’t talk about it much.

He didn’t complain about the bins stacked in the dining room, even though he knows I’m a creature of order, not clutter.

I didn’t mention the outdoor lighting that lingered until this past week.

Honestly? I think this year with the world so filled with discord, disharmony and despair, had left us drained. But the beauty that is Christmas, reflected in simple lights and cheery decorations, offered a much-needed lift to sagging spirits.

As I write, the holiday bins are neatly stacked in the basement, the greenery gone from the front door. But Rudy still peeks at us from the deck each evening as we sit down to dinner, and I smile when I close the blinds.

To heck with rules.

Rudy can stay as long as he wants.

All Write, Columns

Readers make writer’s job enjoyable

While tidying up end-of-the-year paperwork, I dislodged an overflowing folder from the top of the filing cabinet.

It was my reader feedback folder, filled with printed emails, cards and letters I’ve received from newspaper readers this year.

Sifting through them, I’m amazed anew at how columns pounded out from my windowless, basement home office, find their way to readers across the region and prompt response.

Before COVID-19, I did a fair number of writing workshops and speaking events, and at almost every one I’m asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your column?”

After all these years, I still haven’t found a pithy answer, because writing a personal column is well, pretty personal. That’s why it’s such a joy to find something I’ve written resonates with others.

Thumbing through the notes, I found a response to a column I’d written when I discovered what the phrase “Netflix and Chill” means in contemporary culture.

The note was from Dean, 73, who said, “You rascal, you!”

I’ve never been called a rascal before. It was epic!

An email from Stan, a fellow author, and former teacher, said, “You really know your vowels and consonants.”

I immediately forwarded that one to my editor, whom I’m sure has wondered at times.

A column about anticipation drew this response from Gina, who said, “I do have the feeling of your words in my soul today.”

No writer could wish for more.

Publishing a segment of my quarantine diary prompted a comparison to Erma Bombeck that absolutely thrilled me.

When I bemoaned in print that the shutdown order had limited my wardrobe to gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants, Bob wrote, “I look forward to Thursday’s for your articles. Please don’t ever stop. Stay healthy and wear whatever you want at home.”

I’m confident, Bob would approve of today’s usual deadline attire – a fluffy pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers.

Sometimes reader mail offers important validation on critical issues. When I wrote of my horror at discovering my husband had used MY MONDAY MUG, Marcia wrote, “By the way, the mug thing made sense to me.”

I forwarded that one to Derek.

He didn’t reply, but he hasn’t used my Monday mug since.

Cards and letters sent to me at the newsroom are now forwarded to me at home.

When I wrote about a benefit of pandemic life was discovering the joy of the newspaper crosswords, a thoughtful reader enclosed a pencil with her card.

An elegant typewritten note on gold-trimmed stationery proved delightful, especially since it was written in response to a column about my cats.

Arlene wrote, “When there is so much sadness in these difficult times, you brightened my day on October 22 with your cleverly written article about Thor and Walter Scott.”

I don’t know if the column was clever, but I do know that my cats are.

Jan sent an email that made me smile.

“Thanks for your column – one of the few items I can BELIEVE IN THE SPOKESMAN!! (caps courtesy of the writer). Hang in there.”

I’m hanging in there, and I hope Jan is, too.

Bombeck once wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

It’s a line I’m privileged to walk twice a month.

In fact, the column that generated the most feedback this year blurred those lines a bit.

I wrote about my first masked, socially distant outdoor visit with my 89-year-old mom. She lives in a retirement facility just blocks from my home, but six months had passed since I’d been able to see her in person.

Readers shared their own stories of being separated from family members during the pandemic.

Bill wrote he’d been apart from his bride of 53 years for 22 weeks.

“If some of my friends read your article, they may now have a better understanding of what I’m experiencing,” he said.

Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. This year more than ever, I value the feedback of faithful newspaper readers.

Thank you for reminding me that even in the midst of a global pandemic, our stories can still connect us.

Here’s to a brighter, better, and healthier New Year.

Columns

Sir Walter Scott’s Work Life

Sir Walter Scott, 15 months, takes his responsibilities seriously.

When you’re the junior feline in the family and in charge of entertainment, mischief and cuddles, it’s a full-time job and then some.

Knowing that Thor, the senior tabby in the clan, keeps a scornful eye on him, Walter adheres to a strict daily schedule.

His first job of the day is to assist Thor in obtaining breakfast. Around 7:30 a.m., they take their positions outside my bedroom door and commence polite requests for food. If none is forthcoming, Thor ratchets up the volume and intensity, while Walter sticks his paws under the door and grabs at the carpet. If that doesn’t work, they take turns scratching and banging on the door.

When I emerge, they both enter manic mode, careening through the house and dashing around the kitchen table. Then comes the wrestling.

I have to feed them in separate rooms, because Thor will wolf down his breakfast and finish Walter’s, too, and Walter will just sit and sadly watch his food disappear. Though he passively lets Thor take charge of food once it’s served, before it appears is another matter. As I dish up their kibble, Walter pounces on Thor, attempting epic takedowns.

Thor is a lover, not a fighter, so it’s a good thing he’s bigger and has a longer reach. While Walter sizes up the best way to pin him, Thor bats him away. Undaunted, Walter stretches up into full Godzilla mode and tackles. Thor hisses, which scares both of us.

I’m not sure why Walter decided this was his job, but Thor is not thrilled to find himself headlining these twice-daily bouts.

Walter’s next self-appointed chore of the day is sweeter – morning cuddles with me.

I return to bed after feeding them, because I mean, it’s 7:30 (or 8, but still). By this time, Derek is getting ready for work, so Walter has me all to himself. He jumps up on the bed, lays his head next to mine on my pillow and curls up in my arms. He purrs contentedly, while kneading his sharp little claws under my chin. Usually, he falls asleep and sometimes so do I.

Morning cuddles with Mom

We take turns deciding when it’s time to get out of bed. If I don’t have a deadline or an appointment, I doze until Walter brings me a toy and pats my face to let me know it’s playtime. If I get up first, I bring my coffee and my phone back to bed and check emails and messages. Walter fetches a toy because playtime is next on his agenda.

He usually brings a small white mouse with a rattle and bats it around until I throw it down the hall. Then he tears off and brings it back. Walter is a fetch champion until he gets bored.

After I’m ready to face the day, Walter follows me to work in my downstairs office. His favorite thing is stalking the printer and waiting for it to whir to life. He doesn’t grab the paper, he just likes the hunt.

He takes his editorial responsibilities seriously and prefers to plant himself in front of my screen or on my keyboard.

Obviously, this is not an ideal working situation, at least not for me. I repeatedly scoop him up and put him on the floor until he gets the hint and wanders off to nap.

Walter, the editor

I’m usually out in the afternoon, so Walter takes advantage of my absence to forage for carbs. I’ve previously written about his carb addiction, and I’m sad to report he’s had a relapse. We’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave and securing any open chips, rolls or baked goods in a cupboard he can’t open. All was well until one afternoon when I went to the pantry for dinner ingredients and found a bag of barbecue potato chips scattered on the floor.

It seems Sam had left the shopping bags on the floor instead of putting the items on the shelves, and Walter got the munchies. He tore open the bag, sampled a few chips, but evidently didn’t care for their tang.

Bedtime brings a nightly dilemma.

My husband likes to sleep with me. So does Walter. I’m usually in bed first, so Walter saunters in and makes himself comfortable. Then Derek arrives.

“Okay, buddy, time to go,” he says.

Walter rolls over on his back and looks at Derek. Upside-down kitty is universally irresistible, but Derek is made of sterner stuff.

Upside down kitty fails to impress Dad

“Night, night, Walter, out you go,” he says.

Walter stretches, then curls up next to me.

Finally, Derek scoops him up and takes him to the living room.

Just as we turn off the light, we hear a faint scratching at the door and the saddest, most forlorn meows.

“Go to sleep, Walter,” Derek says.

And eventually he does. After all, he knows he has a full slate of responsibilities awaiting him in the morning.

Columns

Cat’s in doghouse after hot, sleepless night

It’s a good thing he’s so cute.

It’s also a good thing I have the Facebook Memories app to remind me of how utterly sweet and tiny Sir Walter Scott was when we first met him last year in June.Baby Walter Love at First Sight

Love at first sight. June 11, 2019

I needed those reminders, because recently Walter (no longer tiny) was the cause of a very long sleepless night.

To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault. On May 29, the temperature soared, reaching 90 degrees for the first time this year. Derek and I weren’t prepared for the sudden warmth. We don’t have central air and since we were both out all day, we didn’t turn on our dining room air conditioner until we got home. Our bedroom window unit was still out in the shed. Even with fans running, our house was hot and stuffy.

“We’re going to have to sleep with the bedroom door open,” I said.

My husband eyed Thor and Walter.

“Great,” he said. “You know we’ll have company.”

I wasn’t too worried. After our older cat Milo died, we let Thor sleep with us whenever he wanted. He’s a placid fellow, and just drapes himself at our feet and snores. Derek can outsnore both man and beast, so Thor’s nasally rumblings didn’t bother me.

Walter is a different cat – he’s all about the action. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that kittens sleep 16 to 20 hours a day, because from the time we brought him home at 8 weeks, it was clear he could catnap, but long stretches of sleep were not in his wheelhouse.

It also became clear that Walter is a fervent Mama’s boy. My son paraphrased a Bible verse to describe his devotion thusly: “Where Mama is, there Walter will be also.”

And he’s a cuddly cat. While he’s not allowed to spend the night in our room, he does curl up in bed with me every morning after breakfast. We both catch a brief bit of shuteye before embracing the day in earnest.

He also knows the nighttime drill. Each evening I get into bed to read before Derek joins me. Well, joins us, because as I mentioned, Walter is rather attached to me. He likes Derek, too, but not at bedtime. Derek’s arrival means Walter’s exit.

Our furry feline tries to circumvent his ouster by feigning death or hiding under the bed.

“Walter, it’s night-night time,” Derek would say to the prone cat.

No response.

Walter squeezes his eyes shut and won’t budge when Derek pokes him. If he doesn’t make a sudden dash under the bed, my husband picks up the tabby’s inert body, carries him from the room and deposits him on the sofa. Then it’s a sprint to see which of them will make it back to the bedroom first. Personally, I think the exercise is good for both of them.

On the hot night in question, after cranking up the fans, we let sleeping cats lie. Thor slumbered on when we turned off the light. Walter trilled questioningly.

“Go back to sleep,” I said.

So, he sunk his head into my pillow and snuggled up next to me. A few minutes later, he patted my face.

I ignored him.

He licked my eyelids.

ignored him.

He laid his whiskery chin on my nose.

I couldn’t breathe, so I nudged him off.

A slight thud and the tinkling of his bell, notified me he’d left the room.

I’d just nodded off, when I felt a soft body land at my side. Then a wet, slobbery piece of felt hit my cheek. Having taken his required catnap, Walter decided it was playtime and brought his beloved gray mouse to bed. The mouse is attached to a string, and usually I wave it around while he chases it and pounces on it.

“One a.m. is not playtime Walter,” I whispered, tossing the toy toward the door as hard as I could.

Big mistake.

Walter loves a good game of fetch. He had the mouse back in bed before I could close my eyes. I refused to throw it again, so Walter found someone else to annoy. He discovered Thor, sound asleep on Derek’s feet and launched himself toward the unsuspecting senior tabby.

Hissing, growling and mayhem ensued as Thor fled from his tormentor.

“One cat down, one to go,” Derek mumbled.

His mumble alerted Walter to his next victim. He sprang from Derek’s feet, landing with a thunk on Derek’s stomach.

“Oof! Get him off of me!” Derek roared.

And so went the rest of the long night. Sometime around 5 a.m. I noticed the house had cooled considerably, but my head was sweating due to Walter’s proximity to my pillow.

I scooped him up, put him in the hallway and shut the door.

Piteous, heartbreaking, tiny meows poured from the hallway.

I put my cat-warmed pillow over my head.

“You’re in the doghouse, Walter,” I said.

A few hours later I opened the door, and Walter came running. Weaving in and around my ankles, stretching up his paws, eager to be in my embrace.

Like I said, it’s a good thing he’s so cute. It’s also a good thing Derek has our window air conditioner ready to go. Who knows? We may see 90 degrees again someday, and this time we’ll be ready. No more cats on hot, sleeping Hvals.

Walter Scott Not a Bit Sorry

Walter the morning after. Not one bit sorry.

Columns

A mugful of Monday

Bewildered, I stared through sleep-fogged eyes at the rack above the kitchen sink.

I saw Sam’s Star Wars cup, Derek’s Three Stooges mug, and a few others, but my Monday mug was missing.

One of the advantages of working from home is that there are no co-workers to steal your coffee cup or pilfer your lunch. (Well, there was that time in 2014, that Zachary ate the last piece of leftover meatloaf I’d saved for a sandwich. But I’m mostly over it, and only mention it every time I make meatloaf.) So, I was puzzled by the absence of my personalized Spokesman-Review mug.

I checked the dishwasher, but I’d emptied it the night before.

At the kitchen table, Derek shook out the newspaper and took a slurp of coffee.

“Have you seen my Monday mug?” I asked.

He glanced at the cup in his hand.

“You mean this one?”

Sure enough, he was sipping java from a pinwheel-decorated cup with my name on it.

I’d worried that anarchy might rear its ugly head during this time of pandemic, but I never expected the decline of civilization to begin in my own home.

“That’s my deadline day cup!” I sputtered. “It’s got my NAME on it! How can I be expected write newspaper copy without coffee in my Monday mug?”

IMG_20200504_114944113_MP

My husband frowned and pointed to a cup with a cat and a newspaper on it.

“Can’t you use that one?”

Horrified and uncaffeinated, I gasped, “That’s my SATURDAY mug!”

Before he could inquire about the other days of the week, I pointed to my “But first coffee” cup and my Wonder Woman mug.

“Those are for Tuesdays,” I explained. “I vary depending on my workload.”

Sighing, Derek poured his coffee into another cup and handed me my mug.

As someone who leaves the house every day and goes to an office, he doesn’t understand the sanity-saving sanctity of a well-established routine for those of us who work from home.

I swiped the newspaper and headed back to bed, coffee in hand. That’s when I stepped in a puddle of cat barf and went puke-skating down the hallway.

Apparently, Thor had upchucked his breakfast while I was explaining mug protocol to Derek. I was able to stop my slide by hitting the wall with a resounding thud. I didn’t fall, and more important, I didn’t spill my coffee.

“Nice save,” Derek said.

He got to scrub the floor while I cleaned bits of cat vomit from between my toes. Suddenly, he seemed anxious to get to work.

“Don’t forget our new mattress will be delivered today,” he said on his way out.

And I didn’t forget, exactly. I just got engrossed in my work. So, when the doorbell rang I was still in my bathrobe.

No worries. A pandemic plus is having a kid at home all day.

Sam obligingly answered the door and began to wrestle the mattress-in-a-box inside. It quickly became apparent that this was a two-person job, and I was the only other person present. I wasn’t strong enough to pull the box up the stairs, so I got pushup duties. Which is how I ended up on my front porch in my pink plush bathrobe at 1 in the afternoon.

Apparently, most of our neighbors are “staying home, staying healthy,” because there was quite an audience to observe our progress.

The box was heavy, but on the small side for something containing a queen-size mattress.

“I think it explodes or something when you open it,” I explained to Sam. “Let’s not touch it till Dad gets home.”

My last phone call of the day involved hashing out a complicated medical story. Thankful to be able to discuss it with a colleague, I said, “It really helps to have two brains.”

She quickly ended the call.

When Derek got home, Sam helped him unpack the new mattress. It didn’t explode; it just kind of sighed and got fluffy. When I described the scenario on Facebook, a friend said, “Just kind of sighed and got fluffy – the story of my quarantine.”

Pretty apt description for many of us.

Late that night, Derek and I stretched out on our new mattress. I was almost asleep when he nudged me.

“Tomorrow’s Tuesday,” he whispered. “Can I use your Monday mug?”

 

Columns

Loafing around with the bread thief

The rustling sound gave me pause.

Taking a sip of coffee, I lowered the newspaper and looked around the bedroom.

Crackle. Crackle. Jingle. Jingle.

The bell gave him away, because it’s too early for one of Santa’s reindeer.

I flung my cozy quilt aside, knelt on the floor, and lifted the bed skirt.

That’s where I found Walter manhandling (cathandling?) a half-loaf of bread. His sharp teeth had punctured tiny holes in the bag, and the bread was mostly squished.

“Walter!” I yelled. “Bad kitty!”

This wasn’t our 7-month-old kitten’s first foray into bread theft.

Some weeks earlier I’d awoken to a similar scenario. Derek had surprised me with a lovely breakfast in bed before he left for work. It was still too early for me to get up, so I dozed off after enjoying it. Apparently, wanting to demonstrate that he, too, was capable of serving me breakfast, Walter dragged an entire loaf of bread to the bedroom.

The loaf was bigger than he, and he couldn’t hoist it onto the bed, so he decided to squeeze it beneath.

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I loudly expressed my displeasure.

Baffled, Walter cocked his head, gazed at me with sorrowful eyes, and gave a small chirp which I interpreted as, “How come Dad gets kisses when he brings you food in bed, and I get yelled at?”

With no room on our kitchen counters for a bread box, we store bread on top of our refrigerator. After all, none of our other cats had ever ventured up there.

Of course, none of our other cats have decided to jump on our ceramic stove to watch our son cook macaroni and cheese.

Thankfully, Walter wasn’t burned, but Sam was pretty traumatized. I suggested in the future he should stay by the stove while the water boils, just in case.

In addition to on top of the fridge, we’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave – anything to keep Walter’s paws off our loaves.

Evidently, he’s addicted to the crinkling sound of plastic, because he’s also smuggled an entire bag of miniature marshmallows to our bedroom. When I caught him with the marshmallows, I discovered his stash of plastic grocery bags under our bed.

But our furry Jean Valjean still prefers to focus his thievery on bread.

I spent Sunday making sausage with my sisters-in-law. When I returned home, Walter met me at the top of the stairs, licking his chops.

I hustled to the microwave and opened the door. The bread was still there. Then Thor, our senior tabby, strolled into the kitchen, also licking his whiskers.

They watched me to see if treats were forthcoming, but I was not in a treat-dispensing mood.

“Walter,” I said. “What have you done?”

He gave a pleased little trill and sauntered toward the bedroom with his tail held high. I followed and found a trail of crumbs leading to a Ziploc bag of mangled cornbread.

He’d managed to climb on top of the refrigerator, snatch the Saturday supper leftovers, take the bag to our bedroom, tear a hole in it, and share the spoils with Thor.

Who knew cats like cornbread?

“Walter,” I muttered. “You are working your way to the top of Santa’s naughty list.”

Rubbing his head on my ankles, he purred and stretched out on top of my feet. Apparently, he’s of the opinion that being utterly adorable automatically earns you a spot on the nice list.

However, his hopes to find his stocking stuffed with a loaf of bread may be dashed on Christmas morning. At this rate, all Walter’s getting is a lump of coal.

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Columns

What happens in Vegas…

Whoever said what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, is obviously not a newspaper columnist.

My husband and a buddy usually hit Vegas via Laughlin, Nevada, for an annual guys getaway. This year his friend jetted to Maui, so Derek asked me if I’d like to go.

The folks at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino sweetened the deal by offering us a buy-one, get-one-free deal for airline travel and resort stay. On Thursday we drove to Lewiston to catch a chartered flight aboard Laughlin’s Sun Country Airlines.

A couple of hours later, we landed in Bullhead City, Arizona, where a resort bus met us and drove us across the Colorado River to Laughlin.

Crossing three states, two time zones, and one river makes you hungry. After checking in, we stretched our legs along the Riverwalk in pursuit of dinner.

“Look! A cat!” Derek said, pointing toward a nearby garbage can.

As the varmint dashed across the sidewalk in front of us, we saw it wasn’t a kitty, it was a raccoon. He joined his wife and kid under the palm trees and agreeably posed for photos.

A different kind of wildlife awaited us in Vegas the following day. We rented a car and made the 90-minute drive to spend the day on Fremont Street.

Located in the original town site of Las Vegas, Fremont Street is the historic center of the city featuring a five-block stretch of enclosed casinos, shops, bars and restaurants.

Derek prepped me for the visit.

“There’s all kinds of street performers and vendors,” he explained. “Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact, or they’ll try to sell you something or hustle you for tips.”

Of course, I immediately forgot his words when we entered the glittery, bustling avenue. A friendly lady greeted us and asked if we were celebrating our anniversary.

Derek tugged at my hand and kept walking, but I didn’t want to be rude. That’s how I got suckered into a long sales pitch for tickets to a show we didn’t want to see.

“I told you,” he said. “Just keep walking.”

Lesson learned. When a well-muscled shirtless man wearing snug-fitting camo pants asked if I wanted a hug, I only paused for a second.

“He said it’s OK,” the fellow assured, pointing to Derek.

“I get all the hugs I need,” I replied, without breaking my stride. Much.

A visit to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka the Mob Museum, was next on our list.

It proved a fascinating, albeit gruesome jaunt through gangster history. We learned about the Kefauver hearings in the historic courtroom where one was actually held. The hearings led by Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver confirmed the existence of a national crime syndicate and revealed lax enforcement.

Other museum highlights included cocktails in an underground speakeasy, and an opportunity to “electrocute” my husband in a replica electric chair.

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Then it was on to dinner at the Heart Attack Grill, a restaurant that celebrates gluttony by offering unlimited free burgers to anyone weighing over 350 lbs.

Waitresses dressed as nurses deliver wine via IV poles and tubing, and if you don’t clean your plate they deliver spankings with a paddle. Seriously.

Derek warned me about that. But what he didn’t tell me is that you have to wear a hospital gown to eat, and there’s a ginormous public weigh-in spot that broadcasts your weight for all visitors along Fremont Street to see.

Within minutes, we witnessed five spankings. Those nurses pack a wallop. I ordered the smallest burger possible and ate every bite. I haven’t been so focused on cleaning my plate since I was a kid and threatened with an early bedtime if I left any peas on my plate.

As night fell, we enjoyed free live music and the Viva Vision light show. The light show video screen is 1,500 feet long, 90 feet wide and suspended 90 feet above Fremont Street’s pedestrian mall.

It was amazing! But all that glitz and glitter made me pine for some natural beauty. A morning boat cruise along the Colorado River was just the ticket.

The cruise aboard the USS Riverside took us along Laughlin’s Riverwalk all the way to Davis Dam and offered great historical perspective about this portion of Nevada.

Did I mention it was 84 degrees in Laughlin on Saturday? That called for some serious sunbathing at the resort’s adult-only pool. We alternated from poolside lounges to comfy river-view couches, soaking up the sun we knew would be in short supply in Spokane.

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And of course we played the slots, but we’re hardly high rollers. We set aside a certain amount of cash for entertainment and don’t spend any more than what we bring.

Derek led me to a machine he knew I’d love – the OMG! Kittens. I quickly found out the OMG! stands for the $40 I quickly dropped just to see adorable kittens speed past me and meow.

Luck wasn’t a lady that night, and it was a little disconcerting to see people my mother’s age still going strong at midnight when, exhausted, we headed for our room.

It was a lovely getaway, but by Sunday we were ready to return. After all, we already hit the jackpot with our own OMG! Kittens and they were waiting for us at home.

Columns

Toddlers, Teens and Sir Walter Scott

Question: What do you get when you combine the terrible 2s of toddlerhood with the terrifying tenure of teenage years?

Answer: A kitten. Specifically, Sir Walter Scott.

I recently read this quote: “Dogs prepare you for babies, cats prepare you for teenagers,” and boy, is that true. At 4 1/2 months, our tabby is still more toddler than teen, but I swear he just rolled his eyes at me.

Since I sat down to write this column, Walter has knocked every pen off my desk, gotten stuck on top of the filing cabinet and waged war on his own tail.

I just heard a huge crash from Sam’s room, but at this rate I’ll never make deadline, so that investigation will have to wait. (And people say working from home must be so much easier.)

Walter is a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm. He adores jumping, galloping, wrestling and exploring. Unfortunately, Thor, our middle-aged tabby, is often the focus of Walter’s enthusiasms.

Thor does not play.

He never has. He’s a strictly low-key, lounge-around-the-house lap cat. Unless there’s food involved, then he’s energetic, bordering on obnoxious. He is not amused or entertained by Walter, but the rest of us sure are.

Walter keeps a busy schedule. After our son feeds him an early-morning breakfast, he gallops to our bedroom to ensure I’m awake. Of course, I’m not. So he hops onto my chest and nudges my cheeks with his cold nose, and softly pats my eyes with his paws until I open them.

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Early morning wake up call.

I stagger to the kitchen, grab my coffee and the newspaper and return to bed, where Walter has thoughtfully kept my spot warm.

Here’s the sad part. Walter hates The Spokesman-Review. The minute I shake out the pages, he goes into attack mode. He slinks to the foot of the bed, wiggles his behind and leaps into the newspaper. If he can successfully grab a section from my hands, he’ll proceed to shred it with his tiny sharp teeth and claws.

This makes it difficult to read the paper and dangerous to drink my coffee.

Walter also has animosity for my cellphone. He’ll squirm between my phone and my face and smack it until I put it down.

Perhaps it’s not so much the paper and the phone but that they come between him and my undivided attention.

When he’s received his expected amount of adoration, he’s off to share the love with Thor.

As previously noted, Thor does not want the love.

Toddlers, teens and kittens all suffer from poor impulse control. How else to explain the 2-year-old touching a hot stove, the 13-year-old careening down a steep hill on his skateboard and Walter’s mistaken belief that Thor enjoys being ridden around the house like a pony.

Thor does not enjoy being used as a racehorse with a pint-sized jockey on his back. He has demonstrated his feelings repeatedly by hissing, growling and smacking Walter silly.

To Walter, it’s all part of the fun.

Toddlers, teens and kittens also have inflated beliefs about their own mortality. That’s why toddlers dart into traffic, teens text and drive, and kittens climb things like bookcases and entertainment cabinets. It’s also why parents and cat owners get gray hair.

I know Walter is edging toward his teens because he’s angling for more screen time. He enjoys watching football and soccer on television. Unfortunately, he prefers to be part of the action. He parks himself in front of the screen and tries to intercept the passes.

My husband prefers to watch sports sans kitten. He actually downloaded the Cat Alone app on his tablet so Walter can chase bugs and flies on the screen while Derek watches the game in peace.

There’s another troubling sign that Walter’s teen years are near. On Saturday morning, he was even more manic than usual. He could not seem to settle down.

Then Derek discovered a small baggie behind the couch.

It was Walter’s stash.

Somehow, he’d gotten the catnip out of the cupboard, punctured the plastic and had himself a party. We’ve locked up the catnip and are hoping to avoid an intervention.

For all his boundless energy, Walter is extremely affectionate and a world champion cuddler. In fact, right now he’s sprawled across my desk, snoozing. Unfortunately he’s lying on my arms, which makes typing difficult, but he just sighed and made that adorable kitty chirp, so I’m not inclined to dislodge him.

Sweet moments like these are why we love our toddlers, our teens and our kittens.

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Classic case of writer’s block.

Columns

The pitter-patter of little paws

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I didn’t get much reading done this week. Every time I picked up a book, Sir Walter Scott scooted his head beneath it, and collapsed on my chest, obscuring the pages.

Coffee proved difficult to drink, because Walter kept trying to dunk his nose in my mug.

And I’m not sure what kind of texts I sent, because Walter believes nothing should come between my face and his, and keeps batting my phone away.

Walter is our new addition – a tabby kitten – approximately 2 1/2 pounds of fuzz, energy and affection.

When our senior cat, Milo, died in November, we knew we’d adopt again. However, our hearts needed time to heal, and that included our 7-year-old tabby, Thor, who missed his nemesis/best friend.

This spring we started looking at animal shelters and pet adoption centers. There were plenty of beautiful adult cats who needed homes, but we agreed it would be too much for Thor to have to fight for space with another big cat. A kitten he could boss around seemed like a better fit.

But there were no kittens to be found.

“I hope that means people are doing a better job at spaying and neutering,” Derek said.

We kept looking.

And then my friend Haley, told me about a litter of kittens being fostered by Mona Richardson.

Mona and her husband, Dave, own the Hub tavern on North Monroe Street. Mona also works at Northwest Seed and Pet.

A friend of hers had a neighbor who moved away, abandoning a litter of kittens, but taking the mama cat. Mona is a cat-lover and an experienced kitten foster mom. Of course, she took in the kittens.

Several weeks ago she brought the brood to the tavern and invited Derek and me to take a look at them.

They were all adorable. Tabbies, black kitties and even a homely Calico. I held a couple of them, but when I picked up Walter, I knew he was the one.

His blue-green eyes are lined white, and each tiny paw looks like it’s been dipped in a bucket of white paint. He squirmed, then snuggled.

From then, it was just a matter of waiting until he had gained enough weight to be neutered.

Derek dubbed him Walter. I added the Scott. The Sir is optional.

On Friday evening we returned to the Hub to pick him up.

Walter proved popular with the tavern regulars who gifted us with bags of cat treats as we said goodbye.

At home we took him out of the carrier, and Zach and Sam each held him, and then he was off, exploring his new home at full speed. In fact, our tiny tabby’s throttle appears to be defective. It’s either flat-out or dead-stop!

He’d just been neutered the day before and was supposed to take it easy. Apparently, no one told Walter that.

Thor’s reaction? Stunned horror.

He cautiously sniffed the new arrival, but when Walter bounded toward him, Thor backed away with an angry hiss.

Then he mumbled some mean meows, which if I translated, could not be printed in a family newspaper.

Zach, our third-born, sympathized.

“I know what it’s like to be replaced by someone younger and cuter, Thor. The same thing happened to me,” he said.

After several hours of nonstop action and exploration, Walter was having a tough time calming down.

I took him to our bedroom, shut the door and got his new bed ready. He had other ideas and made a flying leap from the floor to our bed. He jumped from square to square on our quilt, like a kid pretending the floor is hot lava, and then he bounced back down.

I’d forgotten I had a mirror on the floor next to a stack of stuff to donate to the Goodwill. Walter took one look at the kitty in the mirror and promptly attacked. That’s how we learned his Ninja skills include somersaults, sideways rolls and stealth pouncing.

I turned the mirror to the wall and got into bed with the exhausted kitten. He tucked his head under my chin, commenced purring and conked out. Five hours later, he woke us up by bouncing on our heads.

Which is why my husband revoked Walter’s big bed privileges. However, as soon as Derek gets up in the morning, Walter races to the bedroom and launches himself on our bed to join me. Sometimes, he even falls asleep.

Thor is slowly warming up to him. Extra treats and affection, and a new cat tree, so he can look down upon the new arrival, helped.

Meanwhile, the rest of us cannot resist a kitten that stands on his back legs and holds up his front paws when he wants to be picked up.

Sir Walter Scott is equal parts entertaining and exhausting. and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

For us, the pitter-patter of little paws is what makes a house a home.67768753_2463199130385366_8603458589316612096_n