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

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?”

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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?”

 

All Write, TV

Of cats and conference calls

This week’s Front Porch segment is bittersweet. It features Milo, my tuxedo cat and the embarrassment he caused me during a business call.

The episode was taped last month. Sadly, Milo passed away this week, so he missed his network debut on Spokane Talks on Fox 28.

But I doubt he would have been interested. Milo was very difficult to impress.

Click here to watch this week’s segment.

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