The Adventures of Moutarde, David, Anne, Nancy and Others

When my son was in first grade, he came running home from school one day and shouted, “Mom, I can read!” Then he sat on our front stoop and, with younger neighbourhood kids gathered around, he read aloud from the adventures of Moutarde the clown.

His pace was stilted, and his index finger pointed to each word on the page as he mouthed it before sliding it to the next word.  As I watched his pride and unbridled joy at his new accomplishment, memories of my own early days of reading flooded my mind.

Seton Educational Materials

Our first grade reader didn’t have an exotic character like Moutarde (French for mustard) the clown.  Instead we learned to read with siblings David and Anne. Beautiful illustrations filled most of each page because they were designed to entice us to read the few, simple words at the bottom.  I remember an image of David climbing the monkey bars at the park. On the opposite page, his sister, Anne, urged him on from the sidelines, “Go, David. Go up, up, up.”  Well, we all have to start somewhere.

As my reading skills improved, I graduated to the Bobbsey Twins series.  The older ones, Nan and Bert, were wise 12-year-olds while the younger set, Flossie and Freddie, were six.  Their antics kept me entertained for hours.

Next came the indomitable Nancy Drew, teenage sleuth!  She was the one who sparked my life-long love of mystery novels.  Books from the series  always had the most intriguing titles like “The Secret of the Old Clock”, “The Hidden Staircase” and “The Clue of the Dancing Puppet”.  Who could resist?

I often got a Nancy Drew book  for Christmas or my birthday and I couldn’t wait to spirit it away to my room. But I’d hesitate to start reading it because each page I turned would bring me closer to the end. I always felt a pang of sadness when I finished a much-loved book even if there was a new one waiting.  Reading a good book is like catching up with an old friend; you can comfortably pick up wherever you left off. Starting a new book, though, is a little bit like the start of a new relationship. You need time to get to know and appreciate it, but it’s time well spent.

There are many wonderful books and authors that I’ve read throughout adulthood.  I would list a few that I appreciated but it’s Sunday afternoon and I have a date with a good novel!

P.S.:  Recommendations for my reading list are welcome!

The Little Blue Table Project

Little “once-blue” table. Only the drawer is left to strip and sand.

I put the sander down, stand back and admire my work. I didn’t realize how much time I’d spent hunched over the little wooden table, slowly guiding the sander back and forth over the grainy wood.  My hands still feel the vibrations and my ears ring from the abrasive sound, even though the sander now lies silent and still on the ground.

The task had my full attention, temporarily stopping rogue thoughts in their tracks. According to a study, the average person has 6,200 thoughts per day.  I’m not surprised. I know I’m not alone either when I say that lately my thoughts stray to the terrible news flooding newspapers, TV and social media.

Lately, the image of an Afghan father who had to sell his daughters to feed the rest of his  family plagues me. I can’t get the idea  of migrants trying to cross the Polish border being sprayed with tear gas and water canons out of my head either. And we think our freedom has been compromised because we have to wear masks, be vaccinated or restrict travel? I’m not trying to minimize the impact of COVID but these stories give me a different perspective. 

So I took on the “little blue table” project in part to short circuit the unwanted thoughts in my head.  The table was left behind by the former owners of our house and first served as my son’s desk in grade school.  We painted it bright blue with a resilient plastic paint. Not resilient enough, it seems. The table bore pockmarks and ring-shaped stains from water glasses that once rested on its surface while my son did his homework.  When he started high school, we bought him a real desk. The table was relegated to storage in the basement, and pulled out occasionally for use as a dining room table extension.

The table isn’t anything special and it doesn’t have any value. But for some reason, I could never part with it. So until recently, it sat in the basement, covered with dust, forlornly waiting for the day we would need it again. Then a few months ago, it dawned on me that with a little loving care, it would be perfect as a writing nook in my bedroom.

So, on an unseasonably warm, late-September day, Phase 1 began. I dragged the table outside under the shade of a tree. First I slathered paint stripper all over it. Next I waited (I’d like to say patiently but that would be lying) and watched as the stripper worked its magic and the paint began to blister.  That’s when the hard work began.  Starting at one end, I scraped the paint until it came off in big blue blobs that landed on the plastic tarp on the ground.  A few hours and a few more applications of stripper later, all the blue was gone, leaving an uneven, mahogany-like wood stain.  Sanding would be Phase 2 but it would have to wait for another day.

Weeks later, I am finally finished sanding and the wood is soft and smooth to the touch.  I’ve already decided that the final phase of the makeover will be a few coats of fresh, white paint.  

I started the project to give this little table new life. In truth, it gave me new life too. The hours I spent working on it were an escape that not only entertained me, but gave me a sense of purpose and satisfaction. That’s a big accomplishment for a little blue table. 


To donate to help in Afghanistan:
Doctors Without Borders

Canadian Red Cross

To donate to help migrants at Belarus-Polish border:
American Red Cross

And now for some light-hearted reading:
The Conversation


That Darned Cat

On a bitterly cold Saturday morning last winter, I snuggled up on the couch with a good book.  A fire crackled in the grate and the room had an earthy forest scent from the burning logs.  I decided a cup of coffee would make the morning perfect so I went to the kitchen to get one.  I came back to find our cat comfortably ensconced in the blanket I had left on the couch.  Instead of pushing her aside to reclaim my spot, I sat down gingerly on the other end of the couch making sure not to disturb her. This is what it has come to.

We got Carrie at an outdoor pet fair organized by several animal shelters. We took our time, visiting each table because we knew what we wanted:  A cat who was at least a year old and, hopefully, over nocturnal shenanigans; an orange tabby (for some reason  Ben wanted a marmalade cat); and a cat that was sociable and liked people. Carrie seemed to meet everything on our wish list so she came home with us the same day.

It didn’t take time for her to boldly claim everything her little heart desired as her own – from freshly-washed blankets, fleece sweaters, empty grocery bags and more.  As I type these words in my home office, she is settled on my printer as if it’s the most comfortable bed in the world. She started doing this during the many months I worked from home during COVID. I tried, many times, to remove her. But if you’ve ever had a cat, you know they will wear you down. Time and time again, I took her off the printer. And time and time again, she hopped back on until I gave up. I’m still not sure if she wants to keep me company or is doing it just to prove a point.

Although Carrie is mostly an indoor cat, she has also laid claim to the front and back yards.  Heaven help the poor cat who dares step foot on our property. This is Sylvester, a neighbour’s cat.  He is a sweet-tempered boy who occasionally ventures to our patio door. The first time, he was greeted by Carrie who, from inside the house, hissed, and howled, warning him in no uncertain terms to leave.  She rose up on her hind legs, front paws splayed across the glass until I was sure she would go through it, leaving a cut-out of her shape like Wylie Coyote.  Poor Sylvester  was more bewildered than intimidated. He turned and took a few steps away. Then he looked back at me with a confused look, as if to say, “I was only trying to be friendly.”  I know, Sylvester, I know.

Despite being well past the kitten stage, Carrie sometimes gallops through the house in the middle of the night, meowing loudly for no good reason. She has food, water and her choice of the most comfortable resting spots in the house.  I wave this picture of the new kittens born at the barn where we ride at her. They are true barn cats who live in the unheated barn with only the basic creature comforts. “If you don’t stop, I’ll trade you for these three and you can live in the barn!” I hiss at her.  She looks at me with a bored expression, then proceeds to groom herself. 

Who am I kidding?  She knows she’s set for life and that she has two adult humans wrapped around her little paw.