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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Here we are at the brink of 2016… how is it possible that 364 days have passed since the first of 2015? Well, I guess it was simply one day at a time. They sure do add up fast, don’t they?

We’ve enjoyed a wonderfully delayed autumn this year, at least here in Southern New England—warm sunny days and balmy one-blanket nights, but it seems Winter finally got the message. We’re into the two-blankets-and-a-heavy-quilt phase now. I’ve dusted off the mukluks, brought out the heavy coats, mittens and scarves, and I suspect we’ll be more than grateful for them in the near future.

Ah well, we’ve been ready for a while. With a good supply of wood—well-stacked and covered, on the front porch, the soup-makings well stocked, a cozy throw on each of our recliners, and a basket of knitting projects beside mine... yep! I say bring it on!

As you might imagine, MouseHouse Village has taken advantage of these bonus weeks of good weather too, both to continue stashing and storing for harsher days to come, as well as preparing for their celebrations. The Harvest Festival was a great success, and now they are readying for a grand New Year Celebration at Schoolhouse Hall.

That behind them, many will settle in for quieter indoor pursuits, safe and snug from the storms. Underground Tunnel provides mobility for those who need or want to keep their shops open through the winter months. And there are always some who need a few supplies or perhaps just some socializing—maybe a cuppa chicory or a game of sunflower-seed checkers with an old friend.

Miss Winklesnout holds classes for the children as long as they can travel safely from home to Big Rock School, but when the storms come, and the snow gets too deep, they too will huddle by the home-fires.

Fivelina looks forward to the quieter days, as do I. Her project list is far more pressing than mine, I suspect, with five children still at home. Keeping up with new overalls and shirts, pinafores and dresses as the mouselings grow must be nearly overwhelming, not to mention overcoats and mufflers! There are blankets to knit and coverlets to quilt, not to mention the ongoing mending. And I know there are finer things she wishes for too—table coverings, throw pillows and warm braided ruglets. Ah! She is an industrious lady! I don’t know how she keeps up, and all with the sunniest disposition. It’s positively inspiring, I tell you!

I don’t suppose she makes resolutions though. And when you think about it, they really are rather fruitless, maybe even self-defeating. At least that’s been my experience. Seems like it would be best, one day at a time, to just work on whatever it is I want to improve, and you know how that goes. One day at a time accumulates to one week at a time, that soon turns into a month at a time… and before we know it, it’ll be the brink of another year!

Meanwhile, that project list awaits.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

While these balmy days and nights feel like someone forgot to shut summer off—and I’m not complaining, mind you, it feels like there’s a bit of ominous-ity lurking in the shadows as well. (I know. That’s not really a word, but… you get my point.) Tell me you haven’t thought it too, that we’re being primed, maybe even appeased, before the real stuff hits in a few weeks. Hmm! Probably so, but we’ll take it.

We’ve been raking leaves, and blowing leaves, and yes—missing all the leaves that, until just a couple of weeks ago, shaded BackPorch like a lovely tree-house. It feels exposed out there now, nothing but bare branches and skeletal silhouettes. It even feels windier than usual with no leafy branches to protect us now.

Ah well, ‘tis the season—time for inside pursuits. Time to cozy the nest, break out the quilts and cozies, bring in a good supply of wood for the fire and well… make lists. And a list maker I am: To-do lists, to-make lists, restock pantry lists, holiday lists, winter-project lists and… the list goes on. At some point, I will need to get up and be a do-er, I know, of all that’s on these lists!

Lady Fivelina is a do-er. I’m not sure if she makes lists or not, but really, how else would she keep track of all her responsibilities? I’ll bet when the little ones are tucked away for the night, and Sir Fivel is whittling some wood creation by the fire, she sits in her rocker, sipping her tea, a pad of paper on her lap and a wee pencil stub ready in her hand, just jotting it all down in good order!

Of course MouseHouse Village is a busy place this time of year too. They are preparing for their Harvest Feast when friends and family will gather, each bringing an offering for the table. The children are already planning their day of games—indoor or out, weather permitting, and the ladies are thinking about which recipes to share and looking forward to catching-up with each other. A good time will be had by all before they settle in for the long winter ahead.

There’s been lovely aromas wafting from MouseHouse of late: dried berry tarts and corn bread loaves baking, pumpkin seeds roasting, and if I know Lady Fivelina, each item is then carefully wrapped and stored for the festivities ahead.

Bic and Ben, already becoming young men-mouselings, are helping their father in the woodshop after school these days, and just recently they’ve been working on another bench for the long tables at SchoolHouse, to use for the Harvest Feast. Bic still struggles to keep his mischief-mode in check, but little by little—and after not a few hard knocks—he’s learning. Ben, the soberer of the two, but also the most easily led by said-mischief maker, is learning self-discipline. As most will agree, that’s a life-time feat for most of us!

Bitsy is growing into a lovely young lady-mouseling, excelling in her needlework and baking skills as well. Fivelina appreciates her help these days, with all of the extra cooking and baking going on. Bitsy babysits for her sister, Betina’s quadruplets after school each day, and yes, she remains somewhat shy and demure much like her mama.

Miss Winklesnout and Tina are doing well after their adventuresome summer. They too are well prepared by now for the cold and winter-weather ahead, their little cottage well-plumped with pretty quilts and cushions, cozy braided-fiber rugs on the floors and their larder well-stocked. They are both changed-for-the-better after Tina’s runaway experience. It brought them closer and both now realize the importance of communicating their thoughts and concerns with each other.

Well now, speaking of lists, I’m realizing that I need to make a Thanksgiving Dinner grocery list, and then the prep-for-guests list, oh and the flower arrangements and decoration list. Goodness! I better get to it!  Let me just put the kettle on…

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Thermal warming at it's best!

Thermal warming. Not to be confused with the fear-stirring buzzword—global warming. We’ve heard enough about that one to re-chill the icebergs! Or else make bigger holes in the ozone layers. Astounding, isn’t it? Does man really believe he can change the Creator’s plan, the planetary cycles and processes that have shaped and reshaped the earth from its birth? And this by more political rhetoric we hear only when the election cycle regurgitates yet another do-gooder that, if elected, will save the planet?  Sigh.
Oh yes—it was thermal warming I was aiming to chat about this morning. I’ve gained new appreciation for thermal things, a warm bed in particular. While we enjoyed six lovely days at camp, I slept on an air-mattress in an unheated cabin—at night anyway. The air in the mattress takes on the temperature of the room, and transfers that chill to the body resting on it. Need I say more? Brrrrr!
Layers didn’t seem to help much, on the bed or on me! And believe me, I had enough layers on me to scare the dust-bunnies as I passed by on my middle-of-the-night trek to an even colder spot—the necessary!
It was a lament among many of us—too cold, not enough warm clothes. Funny how you forget from year-to-year just how cold 50 degrees can be. Why, we think it’s a heat wave in April after a frigid NE winter!  Not so in October, when we’re still in July-mode.
So, when we got home, some of us fell ill to sore throats and sneezles, coughs and headaches. I—being one of them—came to appreciate my cozy bed, warm feet and hands, and a warm insulated house!
Turns out that Bic, Ben and Rodney learned a lesson in appreciation too at Pine Acres. You may recall they sneaked away from Miss Winklesnout during the Huckleberry Fair. Their plan was to mimic the Cricket-Clan’s trapeze act that they’d watched earlier, so conspiring together, they decided to hide at the edge of the woods where no one would see them and wait till the all fair-goers left. Then they would play on the ropes and poles to their hearts' content!
Sure enough, everyone left except the crew. The boys hadn’t counted on that! The men worked hard at closing down booths, turning over tables, storing valuables and perishables carefully against the rainy weather forecast. The boys didn’t count on the stage being dismantled and they watched in dismay as all the ropes and poles were taken down and tucked inside of an oak-tarp lean-to.
“Great! What’ll we do now?” Rodney whispered. “Do you know your way back to the cabin and Miss Winklesnout?”
“Psshaw! Of course. We’ll find our way back. I paid attention on the way over here…” Bic boasted confidently as they set out to find their way. Alas, they had come to Huckleberry Fair in the daylight. Things looked remarkably different in the dark and this was strange territory to them all. They set out, however, skirting the edge of the fair grounds, hoping to elude the crewmen still ambling about, before they too headed to their barracks for the night.
“Well now young fellas!” a booming voice startled all three. They jumped back, huddling against each other. “What brings you out here at this hour of the night. Where are your folks, might I ask?”
“Ah-h-h… ummm! That is, we’re staying with our teacher, Miss Winklesnout at the Pine Acres Resort, sir. She left already and we were just finding our way back too.” Ben spoke up.
“And would she have several other young students with her as well…?” the manager questioned further.
“Yes, sir. We are on a class-trip.” Rodney spoke with a tight, nervous voice, pushing his thick glasses up further on his snout.
“And how is it you are not with her now, young man?” Dark beady eyes bore down as he gripped Rodney’s shoulder firmly.
“Do you know what lurks out in that dark woods at night just waiting for luscious, chubby little mouselings like yourself?  Huh? Do you know?” he glared in turn at all three.
Bic looked down at himself. Chubby? Luscious? Harrumph!
“…And you, young man!” the manager let go of Rodney and turned to Bic. “Are you the instigator of this little adventure?”
Bic, straightening himself, clasped his hands tightly and braved the reply. “No sir. I mean, yes sir… that is, well, I guess I am. We thought it would be fun to play on the trapeze and be like the cricket-clan act. We didn’t know it would get dark so quickly…”
The manager stood silently, disapprovingly. All three boys stood waiting.
“Come with me.” The command was absolute and not one of them thought to disobey.
They were shown to a small bunk in the back of the crew’s barracks. “Set yourselves down right there and don’t move until I come back. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir…” they said, almost in unison.
They watched wide-eyed and silent as the other crew members lolled about the long table in the middle of the room. Rows of bunks lined the perimeter, and some of the men had already turned in for the night. Others ate at the table, some silently, a few regaling tales of the day. Some glanced now and then at the three boys hunched together in the corner bunk, but no one addressed them.
In a short while, the manager came back with three small bowls of stew and some crusts of bread.
“This is your supper… eat it and then go straight to bed. I will take you to your cabin in the morning when it’s light. No one should be out at this hour and most certainly not three little mouselings!”
So three little boy mouselings clung to each other, sleeping lightly, waiting worriedly for the morning.
True to his word, the manager brought them directly to Cabin 22 at Pine Acres. Tapping lightly on the shoebox door, he waited for the schoolmarm to answer.
“Oh sir! Oh thank you for bringing them back, sir!” she exclaimed tearfully as she spotted the three boys standing there.
“You’re welcome, ma’am. I think these boys have learned a valuable lesson on their field trip. You can take it from here.”  He bowed gallantly and turned to go.
Bic, Ben and Rodney spent the morning sweeping the porch of Cabin 22, taking turns with the tiny pine-needle broom Miss Winklesnout had made to keep their little cabin tidy. Whenever she saw them slacking, all she had to do was look sternly at them. They knew there was penance to be paid and they’d better be at it.
“We will talk about this later… and again with your parents…” she’d said when they first arrived."For now, you’ve work to do."
At suppertime, they all enjoyed acorn chowder and fresh biscuit crumbs from Mama Hare’s gracious hand-out. The boys were exhausted after their adventure, and a near-sleepless night. Not a squeak of protest was heard when Miss Winklesnout announced bedtime. All three boys were quickly in their jammies and tucked snuggly into their warm cotton-batting beds—thermal warming at it’s best!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Miss Winklesnout's Worries...

Autumnal Ickies. It’s a vague nothing-is-really-wrong but something-is-not-quite-right kind of thing. It  hovers daily about 4 o’clock and, interestingly, only this time of year. Energy lags, enthusiasm plummets, there’s a kind of pit-in-the-stomach feeling and anxiety increases. We call it the Fall Ickies here at Hare Hollow, and when one of us claims it, we both understand.
So what causes it, you ask? Falling leaves, dying landscapes, grey-cloudy skies, chill winds, evenings that arrive earlier and earlier as each day passes, and, at the forefront, the ever-present awareness that winter with all its isolation and difficulties looms dead-ahead!
SAD Syndrome, some folks diagnose knowingly. Yup. Makes me sad alright. And the lights that are supposed to remedy the malady give me a migraine!
Light is definitely helpful though. Sunlight, yes—every glean-able ray on these shortened-angle days, but when it slides behind the near-naked tree-tops and the shadows settle in the Hollow, and it's only mid-afternoon, well, the Ickies begin. It’s time then for lighted candles, something yummy and aromatic bubbling in the oven, shades drawn, and every lamp in the house lit (oh yes, and the power company cheers!)
There’s a little light in Miss Winklesnout’s cottage this dark cloudy afternoon. I suspect she is still recovering from her escapades at Pine Acres, and is more than grateful to be home where it’s peaceful and quiet.
She brought the mouselings—all eight of them—to the Huckleberry Fair, there in Pine Acres Woods the day after we arrived. Chipmunks and FieldMice of every size and temperament were in attendance. Tarts and puddings, even huckleberry griddle-cakes—one of Bic’s favorites—were offered on tiny tables, some wrapped to take home, others on wee acorn-caps to enjoy while walking through the displays.
Chippery Sliver, a slick fellow if ever you saw one, put his pet cricket-clan through a daring routine. They flipped and dangled through high vine-trapezes, flew through hoops and stood on one another’s shoulders to create stellar formations. And if that wasn’t awe-inspiring enough, they ended the production with ‘Oh Beautiful’ in 4-part cricket harmony!
Little Betina was positively enraptured, as were her four little-girl-mouseling friends. Bic and Ben, however, along with their studious and somewhat nerdy friend, Rodney, were also mightily intrigued, but as you might guess, being little boy-mouselings, it wasn’t enough. They needed more excitement. Surely they could do those things too!
Miss Winklesnout was gathering up her students when she realized the boys were missing.  Assuming they must’ve stepped away to visit the necessary, she directed the girls to stay put.
“We’ll wait right here till they come back…” she spoke confidently as the crowd of fair-goers dwindled. The crew began shutting down the rides: the Lazy Susan Merry-go-round, the Hamster-spin Ferris Wheel, and the Sit & Spin Spool rides.
Food stuffs were packed into Pringle-Can Trailers, the hinged plastic door latched tightly when it was sufficiently full. Tables were wiped clean and benches turned over in case of rain.
“We’re closing for the evening, Ma’am…” a portly chipmunk gentleman swaggered over to where they waited. “Is there something I can help you with? Are you waiting for someone?”
“Oh sir… my three boy-mouselings are missing. I thought they just went to the necessary, but they haven’t returned. We are just visiting the area. I don’t know what to do! They must be lost!”
She wrung her fingers worriedly around the straps of her little red drawstring purse. The girls sidled up close to her, somewhat afraid of the chipmunk gentleman and his booming voice.
“I’ll keep an eye out for them, Ma’am. I’m the manager here. If we see them, we’ll keep them here until morning if you want to go back to wherever you’re staying. There are bunks here for the crew, and we can put them up here for the night. You can check back in the morning…”
Not knowing what else to do, Miss Winklesnout thanked him and then ushered the five little girl-mouselings back to Cabin 22. Darkness was already falling, and she ordered the girls to ready themselves for bed and get right into their bunks while she went on an errand.
It was shortly after that I heard the tiny tapping at my cabin window. Curious, I raised the blind slightly and there, on the sill, stood a bereft Miss Winklesnout, visibly shaken. I opened the window to let her in.
“Miss Winklesnout…” I questioned. “What is it? You look very upset…”
She explained the situation, her voice quavering, tears threatening.
“Oh Ma’am. You were right! I had no idea the responsibility I was taking on. The boys are missing—Bic, Ben and Rodney. They were right there beside me when the Chippery Sliver Show was going on, and suddenly they were gone. The fair closed down, everyone left, and the boys didn’t come back. I don’t know what to do!”
“Oh dear! You poor thing. I can only imagine how worried you must be.”  Feeling as much at a loss as she, I considered for a few moments.  “Do you think they will find their way back to our cabin? Maybe they just went off on a little adventure and they’re on their way back as we speak!”
“Ohhh dear, dear!”  She wrung her hands worriedly. “Whatever will I do if something awful happens to them. There are so many bad-sorts out after dark, you know… how will I ever face their folks?”
“Yes, dear. I know what you mean. But maybe we’ll just have to trust. They are smart boys and surely, even if they can’t find their way back on their own, they can ask someone for directions. Why don’t you try to get some rest and we’ll just trust that all will work out well in the morning…”
“Thank you, Ma’am. I’m sorry to bother you…”
“No bother, Miss Winklesnout. It always helps to have someone to share our troubles with. I think it’ll all turn out fine. We’ll entrust the boys to the care of our loving Creator…”
She nodded tearfully, turning back to the window and hopping down to the towel-covered shoe-box.I watched as she slipped dejectedly inside, pulling the towel flap down over the doorway to keep out the cold.
A chilly blast of wind whistled through the open window as I pushed it closed, my heart going out to the worried schoolmarm and those mischievous little mouselings. Oh Bic and Ben… will you ever learn?
To be continued…

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Field Trips and Adventures...

October 7, 2015
Back from our annual trek to Pine Acres, I am bone-weary and heart-warmed all at the same time. The washer is sloshing, the dryer humming as load-after-load shuffles and tumbles, buttons and zippers clinking against the dryer drum. And as they finish, I am shuffling too, pile-after-pile of folded bedding, warm fluffy towels and freshly cleaned jammies and shirts, down the hallway to various closets and drawers. My-oh-my, there’s a lot to bring for six days at the cabin, and it feels like even more to bring home!
The bins and tote-bags are emptied, stored away until next year, and all the little what-knots too, tucked away in their places. Did I mention bone-weary?
Well, I should talk! Miss Winklesnout has had quite the adventure these past days, you see, deciding quite at the last minute to take a number of her school children with her on a field trip. Where? Well, to Pine Acres of course!
“Do you think we could ride along with you, Ma’am?” she inquired just a day before we left. “I’ll only bring the best-behaved in my class and only those that have permission from their parents. We can stay in our own accommodations, Ma’am, if you can just spare a small shoe-box for us. And we won’t bother you a bit.”
At a loss for words, I considered the possibilities, pros and cons.
“How will you keep track of all of them, Miss Winklesnout?” I asked politely. “That’s a huge responsibility for both of us, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Ma’am. You’re right, but it is also a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about the bigger world beyond Hare Hollow Woods. As I said, I will only take the best behaved among them, those I know I can trust to listen and obey me.”
So with trepidation I agreed. Down in the cellar, I found an old shoe box, emptied it of its contents and cut a small flap for a doorway along with two small windows in the sides so they’d have air-flow. In the box-of-boxes I found several tiny gift boxes (brooch size) complete with the usual cotton batting liners. They’d make cozy beds for little mouselings camping away from home!
Sure enough on Thursday morning Miss Winklesnout had everyone at the ready, eight little mouselings including Bic and Ben. The thought crossed my mind—only the best behaved? But I didn’t go there.
Each carried a tiny satchel filled with their extra bloomers and fuzzies, and a blanket for nighttime folded neatly over their arm. They stood in line, quietly waiting to be told where to board Mama Hare’s Express-to-Pine-Acres-Mobile.
Miss Winklesnout also carried a small satchel, and behind her, she rolled a small re-purposed Altoids tin that had been outfitted with tiny wheels and a handle.
“Snacks for the children…” she explained when she saw me eyeing it.
I smiled knowingly. These little creatures think of everything!
“All aboard!” I spoke smartly, and eight little furry mouselings, along with their excited teacher, hopped into the car, then up into the back window where they snuggled close together between the bag of pillows and a tissue box.
“Hang on tight…!” I called as we set off down the lane to the highway. And they did.
An hour later, after only a little giggling and chattering from the rear, we arrived at our cabin. On the way I’d told Miss Winklesnout about the shoe-box camper with it's windows and flapping door. She was delighted to say the least.
“Thank you, Ma’am. How thoughtful of you!”
Turned out, that little shoe-box would be a much needed cozy shelter for the little travelers.
As the rest of my family arrived, we helped each other unload and unpack, setting up our kitchens and making up beds, finding storage places for our clothes and settling in. And Miss Winklesnout did the same. I placed the shoe-box on the screened porch so they could come and go as they needed to, but would have good protection from the elements and enemies as well.  It didn’t take her long to set up the little box-beds, side-by-side, with their colorful blankets spread out and tucked in, satchels beside each one. Then they were off to find food for their lunch and supper. They wouldn’t have to search for long. Acorns and other delicacies abound at Pine Acres.We knew because they pinged off the metal roof of the cabins day and night!
That evening the temps dipped down into the forties and I worried about the miniature campers out on the porch, so long about bed-time, I peeked out to check on them.
“Miss Winklesnout?” I inquired quietly in case some of the mouselings were already asleep.
“Yes, Ma’am…?” she poked her head out the doorway.
“Are you warm enough in there? It’s pretty chilly tonight. Would you like me to cover the box with a towel to hold in some heat?”
“Oh, don’t trouble yourself, Ma’am…” she replied with a little shiver in her voice. “I’m sure we’ll be fine, but if you have one handy I’m sure it would help.”  I did, and tucking it around the box, leaving an overhang by the doorway to stop the drafts, I went back inside, thankful for my own warm bed.
Next morning, I put out a bit of hot water in a metal measuring spoon so Miss Winklesnout could have her chicory. She looked a bit harried, I have to admit, but seemed most thankful for the courtesy. Little squeaks and titters were testament to a rowdy bunch of mouselings, ready for a day of adventure. She on the other hand looked like she needed a good hot cuppa. Perhaps you saw her picture on my FB page a few days ago, enjoying that cuppa along with a sugar donut?
To be continued…

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Greeting the Autumn...

     Autumnal Equinox. Say it fast, three times for a giggle. Well, maybe a chuckle? I guess it would depend on your sense of humor at this early hour.
     That said, its official—summer is over.
     The hummers left two days ago, near as I can tell. They spent Sunday afternoon hovering and twittering around the feeders, darting and dodging one another, giggling and spatting in their usual adorable way. Their little round bellies evidenced impending departure—I’ve seen it year after year, and sure enough, all was silent Monday morning. And afternoon. Even as the sun was setting—usually an active time at the feeders—still silence. Yesterday the same. I watched for them off-and-on through the day, but only silence.
I will keep the feeders fresh until the first hard frost, because there are always visitors on their way through. They spread the word, you know, reporting the best Hummer Inns along the route south. I like to think Hare Hollow is on their list.
     Most years, just as we think we’ve seen the last of them, along will come a feisty few, tweetling and darting again, perching on the clothesline, resting and preening awhile before gorging again. In a day or two, that group is also gone.
     BackPorch is looking rather bare as well—another sign the season has come to a close. All but three houseplants have been bathed, top-dressed, pruned and prettied before being settled into their indoor spots again. The last three will come in today—we’ve   seen our first nighttime temps dip into the forties.
     As usual, there will be pouting, BackPorch is their absolute favorite place, and they don’t come in without some protest. They drop leaves, lose their shiny outdoor greenness, and hold their stems in odd positions until they get accustomed to the change.
     Soon though, they’ll be twining down around a shelf,  reaching out to one another in companionship—and yes, it’s true, even plants don’t do well if they are isolated from others. Before long they’ll be chugging along, doing their daily chore of cleaning the indoor-air. Oh, it’ll be mid-February before we see any remarkable new growth, but they know. When the days lengthen, and the sun grows stronger, BackPorch calls again.
     Meanwhile, for Mama Hare, these dark early mornings call for lit candles on the stove, a steaming kettle, a pot of hot cereal rich with cinnamon, cloves and raisins bubbling happily on the back burner. Steaming mug and bowl are carried out to BackPorch where I’ll wrap myself mummy-style in a big fleece blanket, and settle in my chair to watch the sunrise over Hare Hollow.
     Not surprisingly, when I glance up at MouseHouse Veranda, who should I see also greeting the sunrise but Sir Fivel and his lady. They are sitting on the wee glider he built for her earlier in the season, sipping their tiny mugs of chicory. I wave in greeting. Sir Fivel nods and tips his cap. Lady Fivelina smiles demurely. We are silent though, there’s just something ethereal about this time of day, it’s a time for quiet introspection.

Happy Autumnal Equinox, my friends!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Stowaways in the Kettle...

     Monday at MouseHouse is laundry day just as it is here in the big house. Fivelina had theirs out on Bittersweet Vine-line bright and early, even before the sun was up. Little bloomers and over-alls dance merrily in the breeze along with her pretty dresses and aprons, and Sir Fivel’s knickers and vests.
     Now, mind you, it’ll be a day-long chore for her. Before long, she’ll be hauling them back in, off the line, folding and smoothing just so before bringing them in to tuck away in respective bureaus, or hang on hanging hooks.
     I saw her brushing one of Sir Fivel’s caps vigorously with a tiny bristled brush—apparently a repurposed make-up brush cut down to size. The dust flew and soon the cap was hanging out on the line too, to freshen in the sunshine.
     Me. I’m a little slower getting the laundry processed this morning—only one load so far dancing in the breeze on BackPorch lines. But I’ve been otherwise occupied, you see.
     Our annual family trek to the beautiful Pine Acres is coming up soon, and I’ve started gathering the many household things we’ll need. While it’s a cottage, and lovely as can be, all our bedding and linens, kitchen needs and cottage comforts come from home. So indeed, it’s an undertaking. The list-making began last year when we were wrapping up the last trip—things not to over-look next time and such.
     We’ve already noted that the weather forecast for that week calls for night-time temps in the low 40’s, daytime highs only in the 60’s. And seeing as we’ll be right by the water, I suspect there’ll be plenty of breezes. So the lists have altered a bit from summer gear to autumn snugglies. So while I’ve been busy gathering, stashing and checking off my lists, that’s not all. I’ve had some unsolicited help, you see.  
     I keep a special tea-kettle just for camping. It perches on the cellar-pantry top shelf all year until camping time, when I bring it upstairs, wash and dry it, and then fill it full of tea bags, the honey jar, and whatever else is small enough to fit inside—it pays to pack smartly and save all the room we can.
     So said tea-kettle was thoroughly packed and ready, sparkling in the morning sunshine there on my counter top. In passing, I caught that peripheral-something that just catches one’s eye somehow, that little oddity that can’t help but warrant a second glance. Nope. Just my imagination, I reasoned.
     Second trip past with my arms full of wet clothes to hang on the line, there—I saw it again. Only this time I was sure of it, and sure enough, on second look I spied two beady eyes sparkling in the sunlight, peeking out the spout of the kettle.
     “Okay, you!” I exclaimed. “Out with you! You’ll get packed into the trunk of the car and be stuck there for days. If you think your mama will like that—you  disappearing and worrying her to pieces, well, I think we better have a talk with her!”
     I opened the lid of the kettle and who scrambled out but—yep, you guessed it—our mischievous Bic. But wait! He wasn’t alone. As I set him free, he giggled and pointed to another roly-poly scoundrel peeking out the end of the aluminum foil tube in the pots-and-pans bag.  
     “Hey, you two! How come you’re not in school today?” I inquired.
     “Miss Winklesnout has a bad cold and Betina couldn’t teach us today. So we have the day off.” Ben offered reasonably, brushing some loose tea dust off his shirt. He sneezed then, looking up at me sheepishly. "Sorry Ma'am... I didn't mean to sneeze on your tea-bags."
     “You're excused. And tell me, does your mama knows you’re in here getting into the luggage this morning?” I hid a smile. How can you keep a straight face after witnessing a mouse-sneeze?!
      “No, Ma’am…” he hung his head sadly. “She sent us out to gather acorns for the larder…”
     “We meant no harm,” Bic added. “Please don’t be angry, Ma’am. We’ll get right to work now.”
     I held out my hand to each of them. Both hopped on for a ride to Downspout Staircase.
    “This’ll be our little secret, boys…" I whispered conspiratively as they hopped off, "...but yes, you need to gather up your baskets and go do as your mama told you. No more games!”
      "Yes Ma'am... thank you."
     Back in the kitchen I remind myself to check each bag and parcel carefully as I load the car over the next few days. Now that the secret is out—Pine Acres ahead—I’ll need to watch for little stowaways.
Now where did I put those clothespins?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

September Sunday Silence...

Soul-settling. Yes, it’s an early Sunday morning on BackPorch and I can’t help but note the sounds that are, or are not. Deep in the still dusky woods, a lonely crow calls from the tree tops. Faintly, distantly, I hear an answer.
The air is clear and cool this morning, a breeze rustles through the trees, fluffing up the light layer of leaves that have already fallen.The tree tops sway ever so gently as the morning light bathes them in highlight.
Sleepy crickets vibrate quietly—a background sound one barely notices, yet it’s there.
A tiny wisp of smoke curls lightly from MouseHouse chimney; no doubt Sir Fivel is tending the morning fire in Walnut Woodstove, setting the pot of chicory on to brew for his lady-love.
Traffic sounds on the lane are nearly absent this Sunday morning, but for an occasional rush as a car passes.
A jay calls, cutting the stillness with his alarm, but there are no birds to warn this morning. The feeders are silent. Most of the migrators have left already, and the year-rounders are still nestled quietly on this day of rest.
How I miss the early morning songs of joyful praise so characteristic of spring and early summer, but every season has its sounds, and autumn is the beginning of the impending silence. It is what it is.
Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
Yes, my soul, be still.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Ten Day in September...

      A Ten Day. Surely you’ve heard of them. Not just a mediocre kind of day, or the same-ole-same-ole, not even just an okay day. Nope. It’s for sure a Ten Day.  Blue sky, bright sunshine, a little breeze now and then, with comfortable levels of humidity—now I’d say that’s pretty near perfect.
     Took a walk in the garden last night to pick some potatoes and greens for dinner. I have to say it’s looking pretty grim. The tomato vines are hanging like discarded dish-rags, brown and limp, and there are more green tomatoes (red ones too!) still clinging to them than I will ever be able to process this year!
     The potato vines are hanging over the wash tubs where they’re planted, the spuds pushing up from under their roots. The chard and beets are sprouting greens faster than I can pick them, and the freezer is chock-full already! And besides what has been preserved, let me tell you we are sufficiently beeted and charded ourselves! Cleansed livers and kidneys abound! Now didn’t you just want to know that?
     I’m not complaining mind you, except maybe for my inability to be the master-picker, slicer-dicer, blancher-stewer, canner-freezer that this end of the season requires. Nope. The garden is winding down and so is my energy!
     Then there are the flower gardens. Now that’s just sad. Despite the long stretches of no rain, the waning daylight and some crisp nights, there are a few blossoms peeking out here and there on tired plants. I can almost hear them groaning a little with the effort.  At first frost, I will cut them all back, tidy up their beds and tuck them in for the long winter ahead, but for now, on this perfect-ten day, I simply smile at their valiant efforts and appreciate their persistence. What wonderful lessons there are in the garden.
     MouseHouse Village is positively bustling these days. At any given moment, a person can stand still and gaze at the comings-and-goings from bush to briar. They never stop! You have to pay attention of course, but soon you’ll see a darting blur of tawny fur, cheeks full of bounty, flag-staff tails standing straight up, or maybe you don’t see even that much, but rather disturbance in the leaves under a bush, the ferns waving when there wasn’t a breeze. Like I said, you have to pay attention, but you can be sure great things are happening in the underbrush, and underground. More than we can imagine.  Pantries are being filled, new cubbies made for snoozing, tunneling and insulating continue and the purveyors of walnut-woodstoves are extremely busy these days!
     We commented—Papa Hare and I—at how still it was this morning on BackPorch as we sipped our morning cuppas. Then we listened a little harder. For sure, there’s not much singing going on right now, but lots of scurrying and bustling, scratching and rattling, collecting and stashing. Can’t afford to laze away even an afternoon, rather they keep focused on what must be done, and their purpose is firm.

     Good lessons for me at MouseHouse Village, even on Ten Days. Good to be focused, purposed and eagerly preparing for the winter ahead, and yes… beyond.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Even the Creatures Remember...

     Even the creatures remember. Although none of The Village members were there, many friends and distant relatives were, and the stories have passed through the miles, over and over, these many years.
     You see, along with the many human lives lost that horrible day, hundreds of birds, pets, and MouseHouse friends and relatives were as well.
    There is nothing more to add this morning other than a humble and heartfelt tribute to the many who suffered and died, and prayers of comfort for the many who continue to suffer and grieve the loss of loved ones.
     Miss Winklesnout ordered all the children outside the classroom this morning where they are lined up somberly, gazing at the tiny, tattered, reclaimed American flag that she raises and lowers each day.
     “We will all be silent in a moment of remembrance…” she spoke quietly.   And silent they are.
     Yes. We all remember.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Home is Where We're Loved...

     Sultry weather continues, records matched and broken, schools closing early to prevent children’s illnesses from the heat, and then there’s the dryness. The lawns are brown, the gardens gasping and as if the rag-weed wasn’t sneezle-happy on its own, add to it clouds of dust every time a car goes by! Whew!
     Whatever did we do before air-conditioning? It was not a pleasant experience, as I recall, but we did survive. Beyond that, I’ve chosen to delete those memory-cells. Subject closed.
     In not too many weeks though, we’ll be digging out the woolies and restocking the woodpile, and yes, commenting on record-breaking cold. Oh, perish the thought! Ah well! Gotta love New England! And if you don’t like it now, just wait a minute.
     In case you were wondering, little Tina did find her way back to The Village. And just as she’d followed someone into Big Woods, it was, yet again, a fellow-traveler that helped her get back. This time though, there was no hiding. She asked for help.
     In her rush to follow the sounds of the bell that she heard tolling on Sunday, she wasn’t taking the usual care to stay undercover. After discovering a well-worn path, she scurried along at top speed when all of a sudden she heard something behind her. Rustling leaves and crackling of underbrush had her stopping to listen, ducking out of the path momentarily. As soon as she went on her way again, she’d hear a twig crackle or some dry leaves crinkle—she was certain she was being stalked.
     Quickly, she darted under a large thorn-bush and waited, and just as quickly the rustling and crackling stopped. So there she was, afraid to proceed, and paralyzed with fear.
     “You alright there, Missy?”  A voice spoke from behind her. She startled, just about fainting from fright, and spun around to look. There sat a portly chipmunk gentleman, smiling at her just inches away. She nearly sobbed with relief.
     “Oh sir! No. No, I’m not alright at all! I’ve lost my way and can’t get home, and something is following me!” she squeaked nervously, “...and I’ve been lost for days... and I just want to get back home.”
     He pursed his mouth thoughtfully, one pudgy hand twirling his whiskers as he perused. “And where’s home, might I ask? And what is a youngun like yourself doing out here in Big Woods alone?”
     “Oh sir! It’s too long a story to tell you. Please just help me find my way home. Oh, home is in The Village at Hare Hollow…” she added, realizing as she spoke that yes, it truly was her home now.  “Please, can you help me?”
     His black eyes sparkled in the sun, and after he straightened his dapper bow-tie and adjusted his overalls, he held out a helping hand. “Come then… let’s be on our way!  And by-the-way, I'm Mr. Chipson... and your name is...?”
     “My name is Tina, But sir, what about whoever is chasing me?!” she held back in concern.
     “Worry not, little one. I know lots of tunnel entrances between here and The Village. You just trust me. If I see or hear anything, I’m going to pick you right up and dart into one of those tunnels. So don’t be scared.”
     She took his hand.
     True to his word, he led her right to Big Rock Schoolhouse. Nothing bothered them as they walked on together, and it wasn’t far at all. Who knew home was just that close, and she’d been just that little distance all along.
     She thanked him graciously, then fairly flew to Miss Winklesnout’s humble cottage nearby. Standing at the door she paused, considering—would Miss Winklesnout welcome her back? Or would she be so hurt and angry she’d turn her away? And whatever would she do if that was the case. Where would she go? With sinking heart she raised her hand to knock when suddenly the door opened and there stood the lady herself, her eyes wide with disbelief.
     “Tina! Oh Tina! Is it really you, my precious girl?!” The schoolmarm, holding out her arms, dissolved into grateful tears. Tina melted into the offered embrace, overcome with thankfulness and relief.
     “Oh Miss Winklesnout, I’m so sorry for running away. I was selfish and ungrateful, and I’m so sorry. I thought if I could just get back to my old home, where I came from, that some of my relatives would be there and I could be with them. I thought it would make me happier, but I was so wrong. There’s no one and nothing there for me. If you don’t want me to live here anymore, I’ll understand completely, but please tell me where I should go.”
     The schoolmarm listened quietly. Tears still glistened in her own eyes as she gently brushed Tina’s away. Searching for how best to deal with this, she pulled Tina back into a warm embrace.
     “My dear girl… you will always be welcome here. This is your home. I am your guardian, but more than that, I have come to love you like my own daughter…” she began. “You must tell me though, when things like this bother you. We can talk it over and find a solution together. Please don’t ever go off on your own like that again. You could’ve been…” the worried schoolmarm couldn’t finish for the tears that threatened again.
     She shut the cottage door and beckoned toward the kitchen.
     “Come, my sweet girl. Let’s go make some chamomile tea… you must be hungry. How about a fat slice of teaberry  bread slathered with acorn butter to start…?”
Tina slid into her chair at the table and watched as Miss Winklesnout poured the tea. “Thank you…” she spoke softly and the simple expression had never meant so much to her before.
     “How can I ever make it up to you… what I’ve done…?”
     “Hush now, little one. You are weary, in need of a warm bath and lots of good food. Best of all you are home. Let’s put the past in the past and just move forward from here, shall we?”
     That late-afternoon, Tina bathed in the pretty pink tub—formerly a Rubbermaid mini-bowl—repurposed of course! Miss Winklesnout poured pitcher after pitcher of warmed-on-the-stove water until it was up to Tina’s chin. She soaked in the lavender scented water and then scrubbed until she squeaked—her skin that is—then after a vigorous rubdown with a terry-towel, she put on her ruffled blue nightgown. Oh it felt wonderful to be clean and have clean clothes to put on!
     Miss Winklesnout made sunflower seed pancakes with gooseberry syrup for supper, but before Tina could finish, her head drooped onto her arm on the table. Even the clatter of her fork falling to the floor didn’t wake her.
     The schoolmarm watched her sleep for a little while, marveling at the miracle of her safe return. Then ever so gently, she gathered the little girl into her arms and carried her off to bed. Tucking her in snuggly, she uttered a prayer of thankfulness to the One who saw them through all these days of upset.
      Life’s lessons are often painful, the journey rift with bumps and bruises, tears and misunderstandings often in the search for what we think is something better, but when we can come through with humility and  recognition of a Greater Plan than ours, then go forward with gratitude—well, it’s a happy day for sure.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Bell Tolls in the Sunday Silence...

     September-Sunday silence… sunshine peeks thru the trees bathing Hare Hollow Woods with a golden wash… tints of reds and oranges even brighter this early morning in the first kiss of sunshine.
     It’s a bit chilly this morning, but refreshingly so. Wrapped snuggly in my long fluffy robe, I nurse the second cuppa with gratitude for so many things… solitude, security and comfort to name a few, but more importantly, sweet anticipation of a quiet hour of worship on this precious day—God’s day—a day of rest and restoration.
     Little Tina however is still missing. Miss Winklesnout is positively bereft! She even had to leave the classroom on Friday because she was weeping so hard as she considered Tina’s empty desk. Betina had to be called in to substitute for the day. Her mom, Fivelina is always at-the-ready to babysit the babies—all four of them—whenever Betina needs to help at the school.
     The Village folk have been all astir too over the strange disappearance. Mr. Mosley attested that indeed she’d been at Underground Warehouse that morning, and had bartered for the bag of thistledown.
     “She did leave in a hurry…” he remarked when one of the investigators questioned him.
     “Did you see which direction she went?” they asked.
     “Well, no sir. You see there were many customers here that day and well… once folks leave that doorway there, I couldn’t possibly see where they go.”
     Tina, meanwhile, has been traveling for a couple of days, trying to find her way back to the Village. She spent a day taking shelter from the stormy weather, but as soon as it cleared the next day, she started out. After she saw the same landmarks the third time, she realized she was merely traveling in a big circle and getting nowhere nearer to Miss Winklesnout’s cottage.
     “Oh if only I could be back with Miss Winklesnout…” she lamented. “She was so good to me. I was always warm and well-fed, taken care of in every way…and I was safe there. I didn’t have to worry about the enemy grabbing me in the dark.  I had a nice soft bed to sleep in and I was loved; why, oh why did I leave?!”
     Tears spilled over again.
     “I don’t deserve such kindness," she berated. "She probably won’t want me back again. I’ve hurt her so badly… and oh dear… what will I do now?”
     She sat under a large fern clump, her back against a stem, hugging her knees and sobbing into the dirty, now-torn sleeves of her dress. Weary beyond telling, and hungry for something more substantial than berries, she wept uncontrollably. Lonely desperation and deep regret weighed heavy on her wee heart.
     After a time, it came to her that perhaps she could leave a trail as she walked, and that way she’d see as she looked back now and then, if she was walking in a straight line, or in circles again. So she gathered some pine cones, pulling their woody pieces from the cone, gathering as many of the little pieces as she could carry in the fold of her pinafore. And she began walking again in the direction she hoped was towards The Village.  Even if Miss Winklesnout turned her away, she knew there was hope and protection there, and it was her only hope.
     It was the sound of the school-bell tolling for folks to gather on this Sunday morning, faint, but delightedly familiar, that filled her heart with gladness. You see, the school house is used both for educating the children, as well as for the Villagers to gather for Sunday morning worship. Sir Fivel and several other elderly gentlemen take turns ringing the bell on Sundays. Of course Miss Winklesnout rings it on school days.
    “The bell!” Tina whispered excitedly. “That's the school bell! I heard the bell! I’m going in the right direction.”
     Hope is a wonderful thing. I’m grateful for it too—today and every day.
     More later…

Friday, September 4, 2015

Berries in the Dug-Out...

     Autumn tickled our senses several days ago and then the tug-o-war with Lady Summer began again—typical for the season. So we’ve been sweltering with 90-degree soggies ever since. I can’t help but notice though, the ever-increasing tinges of color—reds and yellows—peeking out from the green of Hare Hollow Woods, all along the roadways too, from hither to yon. No doubt about it! The trees know it’s time to prepare for the Winter Sleep despite how staunchly Lady Summer insists otherwise.

     Tina peeked out from the rusty piece of metal she’d been taking shelter under the past several days. And mind you, it’s been several days of misery and regret. She was dirty, hungry and bereft of heart.

     At Underground Warehouse you may recall, where she’d been sent by Miss Winklesnout to get some thread and a bag of thistledown, she’d overheard a conversation between Mr. Mosley, the barter-clerk, and a stranger, an older gentleman-mouse. He spoke of some of her former neighbors from her very-own home-area. She could hardly believe her ears! 

     Maybe some of my family is still alive, she reasoned. Maybe I could follow him back home and find out. I might be able to live with them and be h-o-m-e!

     So without further thought, she placed the box of buttons she’d brought to barter with, on Mr. Mosley’s counter, then scurried off, bag of thistledown bumping along behind her, to catch up with said gentleman-mouse. Fortunately he wasn’t too speedy on his feet, and it didn’t take her long to find him.

     The plan was to maintain secrecy since she didn’t know this gentleman, so she stayed a fair distance behind, darting in behind a fern, or slipping in at the back a tree whenever he looked over his shoulder. 

     Remarkably, he was heading in the same direction as Miss Winklesnout’s cottage, so Tina was able to ditch the bag of thistledown near the schoolmarm’s front path. For just an instant, Tina felt bad. Yes, Miss Winklesnout was waiting anxiously for the thistledown, but she would also be worried about Tina’s whereabouts. And truly, she’d been nothing but kind and loving, and Tina knew this was not a kind thing to do in return—just walk off and not tell anyone where she was going, but it had all happened so fast, the opportunity to find home again and all.

     She quickly tucked the bag under a broadleaf so the breeze wouldn’t send it tumbling off into the woods, but let the edge peek out a bit in the hopes Miss Winklesnout would find it. Then quickly she scampered off to find the gentleman-mouse again. 

     They traveled into Big Woods, and it wasn’t long before there were familiar signs of home. Who knew she’d been so close all along! As soon as she had her bearings, she abandoned the chase, and turned in the direction of home. H-O-M-E! She could hardly contain herself! I’m almost home!

     What a shock to see what had once been the front door now just a pile of debris, the area once so carefully swept and cleared, now overgrown with weeds. She pulled and tugged at shards of wood, thick stems and stones until she was able to step into a more open area—their former front room. There was evidence of Mama’s stove, some overturned cooking pots, a shredded piece of fabric that had once covered their sofa, but no sign of life. 

     She called, first in a tentative, quiet voice, “Mama?  Papa? Where are you-u-u?”


     Then she wailed. “Ma-a-a-m-a-a-a!  Please come back…”

     She sank to the ground, sobs ripped through her, her little body convulsed. She cried out the months of bewilderment and unrelenting loss. Weeping herself into exhaustion, she finally fell asleep there in the debris of what had once been home and loving family.
     In the darkness, she awoke to the sound of scratching, the all-too-familiar sound of enemy-searching-for-prey. Confused at her whereabouts, she froze, listening, then remembered. Terror gripped. Whatever had taken her family must've come back to get her now… and she’d foolishly put herself right into harm’s way. 

     Tucking herself further back into the destroyed room, she took refuge under a pile of rubble. Sure enough, a large paw reached in through the opening, claws extended, ominously scratching about for anything edible. It was pitch black and Tina could only hear and imagine the worst, but she huddled deeper behind the rubble and waited. 

     After a time, the scratching ceased. And still she waited. She remembered Papa’s warnings, when she’d been very small, about the enemy waiting silently for the prey to make a move. Then he’d pounce and it would be all over.

     She didn’t move. Not until daylight. A ray of sun peeked through the open doorway, and little by little she crept through the remains of home, finding her way out into the fresh air again. She kept hidden, darting from leaf to shrub, driven now to find her way back to The Village and safety. 

     She walked and walked; her tummy grumbled with hunger, so she stopped and found a berry to eat. She hadn’t eaten since the previous day at Miss Winklesnout’s!  It was the best tasting berry she’d had in a long time, but she ate in trepidation knowing that whatever lurked in the area last night, was likely lurking still.

     And then it began to rain. Just like that! The sun had been shining so beautifully, but storm clouds came up and now it was pouring. She knew there were underground tunnels here too, near home, but she was too far from there now. So she’d sheltered under this rusty old piece of metal, made a small dug-out beneath it, and waited. 

     When the rain abated slightly, she’d scampered out and picked two more berries, bringing them back into her little dug-out as the torrent began again in earnest.

     I’ll just wait out the storm here, she reasoned, and then I’ll find my way back to The Village. She couldn’t yet call it home…

     But the rain continued... and this will too.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tina Goes Missing...

August 31, 2015
     It’s a steamy ninety degrees out on BackPorch today and oh, did I mention humidity? A quick trek out to water the greenery and hangers left me red-cheeked and puffing—me and steamy don’t mix well you see. Yup, I’d say Sultry Summer is hanging on tight despite a taste of autumn just a couple days ago.
     School has started in The Village. On the first day, Miss Winklesnout stood at the entrance of Big Rock Schoolhouse welcoming the children one-by-one as they skipped and scampered in from the woods and meadow grasses, everyone dressed in their finest—new knickers and freshly pressed shirts for the boys, colorful dresses and pinafores for the girls.
     Tina stood beside Auntie Win—her name for her new adoptive mom—and smiled her greetings to the arrivals too, but not all was well.
     You may recall that Tina’s family was tragically lost last autumn, she being the only survival of a terrible attack of some wild cats. After considerable investigation into the matter, and the conclusion that dear little Tina was indeed an orphan, the members of the School Board and some of the locals decided she would live with Miss Winklesnout permanently.
At first, the shock and upset of her situation left Tina merely grateful to be safe and well-taken care of. Miss Winklesnout was, after all, a gentle caring soul, but she was not Mama. Tina missed her home, her family—Mama, Papa, her sisters and baby brother too, but she kept the missing deep in her heart, afraid to express such thoughts for fear they’d be mistaken for unthankfulness.
     She flowed through the days and weeks, intent on being helpful, willing for whatever was asked of her. Many of the towns-people commented on her politeness, and what a wonderful boon it was to Miss Winklesnout to have such a good little girl of her own now. Some even said such things directly to Tina. She just smiled and nodded assent.
     In the wee hours of the days though, when she lay in her lovely new bunk, in her beautiful new room, with all the pretty hand-me-down dresses and things in her very own closet, she wept. Tears of anguish slipped out the sides of her eyes as she lay looking up at the ceiling, or over at the window where the pretty ruffled curtains wafted gently in the night breeze.
     “I’m a NOT a good girl…!” she berated herself. “I’m a horrible little girl. I think about awful things even when I’m being obedient. And I want to say nasty things even as I smile and go about my chores. This is NOT my home! And Miss Winklesnout is NOT my mama… she’s not even my aunt!”
     She sobbed into the pillow. “Oh Mama, Papa! Why did this have to happen to us? Why did you have to go away? Truly, will I never ever see you again?”
     When morning came, she washed the tears away, got dressed and made her bed as usual. She helped Auntie Win with the breakfast dishes, did all her chores willingly and cheerfully, and as usual, never said a word about what was in her heart.
     So it came as a complete surprise last week when she went missing.
     Miss Winklesnout sent her on an errand to Underground Warehouse for a spool of web-thread and a bag of thistle-down for the quilt she was finishing for Tina’s bed.
     “Don’t be long now, dear…” Auntie Win admonished gently. “I’ll be waiting for the thread as I’ve run out… so I can’t work on this…” she indicated the pretty pink cloud of fabric across the sofa, “…until you get back.”
    “Yes, Auntie Win… I won’t be long.”
     But noon-time came, no Tina. She’s probably met some school friends in the tunnel and the time has gotten away with her, the school marm reasoned.
     The sun rose higher in the sky, still no Tina. Suppertime came, no Tina, and Miss Winklesnout was duly concerned.
     She set out to trace the path Tina would’ve taken to get to Underground Warehouse, asking several along the way if they’d seen her. No one had.
     At Sir Fivel’s shop, Miss Winklesnout poked her head in to inquire there. “No Ma’am…” he shook his head worriedly. “I haven’t seen Tina at all today and she would’ve had to pass right by here…” He rose to step outside the shop. “Perhaps we should ask some of the other shop owners if anyone has seen her. Maybe she’s visiting with some of the children at one of them.”
     “That’s not like her though…” Miss Winklesnout commented. “She’s always so prompt and reliable… this is just not her way. She’s such a good little thing…”
     Darkness fell. No sign of Tina. The  Critter Crime Investigators were notified. Everyone knew it was possible that she’d been snatched by one of the enemies—goodness  knows, there was always some lurking about.
     “Go home, Miss Winklesnout, and leave the searching to us now…” Officer Daly urged. “You’re upset and weary now, but really there’s nothing more you can do out here. Leave the searching to us. For all you know, she may’ve come home already and she’s wondering where you are!”
     Miss Winklesnout turned to leave, though her steps were heavy with sorrow. Sir Fivel saw her and hurried to catch up.
     “Miss Winklesnout…” he called rather sharply. “Wait!”  She waited.
     “Let me escort you home, Ma’am. You shouldn’t be out after dark alone, and you don’t live far from me, so I’ll walk you to your door.”
     “Thank you, Sir…” she accepted gratefully.
     They were just about to the Milk Thistle Patch, just a scamper from Miss Winklesnout’s humble cottage, when they both noticed a lump of something light-colored just at the edge of the path.
     “What’s that!?”  the anxious lady exclaimed.
     Sir Fivel bent to investigate. “It appears to be a bag of thistle-down…” he poked at it with his cane. “Yes, Ma’am! That’s what it is. How do you suppose it got there? Someone must’ve dropped it.”
     “Ohhhhh no-o-o!” The school marm wailed.
     “What Ma’am! What’s wrong!” He rushed back to her side.
     “I sent Tina to Underground Warehouse for a bag of thistledown and some thread this morning! She’s has been there! And she came back. Something must’ve snatched her on the way home. Ohhhh! What will I do without my dear Tina!”
…To be continued.