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Thursday, January 14, 2021

What Can One Seasonally Retired, “Tiny” Bookseller Possibly Do?

Peasy with some of his things

In one of my favorite children’s books, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, a story I continue to re-read with delight and pleasure as old age encroaches on my life, there is a character known as Spiller. [Correction: Spiller appears in the second book of the series, The Borrowers Afield. Sorry about that, but you should read both, anyway.] A hunter who lives in the wild by his wits (rather than staying indoors and “borrowing” what he needs to live from “human beans”), he was just old enough when he lost his parents to recall his mother once calling him a “Dreadful Spiller.” Older now, he quite reasonably chooses not to introduce himself by what he takes to be his first name, Dreadful, though he confides it to Arietty, the main character in the story. 

I mention Spiller and the origin of his name, thinking of Peasy’s many worldly temptations, because Peasy is a Dreadful Chewer! Furthermore, Peasy has an irresistible (so far) penchant for plastic! Not that he limits his sins to plastic items, mind you, but my precious gel roller pens are never safe if he can reach them, even if I’m sitting right next to a writing implement I’ve foolishly set on a footstool rather than in the middle of a high table. I love those pens! You'd better believe I put cell phones and channel changers up out of reach every night!


Yet another gel pen destroyed (tip crunched by teeth -- not mine)

Poor little Peasy! His little world is so very, very complicated! There are some things we very much want him to do, and he’s pretty good at those. Then there are other things we don’t mind him doing, plus a few things we absolutely do not want him to do, ever! The clear positive commands he gets -- but how is he to figure out the difference between permissible and forbidden? Why is it okay, he must wonder, to chew some things – the things we give him to chew or let him bring inside from the great outdoors – and not others? I would love to be able to explain to him that the distinction is between items on the floor or offered to him (okay to chew) and items on furniture – the latter our things, not his and not okay to chew, ever!


In a recent post, I titled one section “Peasy’s Progress,” and at least one of my friends made the connection I intended, to the famous classic work, John Bunyan's Pilgrim’s Progress. Laurie thinks Peasy’s Progress needs to be a book, too. It’s a thought. Since we only met Peasy at the Graham County Animal Control facility, where he had been for over three months after being picked up as a stray, the earlier part of his life would have to be invented for his story. Were those months in the pound his Slough of Despond?


My new little dog boy is a real challenge! Overall, though, aside from the dreadful chewing, he is a better dog every day, gradually worming his way into the Artist’s heart, as well as mine. Nightly “pack time” is one of the best times of the day for all three of us.

And here’s the thing, you see – the part that inspired my title for today’s post: There are so many troubling aspects of our world today over which we (all of us) have no control that it’s encouraging and immensely satisfying to find something over which we can exercise some agency. An animal is not to be “controlled” like a machine, but working to establish authority over an animal, along with establishing a kind of partnership with it, allows a human to feel effective. It gives a sense of accomplishment. This is something I can do. I can give this dog a better life than he had before I adopted him, and I can give him sufficient boundaries and limits, along with exercise, love and rewards, so that he enhances our life, too. Recently I read something in a magazine about people rearranging, remodeling, and redecorating their houses to find satisfaction in being able to accomplish something, and I thought, That’s how I feel about working with Peasy.


A happier dog every day

When it comes to political action, now that the election is past I feel somewhat stymied. I have written several times to the Representative from our home district in Michigan but can’t help feeling at this point that further attempts to communicate with him would merely be banging my head against the wall. (A cowboy would more likely say “pissin’ inta th’ wind,” but that phrase coming from a female doesn’t have the same force, does it?) All of that feels, at the moment, way beyond anything I can do, and I'm not going to write a single word here about the second impeachment --.


Instead, what I want to say is that somewhere in the great, very welcome middle ground between dogs and elected officials are all the rest of us ordinary human beings, and there are actions I can take in that realm, however modest. 

Each time I went to the grocery store in November, I routinely added $3 to my total at the cash register to help provide Thanksgiving dinners for local families without the means to shop as I could. Before 2020 came to a close, I wrote checks for annual donations to the ACLU, the Carter Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Growing Hope Locally, Save the Children, and the National Writers Series. The various groups I support range from local to national to global, as I don’t see filling needs or doing good as limited to any certain geographical reach, and each has a different mission, because need takes many different forms.


On a more personal level, I have been making more phone calls recently than I do ordinarily, because it is clearer to me all the time how much a phone call means. “You sound good,” I’ll say, and when the other person says, “I always feel good when I talk to you,” I'm glad I called and realize that I can easily call more often. It isn’t like the old days of “long distance,” after all. I have unlimited calling and texting on my cell phone plan.


Letters mean a lot, too. (They certainly do to me! An empty mailbox puts hope off until tomorrow, while finding a letter in my mailbox any day makes my day!) My friends Marilyn and Dawn are writing and mailing notes and letters to friends and strangers and encouraging others to do so in these troubled times. I am happy that they are doing so.

Outgoing mail

So I call, and I write, and I hope my little Peasy stories (which is much of what I share with friends and family these days, as well as here on Books in Northport) bring a few smiles. We all need reasons to smile, to laugh, to feel joy. It isn’t sticking our heads in the sand to pause to enjoy life and give thanks for it.

These are things I can do. 

I can call. I can write. I can donate. 


I can cook and bake for the Artist and enjoy our time together in our seasonal retirement and work to integrate a very challenging little rescue dog into our family.


Pizza from scratch!

I can write my blog posts, in hopes of sharing with the homebound and/or snowbound our modest winter adventures here in southeast Arizona. 

In general, to be honest with you, I can’t not write. Like breathing, it’s what I do. I will be writing again soon about a few books I've read recently....


Anyway, regular readers, however few you may be, please know that my appreciation for you knows no bounds and that when you leave a comment that lets me know some message in a metaphorical bottle I’ve thrown out onto the cold, vast ocean has reached someone somewhere on shore, it’s as good as finding a letter in my mailbox. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! 



Angie said...

Peasy's long distance admirer and head cheerleader here. :D I love him. And I love that you are giving him a place full of love and guidance to live his best life. HIs breed are quick learners. Before you know it, and yes, it will seem like it's a long time coming to you LOL, he will not even glance at the plastic things left alluringly with reach. :D Girl, that pizza looks really yummy! Is your dough a recipe that requires a lot of kneading? or do you just mix it and let it rise. Guess you can tell I'm interested in the recipe. :D

The outrage that I've stuffed and lived with this last four years doesn't lend itself to public expression. This last week with the devastating attack and ensuing death and desecration crushes my heart and fills me with concern for lies ahead.

Anonymous said...

Message in a bottle: I saw the children's book Peck, Peck, Peck in one of your bookstore photos. It looked interesting, so we checked it out of the library. It is a delight! We laughed like crazy the first time we read it. If it's still there, hopefully we'll be able to buy the copy from your bookstore this summer.

P. J. Grath said...

I mentioned today to David, when he asked what naughty things Sarah had done as a puppy, that the biggest challenge I had with her in the bookstore was her wanting to jump up on people. (And friends who said, "It's all right." I had to tell them, no, it wasn't!) David then asked what I thought would be the biggest challenge with Peasy in the bookstore, and I said, "Having him there!" I absolutely cannot think that far ahead. One week at a time is as much as I can do. But thanks for the encouragement about his current plastic fetish.

The pizza dough doesn't take a lot of kneading. Two teaspoons of instant yeast to, 2-3/4 C flour. Olive oil and warm water. Look at King Arthur recipe. I look at several and use a bit from each one. Rising time was said to be 1-1/2 to 3 hours, and three worked for me, probably because it wasn't a very warm day, even on top of the refrigerator. I moved the bowl to the stovetop, where pilot lights helped, I think. Second crust is in the freezer for next time. Also, please note that if you are out of mozzarella, as I was, slices of string cheese will NOT melt, so restock mozzarella before making your pizza!

I won't be able to keep my political opinions off this blog indefinitely. Just needed to take a break and figured other people might appreciate one, too. Sad times!

BB-Idaho said...

Peasy's Progress/Pilgrim's Progress: Now/Then-set me to recollecting
Bunyan's time- turbulent creative years. Spinoza, Descartes, Newton,
Hooke, Galileo. Religion/Science - the horrid 30 year war, the King James Version had been recently finished (why was James called the
Wisest Fool In Christendom?) Physics and analytical Geometry born.
Milton's Paradise Lost penned almost simultaneously as Bunyan's writing Progress in his jail cell. Clearly, I have never finished
either Bunyan or Milton, but I like putting things in context. IMO
Shakespeare in the prior generation is a better I expect
the continuing episodes of Peasy's Progress will be. In a Dicksonian way, a bored frightened dog went from the worst of times when the bookseller and artist came by to the best of times in an instant!

P. J. Grath said...

Anonymous -- peck, peck, peck! Was it a board book version you saw in the photograph? I hope it is there for you, and if it isn't we'll order another on.! Thanks for reading!

P. J. Grath said...

Bob, Peasy's transition from the worst of times to the best of times could also be called “A Tale of Two Counties,” in that he was rescued from the Graham County Animal Control facility and brought home to our rental cabin here Cochise County. A neighbor here who hasn’t formally met him saw us returning from a “walk” (I walk, Peasy runs) and commented in a text (we neighbors mostly gather in text conversations in these COVID times) that his name should be Zoomer.

Thanks for your contributions on historical context. I started reading this morning a slim volume of thoughts called THE STATE OF SIEGE, written by C. P. Snow in 1968. What a time that was! Vietnam … the Democratic National Convention in Chicago …. Snow writes of a pervasive anxiety in both the U.S. and U.K. and of people withdrawing into small enclaves composed of other people like themselves. People ceasing to care about others — and other times, when tragedies are individual, caring very much. Much of what he writes could have been written today, although his concern is the world population explosion rather than the erosion of Western values.

When I think of dying, life ending, it is not finding out what happens next that seems most frustrating. Of course, we may be better off not knowing, but we don’t and won’t know that, either.

Dawn said...

I have a copy of The Borrowers Afloat sitting on my bookcase right here next to me. I haven't read it in years, maybe since I was a kid, but I remember a lot of that series even now, decades later, and I instantly remembered Spiller. I might be inspired to pull that off the shelf and give it a read again.

As for politics. Having met your Rep, having spent considerable time with him and then with his staff and coming up empty and being given no reason for their lack of support, I don't know if writing to him again is going to make a dent in his very thick partisan armor.

I'm glad you have Peasy. He is beautiful. OK, handsome. And he will learn sooooo fast about most things. Odds are he's a bit stubborn too, but eventually he's going to be an awesome dog. He's already a pretty awesome dog. Hope he learns to be a bookstore dog so I get to meet him.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, if I have inspired anyone to read or re-read any of Mary Norton's BORROWERS series, that's something that makes me happy.

Peasy is generally admired as a good-looking dog by anyone who meets him. He hasn't met a lot of people yet, and he is still very shy, but I am hoping he will gain in confidence as his world expands.

Angie, I took the second pizza crust out of the freezer today for tonight's dinner, and we both thought tonight's toppings led to perfect success: tomato sauce, bacon, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. I'll post photos and tips on my kitchen blog soon. Peasy got bites of crust after his regular dog food dinner.