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It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.” Whenever we have company, we have a crisis.
So when my brother-in-law woke us on Thanksgiving Day morning with the news that the house had no water, it wasn’t really that surprising.
It’s often a water problem for us. Some years, like this year, there’s not enough water, but we’ve also had the opposite problem: too much water.
Way back when we lived in rural Kentucky, our water came from a well. The first time I put my foot down and refused to travel for Christmas, we had both grandmothers visit to see their almost two year old granddaughter. That was the year the pump went out on Christmas Eve. The only water we had available was in the recycled plastic milk jugs that I kept in a back room.
One nice thing about small towns, you know people. We knew the owner of the only hardware store in town well enough to get him away from his Christmas Eve dinner to open the store and find us the pump we needed. That night, when Santa stopped to leave some gifts, he saw us with flash lights and heavy coats, wrestling the new pump into place.
Then there was the Christmas with too much water. We left our new house in Heber Springs, Arkansas for some last minute shopping. Back when we lived in Heber Springs, the closest Toys-R-Us was in North Little Rock, about an hour and a half away. We loaded up the station wagon and made the trek down on a cold winter day, just hours before the arrival of those same two grandmothers.
We knew there was something wrong as soon as we opened the garage door. Water was leaking out the door to the kitchen. We left the kids strapped in their car seats and carefully opened the door. Whoosh. The kitchen was flooded.
It turned out that the pipes to the upstairs bathroom passed through the uninsulated garage and then went over the master bedroom. The break was directly over the bedroom.
When the grandmothers arrived the next day – one from California and the other from Louisville, Kentucky – we had the flooring torn up in half the house, and a air mattress on the subfloor of the master bedroom.
The biggest family gathering we have ever hosted was earlier this year when our son got married. Everyone came. Both my husband’s sisters, my sister and brother, all their kids and even a third generation – my brother’s grandchildren. But how do you put up 17 people? We started looking for a rental house that we could book for the weekend, but all of them were too far away. Then we had a brainstorm. The house two doors up from us had already been on the market for a year or so. It was completely furnished, but no one was living there. We knew the owners well enough to ask for a big favor, and they agreed, we moved eight of our guests in for the weekend.

Lotta family!
It was right before the wedding when the septic tank backed up into the bathroom and all water use in the borrowed home was immediately terminated. We had 16 people sharing our two bathrooms preparing for the wedding.
Luckily, we knew a good plumber because when his sister visited the year before our septic tank backed up into our bathroom and she immediately moved to our daughter’s house in town.
One of my favorite Christmas crisis stories was a simple misunderstanding. At least it seemed simple to me. I’m not sure our neighbors in New Haven, Indiana ever understood what was going on.
We got home from an early Christmas Eve church service and I turned on the oven so I could heat the bread. I forgot that the bottom of the oven was covered with apple pie overflow from my earlier baking. My husband’s family always has lobster for dinner on Christmas Eve. So while I got the water on to boil, he went out to the garage and brought in the little cardboard boxes of live lobsters.
About the time, the big pots of water started to boil, the oven started smoking as the apple pie juice burned. Naturally, all the smoke alarms went off. In spite of the freezing temperatures, I threw open the kitchen window to let the smoke out and my husband started chasing the kids around the house with a live lobster. The smoke alarm was blaring, the kids were screaming, smoke was billowing out the kitchen window and one of the kids flung open the front door to escape the lobster. The entire family, still dressed for church but minus coats and shoes, erupted out of the front door screaming and laughing. The neighbors called 911. I can’t imagine exactly what they told the dispatcher.
Thanksgiving this year was saved by the quick work of the water department. About the time I put the turkey into the oven, the water came back on and we able to cook the potatoes, squash, and my sister’s turnips without any problems. The kids came over, the neighbors came down and no one even had to call 911.
Let’s just hope Christmas goes as well.

Sheba

I spent the first part of National Dog Day at the vet with our 15-year-old lab, Sheba. I went along because we weren’t sure she was going to come home.
The rambunctious nine month old puppy that my husband brought home over 14 years ago, has become an old lady. Watching her moving through her day, from the bed in the living room to the bed on the bedroom floor to the front yard, is difficult, but so is the alternative.
How do you judge a dog’s quality of life? She still seems to enjoy her food, although she doesn’t eat anywhere near as much as our other, much younger dog. In spite of the arthritis that makes her back legs so stiff, she still goes out into the yard and occasionally breaks into a trot when she sees a squirrel. She knows her master and her feelings towards him haven’t changed.
It’s a relationship that never really included me. Back in the day, when the rambunctious puppy got to be a nuisance, I was the one who insisted on obedience school, so naturally I was the one who got to bring her.
Sheba has always been a smart dog, a highly “trainable” dog. She is a Labrador retriever, after all. For weeks, the two of us went off to school at a tennis court in town. We practiced sitting and heeling, lying down and staying. One time, I got her roll over. She was a good student, until he came along. He came to observe obedience class after weeks of the two of us working together and as soon as Sheba saw her master over by the fence, she stopped being obedient. It was all I could do to keep her next to me. She wanted him. The teacher told me later that she had never seen a dog react like that.
I didn’t give up immediately, but after a while, I did. She’s always been a one man dog.
Maybe she never forgave me for the quarantine way back when, although none of that was my fault.
It was long ago, when our son was still practicing with his high school cross-country team, but wasn’t yet old enough to drive. I used Sheba to get my husband to drive our son to those early morning practices. Sheba needed a walk anyway, I reasoned. Bring her along; let the boy run and the dog walk and the mom sleep a little later. It would have been a great idea except for the bite incident.
To this day my husband still insists that Sheba never meant to bite that cross-country runner. He said the runner put his hand in the dog’s mouth and scraped it on her passive teeth. I was the one who went and spoke to the police officer who had received the dog bite report. And I was one the one who went home and collected the dog for ten days of quarantine at our local vet’s office. I’m not sure who took it harder, the dog or the master.
He never considered the possibility that she might bite someone else.
For years, he would take her for walks places where he could get away without a leash. I would have liked to go on some of those walks, but I did consider the possibilities and it scared me. But I couldn’t convince him to keep her on her leash.
They both started slowing down about the same time and the daily walks got shorter and shorter. Now, they like to go sit down by the lake. Sheba sniffs around the near the water while her master checks his phone and our younger dog bounds back and forth between them.
The younger dog, Sam, who I thought would be Sheba’s replacement, is now three and a half. We’ve had him for two and a half years. Looking back I can’t remember why I thought we needed a replacement two and a half years ago.
Last week Sheba was diagnosed with a bladder infection and we brought her home with a bottle of antibiotics and the question, how do judge a dog’s quality of life? How do you know when it’s time?

Lately I’ve been thinking about grandchildren.

I have to start by saying I’m really not in any hurry. While it’s true I know lots of people who are younger than I am and answering to Grandma, I’m not anxious to join their ranks.

Really. I’m not.

The truth is all my children have moved out of their teens into their 20s. My husband and I were blessed with three great kids, who share a fine sense of responsibility and a good work ethic, but I still don’t see them as adults. Why should I?

They have years and years ahead of mortgages and car payments and worrying about the future. They should enjoy their young adult status as long as possible and have all the fun they can while they can.

Once a young adult becomes a parent, most lose that young adult status. While some people become full-fledged adults without ever being parents, and occasionally you run into a parent who just never grew up, for most people that threshold between young adult and real adult comes with the responsibilities of a new generation.

So while my own kids are enjoying their young adult status, I have some time to think about the grandmother I may become. Someday. No hurry.

Our family has always been grandparent deficient. I only remember my mother’s father well. The only memory I have of my mother’s mother is one she would probably hate. I must have been about 6 years old that Easter when my mother sent me next door to my grandparents’ house to show off my new spring outfit. I ran into the house unannounced and directly into my grandmother as she stepped out of the shower. I remember her trying, unsuccessfully, to cover herself up. She died unexpectedly not long after that Easter.

But my grandfather was a great grandparent. I remember him fixing my bike and paying me to pull dandelions in his yard when I needed money for candy. He was at all our special occasions, even when we grew into bored teenagers who didn’t value his presence. I hope he understood that deep down inside, we loved him.

My own children never knew either of their grandfathers, but they did have two wonderful grandmothers, who often seemed to visit at the same time. Many of our Christmas photos feature a grandmother on either side. Sadly, we lost both of them in recent years.

I want to be the type of grandmother my mother was, but I wouldn’t want to have to do it long distance the way she did. Of course, it wasn’t her fault that we kept moving away from her.

Even when we lived on opposite sides of the country, my mother always knew what activities my kids were involved in. She always seemed happy to get the endless dance and baseball pictures, although she finally asked me to stop sending them in frames when her bookcase was overflowing.

When she came to visit she always tried to help. When our youngest was born, it was Grandma who flew across the country to drive the oldest to dance lessons. But they never made it to dance lessons. Grandma got lost and ended up on the other side of Fort Wayne, Ind. Eventually we got her back.

The kids probably never knew how much Grandma was on their side. I still have a long, thoughtful letter she wrote in reply to my complaints about our teenager driving us crazy. Her advice: “Don’t let the teenage turmoil ruin your relationship. Just keep loving your child and she’ll return to you as a young adult.”

Grandma was right, of course.

When my kids are ready, I want to be the type of grandmother who takes the kids for a few days so the parents can get away.

I want to spoil my grandchildren a little bit and then lecture their parents about spoiling them. I want to go back to the Fisher Price aisle at Walmart and buy some more Little People toys and help another generation push legless people around in tiny cars.

Even though I’m really not in a hurry to have grandchildren, I really can’t wait.

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Lake View

Every morning for most of the past 13 years, I’ve left my house and headed to town via the HIghway 12 bridge. Every morning, I look both ways and access the day by how the lake is looking.
Today the lake was an amazing, sparkling blue. The sun was out and there was a little breeze. It’s gotta be a good day, right?
Sometimes the lake looks a little gray. Or even a little green. Sometimes there are white caps.
I check out the boat launch parking lot each morning. In the winter the parking lot might be completely empty. In the spring it looks a little full. Are the fancy trucks with the matching trailers there for the big fishing tournament? Is someone unloading kayaks on the other side?
Once I saw an eagle swooping low over the bridge – headed for the bluffs on the other side. Really, my eyesight isn’t that good and I’m no expert on what an eagle looks like, but it made my day to think I watched an eagle over the bridge that one day.
It still amazes me that you can see a change in the lake level over night, as the water creeps up into the parking lot. Then in late summer, you can start the see the sand bars emerge. Sometimes it looks like you can walk out to the islands, although I’m pretty sure you never can.
It’s been unusually cool on Beaver Lake this spring. It was too cool to swim on Memorial Day and that may be a first. Now the first weekend in June has come and gone and we didn’t even move the boat. It was just too cold. That’s very strange for us.
But luckily, we have our ways to enjoy the lake even when we’re not swimming or boating – we have dogs.

dogs on boat
Since the two younger dogs have a tendency to leave, we take them down to the dock on leashes and leave a body-guard at the top of the gang plank. The body-guard description is apt, although that person is not guarding a body. That person uses their body to guard the gang plank.
It only works for one of the dogs. Both the grand-puppies are swimmers so they can and do get off the dock at will. Rocco will chase a stick for hours, although he never brings it back. When you bring Rocco to the dock, you have to gather up an  arm load of sticks and bring them along. If you run out, he lets his displeasure show. He’s very serious about chasing sticks. But as long as you have a stick to throw, he’ll come back onto the dock so he can go charging up the center and fling himself into the water. Again. And again.
Lucy is a fish hunter. That’s the only term for what she does. She crouches on the dock, or sometimes she gets out on an empty boat lift and she watches. Intently. Then, with no warning whatsoever, she launches her self into the water and goes after the fish. So far, she hasn’t caught one. I’m kind of glad of that. There’s no telling what she would do with a captive fish. After she cruises around the dock a few times, driving Sam into a frenzy of barking,  she will get out of the water and trot back up to her vantage point on the dock so she can continue the hunt.
Sam, the new dog, isn’t swimming yet so he never leaves the dock. I’m sure he will figure the swimming out eventually. I want to wait until the water is a little warmer and then I’ll lure him into the water from the shore line.

sam at lake
Sheba, the old dog, has never been a swimmer, although she knows how. She mostly stays on the dock and barks.
Once Sheba starts barking one or two of the others is bound to join in. Then one or two of the people will start yelling at the dogs to be quiet which, of course, seems to make them bark even louder. I think people for miles around dread our arrival on the dock.
If things get too quiet, we go to opposite ends of the dock and practice coming when called. Lucy and Sam are in obedience school, even if Sam seems to be needing some remedial work. Sheba will come too if she knows there are treats involved.
I sometimes try to catch a glimpse of our dock before I get onto the bridge in the morning. If you look at exactly the right second, you can kinda see it. But if I miss seeing our little sliver of lake, it doesn’t matter, because there’s a great view as you cross the bridge and start your day.

sam and lucy

Before our youngest child was born, we told our middle child the new baby was going to be his birthday present. He wasn’t particularly impressed. He wanted a bike.
Having two children with birthdays three days apart used to cause a lot of problems. Back when I was arranging their birthday parties, I could never find a way to combine them. When the older one was hosting roller skating parties, the younger was barely walking. When I took the younger one and her friends to a G-rated movie, the older one was only interested in R-rated movies.
Birthday week was a nightmare when they were both in grade school. Not only did I feel obligated to provide 25 cupcakes for each child’s class, there was also baking required for both the family birthday party and the actual kid birthday party.
I would have been fine with serving purchased cakes, but with two kids needing gifts, parties and special dinners, I needed to pinch pennies whenever possible.
I used to love planning a themed birthday party — back when they were young enough to tolerate my ideas. One of the last themed parties we had happened to be for the oldest daughter, who agreed to a beach party in the basement. Her birthday is in February, so it had to be an indoor party. Even then, none of the invitees wore their bathing suits. We drew beach scenes on long pieces of newsprint and hung them around the walls.
I wasn’t quite crazy enough to import sand and water into our partially finished basement, but I did force my husband to help me make “surfboards.” We cut a piece of plywood to a surfboard-like shape and placed it on a piece of PVC pipe so the kids could balance while we played Beach Boys songs. The kids all thought we were crazy.
For the younger two, birthday week always corresponded with the opening day of the city’s Children’s Zoo when we lived near Fort Wayne, Ind., and I took advantage of that.
First, I had to scour the local Hallmark shops for zoo-themed paper goods. Then I used to load up the little red wagon with snacks and drinks and round up four or five of her friends. I got to know that zoo really well over the years.
We always started with the prairie dogs, which looked like the guinea pigs we had in the basement, and we finished with the petting zoo, which meant chasing the goats out of the little red wagon.
Looking back, I’m wondering if maybe I liked the zoo trips more than the kids did. I’m not sure.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in charge of anything except for the family birthday dinner. With the youngest off at college and the middle child living in his own house, the biggest obstacle is scheduling the festivities.
It took an entire morning of texting, emailing and, as a last resort, calling to pin them down to one dinner. Now comes the complicated menu negotiations.
She wants grilled shrimp, he wants barbecued spare ribs. The older sister, who had her own birthday dinner in February, has diet restrictions to factor in. So salad, shrimp and spare ribs. Yum.
By combining the birthdays, I solve the cake issue. I’ll just buy one cake for everyone. It may have to have one white layer and one chocolate layer, I don’t know.
One thing I do know, with all three of them now in their 20s, I know I’m lucky to have them home for birthday dinners every year. I may have to make 50 cupcakes for old times’ sake. Or maybe not.

photo

Road Trip!

Another column originally published in The Weekly Vista
July 2012

What’s a summer without a family road trip?
Some people might say a summer without a family road trip is a good summer, but not me. I’ve always loved loading the family up and driving somewhere with a cooler full of drinks, a bag of broken chips, some soggy sandwiches and a few car games.
This year I get to do it one more time.
I thought when the kids grew up and moved away, that was the end of family road trips, but I’ve managed to get two of my three children to agree to go with me this summer. So it’s not the entire family, only the female portion.
We’re on our way to a family reunion in Rhode Island, which I figure is about a 24-hour drive. Many people would choose to fly, including both my daughters, but I held out for the car trip.
Driving gives us hours to form close family bonds. It not only gives us a chance to see the country along the way, it also gives us space to bring a bicycle or two. You can’t take your bicycle along if you fly, so that makes driving worthwhile. At least that’s what I told my passengers. I think they might have been willing to sacrifice the bicycles and fly to Rhode Island, but none of us really wanted to spend the money.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about road trips. I know how to pack the cooler and ration out snacks. For example, you want to start out slow with the drinks, so that means limiting the salty snacks. It’s best to start with a couple of small pieces of fruit, like grapes. If the kids don’t want to eat them, they can use them as missiles and pass a few minutes with a food fight.
I’d like to think my daughters are too old for a good old-fashioned food fight, but I’m not so sure. I think putting them in a car together for a few hours may bring out the child in them. If I still had the minivan I used to drive when they were younger, they’d find extra ammunition in the seats. Those grapes must be raisins by now.
Later in the day, chips and soda will calm them down for a few minutes before a bathroom stop. I save the cookies in case I need to use them as a bribe.
When they were younger, we used to bring the old Fisher Price cassette player and listen to books on tape. Back then, the books were often the Berenstain Bears, but in recent years, I’ve discovered grownup books that come on CDs. No one ever wants to listen to my books, but if I put them in anyway, everyone in the family will get interested. There have been times when we actually sat outside the motel room to finish up the end of a chapter.
A portable DVD player has become another trip essential. Television series on DVD work out well. When I travel with my husband, we take turns watching and trade off our driving duties each time an episode ends. That gives us a lot of bathroom stops, which is always a good thing.
The car games have evolved as the years have gone by. I have happy memories of playing the state license plate game as a child. The entire family would be on the lookout for out-of-state plates. My kids were never interested in that. They liked to play the handheld LCD games, which eventually gave way to Game Boys and now smartphones. But even with all the electronics available, I might be able to get them interested in a family sing-along, if the right song comes on the radio or the MP3 player or the iPod.
With only the three of us, it should be easy to find an inexpensive motel room somewhere along the route. I remember when we would only consider a motel that had a pool.
After a day in the car throwing grapes at each other, the motel pool gave the kids a chance to burn off some energy and wash off some fruit juice. Now, a shower should be sufficient, and maybe some cable TV.
When we get to Rhode Island, we have a rented house and extended family waiting. For the first time, my kids won’t be the youngest. My nephew has thoughtfully provided a new generation to take on vacation. Now, he’s the one lugging around a portable crib and diaper bags. I can’t wait to hear his car trip stories!
 

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