Note: I had this ready to post before all the bad weather news of the last few weeks. So I feel like I have to say, I know exactly how lucky I am to be safe and dry this spring and able to whine about missing t.v. shows.

I still have two brand new flashlights hidden in my office because of the ice storm warning we had in January or was it December? I kept hearing it over and over on T.V. and I knew I should pretty much ignore the warning and continue with my life, but in the end I gave in and bought flashlights, emergency candles and, for some reason, bread and milk. But I was embarrassed by my gullibility, so I hid the flash lights and candles and put the bread in the freezer. Eventually we threw out the milk. With no kids at home, we use very little milk these days.
Is it just me, or have television weathermen become a little bit hysterical lately? It might be a regional thing, or maybe it’s just the “chief meteorologist” at the station we tend to watch, but we’re getting more and more warnings of more and more weather disasters these days, but I don’t see where the weather has changed much.
This week it’s the tornadoes. I totally understand the devastation caused by tornadoes and I do like knowing when it’s possible for one to come my way, but really, tornadoes are not that common here by Beaver Lake and I’m get a little sick of preparing my safe spot. I don’t understand why I can’t just watch “Gray’s Anatomy” in peace.
I didn’t understand tornadoes when we first moved south. There were many things I didn’t understand when we first moved south, including some of the language, but that’s another whole story. I grew up hearing stories about hurricanes and every now and then we would have a hurricane watch. Hurricanes don’t move that fast and we could watch them coming up the coast and have plenty of time to prepare. Although there was a time or two when people actually reached the taping of the windows phase, in my 20 plus years on the New England coast there were no actual hurricanes. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I was always a little disappointed when the watches were canceled and all we got was a lot of rain.
So we moved to central Kentucky, into a little house that had kind of grown up around a travel trailer, in a little neighborhood where we didn’t know a soul and I started hearing about tornadoes. At first every time there was a tornado watch, I took the dog and went to our safe spot which happened to be a walk in closet. Even I knew that the little house/trailer really had no safe spots if an actual tornado came through, so I used to cover us up with the foam camping mattress and read a book by the light of the big flash light until I thought the watch had lifted. One afternoon I was hiding out in there when there was a knock on my door and I crawled out to find the neighbors kids selling school band candy.
“Don’t you know about the tornado watch?” I asked. They just looked at me blankly, obviously wondering what I had been doing in the closet in the middle of the day. Later I learned the difference between a watch and a warning.
The first time we ever had an actual warning the time when the tornado touched down less than a mile away and destroyed the drive-in theater and all the neighbors rushed to the one house on the street with a basement and rode out the storm there, I was on the telephone. I was talking long distance, completely oblivious to the tornado warning.
Since then, It seems like the difference between a watch and a warning has blurred. Lately, we have a lot more warnings then we have tornadoes and I think that’s a problem. These days our safe spot is much more comfortable. Our basement family room has a big television and a couch, but I still don’t go down for every warning and never for a watch. It’s just not worth it.
Yet, for no reason I can think of, I still get sucked in by the weatherman’s hysteria. I got up and checked my hidden flashlights when they preempted “Gray’s Anatomy” last week and even after I switched to the Joplin channel to avoid the non-stop emergency weather information, I found myself switching back to check every few minutes. Was I even a little bit disappointed when the “softball size hail” never materialized?
Now I’ve lived more of my life in the tornado zone than the hurricane zone and I have never, ever seen a softball size hail stone. I’ve never even seen golf ball size hail. The other night we had about one minute of mothball size hail. It’s not that I want my cute little red car damaged; it’s just that I suspect there’s been some hail inflation by our chief meteorologist lately. How come the big hail is always in the area, but never close enough for me to take one of those pictures of a hail stone and a baseball?
O.K., I understand. I don’t want softball size hail or tornadoes. I don’t devastation or even danger. But I’m getting a little tired of watching weather coverage instead of “Gray’s Anatomy” and I don’t want to have to inventory my emergency supplies every few days. Next time, could we please wait for something to happen before we all get hysterical?

Although we didn't have any dangerous weather, we definitely got our share of rain!

The battle begins anew every year about the time the last of the snow has melted and the first really warm day has arrived. There was a time in my life when that first warm day was spent out in the garden spot, turning over the soil that would provide the vegetables we would eat all summer. In truth, I only had a big vegetable garden for about four years when we lived in Kentucky and didn’t have children, but somehow if felt much longer. It felt like the kind of thing people had always done and would always do, but then we moved to Arkansas and left all that rich, muddy soil behind.
In Arkansas, I put the energy I had used to grow baskets of juicy tomatoes and bushels of squash into the front yard although I don’t know why. Each spring I battle the rocks, the trees, the dogs and the sporadic rains in an effort to have an actual lawn.
When we first bought this house I looked at the front yard and tried to analyze the problem. First, there’s way too much shade. The house faces east and it shades a big section of the yard itself. Then there are the giant oak trees that shade another big section. A battle plan was needed.
So I drafted the husband and the middle child, bought a bunch of mulch and gravel and landscaping timbers and created a planter box and a gravel walk that should have solved the problem of the heavy shade in front of the house. We put down that black screen stuff that’s supposed to keep out weeds and below that I actually laid out chicken wire to keep the dogs from digging up the black screen stuff. Then we added pretty brown gravel and a few flat paving stones leading to the front door. Now the best grass we have in the front yard grows up every summer in that gravel. Every summer, the actual lawn, just inches away beyond the “front walk” is brown and barren, but the walk itself is green and lush. It drives me crazy!

But I have not given up. I will not be defeated by stubborn and untrustworthy grass. Every summer I try again.
I invest in the best grass seed, or the best that I can afford. Grass seed can be really expensive! I usually buy the kind recommended for dense shade but some years in a spirit of experimentation, I try other kinds of grass seed. It doesn’t seem to matter much.
Usually the first warm day of the spring finds me out front with a metal rake, trying to clean up the “thatch” that might be killing my baby grass seeds. All sorts of stuff gets raked up that first day including bits of trash that drifted out from the garage over the winter, gallons of acorns and souvenirs of the two dogs. Then I wrestle with my inner environmentalist about whether to use chemicals to kill the weeds and fertilize the lawn. I can calm my guilty conscience by promising myself that I’ll only do our small front yard. Our large backyard will remain pure of chemicals and very weedy.
One year when I felt especially determined, I bought bags of top soil to put under the grass seed and bales of straw to spread over it. The dogs loved to dig in the straw, so I laid plastic orange fencing on top of the straw and pegged it down with tent stakes. No one could understand why our front lawn was covered with orange fencing, but it worked. The dogs couldn’t get through. The only problem was when I unpegged the fencing and pulled it up, the straw came up too and so did the fuzzy green baby grass. Either I waited too long to pull it up or not long enough. I’ll never know which. The top soil all washed away into the back yard and nourished the weeds.

What is it about a front lawn that suburbanites lust after? We used to laugh about our next neighbor in Indiana who spent his vacations building irrigation systems for his yard. We always knew exactly where our property line was and told the kids they could only play on the sick looking, yellowish grass on our side. Sometimes we’d see them secretly pressing a bare foot over the line into the forbidden soft, green carpet on the other side.
Luckily by June each year my obsession passes. By then I’ve invested in a new sprinkler and forced our water bill up in an effort to turn my expensive grass seed into a soft green carpet. But every year I have to admit defeat and console myself by going down to the lake and jumping in. Ahhhh.

One of the most important rites of spring is the first bike ride of the year.  On Saturday I  attached  the older sister’s former bike rack to the back of my car and I headed off to my favorite trail head.

There are a lot of things I love about living near the lake, but riding bikes isn’t one of them.  The streets in our little subdivision are way too steep for me and I firmly believe you would have to be suicidal to go out on the two lane highway on a bike.  So bike rides always begin with a car trip.  Luckily for me, Rogers is in the process of building a really great set of bike trails.

Back in the day I would have scoffed at bike trails.  I prided myself on riding in traffic. I remember telling people, it was really just a mind game.  You had to pretend to be a car and just go for it. Luckily my young self never spoke to my children.  By the time I was telling them about bike riding I was very much over pretending to be a car.

But I remember what it was like.  My love affair with bicycles started long ago and hasn’t ended yet. 

I bought the blue Schwinn “racing” bike at the Schwinn store in East Providence when I was in college.  I was actually replacing another fairly new Schwinn that was a little heavier and didn’t have the racing handlebars. I couldn’t really afford to trade in that fairly new bike, but I wanted a racing bike badly so I managed to talk my mother into buying the older one and paying too much.  She was easy that way when she knew I really wanted something. 

I loved the racer!  And I loved riding it around Providence.  When my car blew up, I rode the bike exclusively even to the self-service gas station where I worked. Between me and the gas station was a hill of Arkansas proportions.  I could never make it up that hill, but I kept trying.  I’d end up pushing my racing bike up the last few yards, panting and sweating and there was always an old woman working in her yard at the top of the hill and every day she’d call to me, “You’re going to give yourself a heart attack.”  I was only 20 years old and in decent shape.  I didn’t really understand her concern.

The best ride was going downtown.  They’ve changed the roads around Providence since then and I suspect the rotary is long gone, but back then I had to use the rotary at the bottom of the big hill next to the Rhode Island state house.  Rotaries are traffic circles, of course.  There’s usually a couple of lanes of traffic, headed in the same direction around the circle, the problem is that in order to stay in the rotary and not go shooting out one of the exits you had to move across at least one lane of fast-moving traffic.  I would use the momentum from the big hill to get up to speed and go flying into the rotary just as if I was driving an actual car.  If I saw one of my kids doing what I used to do, I’d kill them.  But somehow it worked both me and my blue Schwinn racing bike survived. 

My next stop on my biking adventure was the Kentucky years when I learned exactly how narrow a two lane road can be if you’re riding a bike and an oversized load comes up beside you.  I also had to dodge cows on occasion, but I kept trying to ride my bike.  After we were married, I tried hard to convert my husband.  I even bought him a bike of his own, but I couldn’t afford a second Schwinn and the inexpensive bike I found seemed to self destruct each time he rode it.

When the kids were little, I found a second blue Schwinn racing bike at a garage sale and we added baby seats. 

My bike had a baby seat for years because our youngest child refused to give it up.  I remember when she was in kindergarten and all her friends were giving up their training wheels, she was still in the seat behind me.  It lasted until she got so heavy,t he seat started sinking down onto the tire and then we took it off.  By then we were living here by the lake.

The youngest still doesn’t like bike riding, but the older two have taken up where I left off.  Some day we’ll do a long ride together – maybe the Katy trail in Missouri.  I have to work on my endurance and I have to get over the mental image of an overweight, middle-aged woman on slim blue racing bike. 

My rite of spring ride was only a few miles long and it left me pretty sore, but I’ll keep trying and one of these days, we’ll do that trail.

Turning my home videos into DVD’s has been a big project. As usual, I find myself wishing for a better technology background. Of course, back when I was in school picking up background, we didn’t even have VHS. Home movies were on film that was projected reel to reel. And computers were mammoth things in school offices, not something you’d be able to play with at home. But this isn’t a blog about my age or technology. I wanted to write about the home movies.
I had a few surprises when I started really watching those tapes I made about 20 years ago. It’s funny the things you forget.
I totally remembered that my kids were very cute toddlers, but I had forgotten the dimples that made the middle child’s smile so infectious. Even now, twenty years later, I find myself smiling back at him every time he turns towards the camera. Of course he was smiling every time he turned towards the camera. That’s just the kind of kid he was.
His older sister was always firmly in control of everything except her own hair. She ordered her brother to do her bidding as her blond curls bounced around her face. When she was little, we kept her hair short and let it wave and curl on its own. But during the middle school years, when she insisted on growing her hair long like all her friends, it got a little out of control. But she wouldn’t listen to my advice to cut it.
When I saw the first few shots of our youngest daughter, I was amazed that she was the only one of the three who had hair as an infant. And her hair wasn’t anywhere near as blond as it is now. Isn’t that strange? She looks more like her sister now than she did back then.
But I think I was most surprised at myself. Was I really that skinny in between baby two and baby three? I sure wasn’t after baby three! And I was pretty confident as I interacted with the kids and their friends. Maybe my mother was right. I should have been a preschool teacher!
My mother and mother-in-law where frequent guest stars in our home videos which were mostly shot at family events. When you see them there with the kids, it’s impossible to believe that they’re both gone.
There are several birthdays on those old tapes and so far I’ve run across two long sequences of piñata bashing. I mean really long sequences. You would think I would’ve learned from the first time – when it took so long to break the homemade piñata. On that tape you can hear one of the mothers pleading with her son to hit it harder because they really have to leave. I started my young party guests out with plastic hammers and no blindfolds, but as they continued to bash without results, I passed out wooden spoons. I know I must have considered using a baseball bat at some point, but they were doing more damage to each other than to the piñata so I held back.
Then a few years later the same thing happened at completely different birthday party. Again, you can hear the parents begging their children to hit it harder. Everyone was ready to go home.
I’m glad I videoed the destruction of my living room after hosting a “Cabbage Patch Party” for eight kindergarteners. I remember almost panicking when the last mother dropped off the last of the six year olds and didn’t stay to help. Why did I think I could wrangle eight little girls, a four year old boy, and their Cabbage Patch babies without assistance? I’m pretty sure we all survived and eventually I must have put my living room back together or else we just moved. I’m not sure…
If I had it to do all over again, I’d shoot a lot more video of everyday things. We have one sequence on the front lawn of the house in Heber Springs. I know I shot it because we were getting ready to move and I’m glad to have those images because we loved that house. I’m just sorry I didn’t video tape our first boat which was also left behind in that move. Of course, in those days we didn’t own a video camera.
For years we used a camera borrowed from his work to shoot those Christmases, birthdays and the new baby. For the dance recitals, we simply copied other people’s videos. Even twenty years later, it’s easy to identify the child whose parents let us copy their tape. She’s the one in the center of the frame, waving to the camera. Our little dancer is somewhere in back and you have to watch carefully to glimpse her. But I’m happy to have even the glimpse, because our oldest child in the little red tutu was the cutest dancer ever to grace the stage in Heber Springs Elementary School!

Sometimes you just don’t want to write. You can try and try to talk yourself out of it, but sometimes you just can’t. You can’t talk yourself out of not wanting to write. How’s that for double negatives?

The problem with writing is there’s always something else you can be doing. Even back when I was paid to be a staff writer, I could always find something else that needed to be done. After all, a clean desk is vital and so is internet research on cutting edge issues like my latest diet. Since I had to drive to some assignments, there were times when cleaning out my car was way more important than writing.  I’d go through the hundreds of pens in my glove compartment to make sure each one would work when I needed to take those very important notes.

Now, as a freelancer, there’s even more important stuff that I can be doing. Right now for instance, I could go out and pull the grass out of the front walk! It’s sunny outside and if I was outside weeding the walk, not only would I be improving the curb appeal of our property, I’d also be improving my Vitamin D levels. And, let’s face it; I’ve been kind of depressed lately. A little bit of sunshine would improve my mood to the point that the freelance stories would be writing themselves! I’d be doing everyone a favor by going outside instead of trying to figure out a compelling lead for a project due next week.

I’m a writer. How come I just don’t want to write?

It’s really not being stuck in my office. I have my desk strategically placed by a sunny window. It’s pleasant place to be especially when I remind myself that it’s sunny and cold out there.

Oops, excuse me while I run to the kitchen and check the tomato sauce simmering on the stove. On the way, I’ll also check my other “work station” where I have my new VCR hooked up to my laptop via a DVD burner. At this very minute I’m burning a very important DVD featuring the 2005 Ballet Westside dance recital. See, in 2005 I paid for a professional video tape of the dance recital and what a shame it would be if I didn’t get it transferred to DVD. I can just picture my future self craving a few hours of watching dozens of kids I no longer know dancing to songs that are no long popular and then realizing I no longer own a VCR. Maybe that’s even more important than pulling that grass out of the walk.

Hmm, did I ever finish that email to a friend I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years? Another very important task I could be doing right now, but maybe that’s a little bit too much like writing….

I should just go get a Diet Coke.  A little shot of caffeine has got to help, right?

The dog is sound asleep next to me. Every now and then she even snores and I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t walk her? It would probably be good for our elderly dogs to have an extra walk since it’s such a nice sunny day. They need vitamin D too. Maybe that’s what I should be doing?

Surprisingly my housework is mostly caught up. Not that my house is ever really clean, but the college daughter was home this weekend so the laundry got done early. She’s already on her way back for a Sunday afternoon practice. The laundry is even put away, but I wonder: Isn’t it time for me to go through my drawers and swap winter clothes for summer clothes? After all, it is March…

I  talked to the other two kids this morning. Too bad, that would have been a good reason not to write. I can’t even call my sister since I know she’s out of town.

I wonder if I’ve totally misplaced those notes so that I really have to wait until tomorrow to do that project.

Time to stir the sauce again and maybe watch one dance as the DVD burns…. Then I can sit down and pound out that story! Really, in just a few minutes.

I’ve always loved family road trips even though I know that some people would call me crazy. It took me some time, and several newspaper columns, to figure out what it is I like about road trips, but I’m pretty sure it’s having the family really close to me and unable to escape.
When the kids were little we drove to California several times. I used to spend weeks preparing for those trips, deciding exactly what games, toys and food would keep three kids relatively happy while strapped into the car for days at a time. The year the youngest was born, we drove to California to see Grandma and I spent so long packing, repacking and reorganizing the mini-van that I killed the car battery while it sat in the garage. The morning of the big trip, we got everyone up and dressed early, added ice to the cooler, stuffed in favorite pillows and blankies, fastened seat belts, locked the house up and turned the key which clicked ineffectively.

We stopped pretty often back in 92

That was the same infamous trip when my mother got the speeding ticket. I had sent the husband back to work early and had Grandma drive back with me. On the second day I made her drive through the desert while I climbed into the back seat to nurse the baby. Although I totally believed in car seats and always obey all traffic laws, we were exhausted and out in the middle of nowhere. There was no way I was going to add a half hour to our driving day. Unfortunately, Grandma couldn’t quite figure out the cruise control on the minivan and in an effort to set it at a reasonable speed, she did a little bit of accidental speeding and naturally, we were pulled over.
As the police officer walked up to the window of the mini-van, I was frantically stuffing a hungry, screaming baby back into her car seat with one hand, buttoning my shirt with the other and yelling at the older kids to stop making faces at the cop in the back window. My mother was flustered too. She was so flustered that she explained to the officer that she was trying to set the cruise control for ten mph over the speed limit and that’s why she ended up going 20 miles over. She insisted on paying her own ticket.
Grandma was along when I drove the kids to Rhode Island a few years later, but I drove across country alone the year we moved to Arkansas. Well, I wasn’t alone, but I was the only driver that trip. I had all three kids along as passengers. That was the trip when we discovered the full extent of the oldest child’s car sickness. She threw up across seven states. I stumbled on the video recently. The middle child, who was 12 that summer, was filming a stunning landscape somewhere in the Colorado mountains. When he panned around to get the family we saw a stressed out mother leaning against the front of the van staring blankly ahead and a hyperactive little sister jumping up and down dangerously close to the cliff, but all that showed was the top of the older sister’s head as she slumped in the way back seat of the mini-van. I don’t think she noticed the view.
So recently we took the latest family road trip. I’m grateful that my kids like each other enough to want to do it. There were only four of us in the car that left Arkansas on Saturday morning because we were meeting the oldest for a slightly late celebration of her 26th birthday. We met at the zoo in Kansas City.
That wasn’t really the best idea. I packed a nice lunch and we found a nice pavilion and eventually the oldest daughter found us for the happy reunion. The problem was that it was cold and rainy in Kansas City that weekend. It was cold enough that everyone was fighting over the extra sweat shirt I had packed for myself in spite of its unfashionable mom-ness. By the time we finished lunch and headed to the ticket booths, it was not only cold, it was getting late and we opted to skip the zoo in favor of a late afternoon matinee in a heated theater.
But the experience of driving four hours in a smallish car with a cooler full of “car food” and drinks hasn’t really changed very much. There was the usual teasing and passing of food. The college daughter was playing the same Gameboy she’s been playing for a decade. If only the oldest had been wedged in between her siblings, threatening to throw up and arguing over who was taking up too much of the seat, it would have been just like old times. I savored the whole experience.

All grown up

Icy Surprise

So we had record breaking cold and a ridiculous amount of snow, but I told the kids Beaver Lake doesn’t freeze. It is, after all, a moving body of water that used to be a river. Moving water doesn’t freeze. They didn’t believe me.
They used to believe me when I told them stuff like that, but now they consider themselves grown and so belief has become optional. I don’t think of them as grown and they don’t always act grown.
On Friday the older brother had been enlisted to give me a ride into town to pick up the college daughter. I could have driven my little car into town that afternoon if I had dug it out of the 18 inches of snow. By then the roads were clear, but my half of the driveway wasn’t and I didn’t want to shovel. So the 23 year old son and the 18 year old daughter were together with all that snow on the ground and nothing in particular to do. Within a few minutes they had broken out the old snow pants and ski jackets.
I told the 23 year old that the kid-sized snow pants wouldn’t fit him. He didn’t believe me and wore them anyway. So the latest chapter in a snowball fight that started all those years ago ensued. They looked exactly the way they looked ten years ago when it was a 13 year old boy pushing his 8 year old sister into a snow bank. I couldn’t stand to be in the house. I put on my boots and went out to play too.
We ended up down at the lake because there was a hill and they had resurrected the last two sledding type devices left in the household. We used to have many more sleds. When we lived in Indiana, there was plenty of snow but no hills. Every Christmas we added a new sledding device – a family sized toboggan, a round “flying saucer,” a plastic snow board. We brought a few of them along when we moved south. Now we have all these hills and occasionally we have snow, but there’s never a clear spot and the sleds don’t steer. They used to sled on the street heedless of my nervous breakdowns, but the snow plow had ruined that by Friday.
So two grown kids, two very happy dogs, and I ended up at lake.
I’ve spent hours on Beaver Lake. I’ve tried to hike the shoreline, although it’s never easy. I’ve picked up litter on the islands. I’ve cooked hundreds of meals while tied up in one cove or another. I’ve been out in the winter looking for eagles and in the summer looking at fireworks, but there are still surprises left. Our little cove where we’ve spent hundreds of hours on floatation devices was frozen enough that the dogs could cross to the other side. I made the kids stay on shore and eventually we got the dogs back on shore too. All that water, finally still, was something to see. Even after 12 years, Beaver Lake still has surprises for me.

O.K. it’s official. I’m too old to shovel snow. It’s something I’ve done all my life, but living in Arkansas for the past 12 years, my shoveling skills aren’t necessary very often. I’ve gotten rusty.
This past month has been dedicated to health and I thought I was doing pretty well. I’ve stayed on my low carb, high protein diet and I’ve been using the elliptical in the basement (until today). I even found some five pound weights and I’ve been using those too. The old Yoga mat was been laid out on the living room floor for crunches. I was pretty proud of myself, but now I know the sad truth. I should have done a lot more crunches and maybe found some heavier weights. My health program is no match for snow.
My husband and I have never agreed about shoveling snow. I grew up in the northeast and every time it snowed, all three of us kids were sent out in it to clear the driveway and the path for the mailman, as well as a path across the grassy yard so my grandfather could make his way over from the house next door. We never really questioned it. We just trusted that it was necessary to move the snow so the grownups could drive.
My husband grew up in California. I didn’t realize we disagreed about snow shoveling when we lived in Kentucky. We didn’t have very much snow, but when we did we agreed on a hands off policy. Our gravel driveway was a quarter mile long and there was just no way to shovel it. Sometimes it would get icy and I came up with the method to clear that ice.
Our house in Kentucky was heated by a wood stove and that meant ashes had to be emptied regularly. I used to empty then directly onto the ice in the driveway and that helped a lot. The embers would first melt the ice a little and then when they cooled, they provided a little bit of traction. I’m not sure why it took us so long to realize the connection between the ashes, which sometimes contained old nails from the wood pallets we burned, and the flat tires we were suddenly dealing with on a regular basis.
Eventually we left rural Kentucky and found ourselves in suburban Indiana. The suburbs of Indiana were a lot like the suburbs where I grew up in Rhode Island, so I knew that snow had to be shoveled. I knew that shoveling the driveway was much easier if you did it before you drove a car over the snow and packed it down. We lived in Indiana eight years and we had our share of snow storms, but in all that time my husband never once shoveled the driveway.
“Sooner or later it will melt,” he said and then he drove over it.
Everyone else cleared their driveway. Most of them owned snow blowers or even little plows that went on the front of their yard tractors. We had snow shovels and we only had those because I went out and bought them. I also used them, although that was never my first choice. I remember enlisting one of his male friends to try and talk to him about shoveling, but even that didn’t work. Although the friend would sometimes come down with his yard tractor and plow our driveway himself.
I tried to get the kids involved, but the oldest daughter took her Dad’s side and waited for melting. Luckily the younger brother used to help me even though he was too small to be very effective. I think he felt some sort of male responsibility that had skipped his dad’s generation.
Since we have lived in Arkansas, snow shoveling has become much less necessary. His melting claim was ridiculous in Indiana, but it works most of the time here in Arkansas. I didn’t think it would work this time. We had about six inches of snow on our driveway last week along with two small cars not suited well to winter driving.
And the truth is, I was little bored being cooped up in the house. I wanted to get outside and what can you do when you don’t have any kids home to play with?
I tried walking the dogs, but they didn’t really enjoy it very much. The little dog’s stomach was actually dragging in the snow which she found both undignified and cold. I thought about bringing out the camera and adding to my large collection of winter photos but I just couldn’t see any way to improve on last year’s series. Finally, I went and found the snow shovel.
By that night I was so sore that I went and found the vibrating back massager that had been a Christmas gift years ago. I spent the evening watching television with the back massager and taking every over the counter pain pill we had. If only we had had prescription pain killers! I think it was the pain killers that caused the upset stomach.
So once again, he wins. I will never shovel snow again. It’s gonna melt anyway.

Living with Dogs

My office has gone to the dogs.  Actually, it’s not a new thing but lately it’s been an annoying thing.  My allergies have taken a unique turn this past month. Instead of sneezing or wheezing, I’ve been rubbing my eyes constantly. Makes it almost impossible to wear my contacts.  I haven’t been to the doctor, not even an eye doctor, because I’m pretty sure I know what’s causing it and I’m pretty sure there’s no cure.

It’s the dogs, of course and they’re kinda here to stay. I do try. Some “dog people” don’t understand why I bother with the house rule of no dogs on the furniture but that’s my attempt to solve the allergy thing.  I like to think that keeping them off the furniture gives me a little buffer that helps screen out the allergens.  Of course, it doesn’t work.

Part of the reason it doesn’t work is my “office.”  When I sit in my home office (formerly the youngest daughter’s bedroom, but she moved to the basement the day her older brother moved out), I sit about a foot from the only furniture the dogs have permission to use.  Her former bed now belongs to the two dogs who share it only when they can pretend the other one isn’t there.  It doesn’t make any sense for me to have the dogs so close and I know it.  They should be in HIS office, the other home office that my husband has always used. He’s not allergic and he has single handedly spoiled two perfectly good dogs.

Back when we had three kids living in their own bedrooms, we had a futon in his office for the dogs.  The futon was the closest thing we had to a guest room back then which is probably why we didn’t have many guests.  When company threatened to arrive, I’d have to push dogs off and bring in a heavy duty vacuum cleaner.  I’m sure any company that slept there dreamed about chasing rabbits.  It was so obvious that it was the dogs’ bed. When the grandmothers used to visit, we put them in the youngest daughter’s room and she slept on the floor. 

But one by one the older kids moved out of the house and youngest took over the basement.  The little dog was happy to move with her to that basement bedroom where they both ignored the “no dogs on the furniture rule.”  Then the youngest daughter went to college and the little dog was ours again.

Our dogs don’t really like each other very much, although over the years they’ve reached a kind of truce.  The problem is that they both want to be the alpha dog, but the little one was forced to give up when she realized she was a third of the size of the her “sister.”  And my husband plays favorites.  He doesn’t even pretend to treat them fairly.  The big dog is his and the little dog – the one we used to call “that stupid puppy” when our then preteen son brought him home – is not.

Did I mention that both our dogs are old?  Really poor planning on our part.  We now have two 12 year old dogs and I’m afraid that means a double tragedy is coming our way before too long.

So the little dog moved back upstairs and I resurrected the little dog bed that we had bought her years ago and put it in our room.  The little dog bed wasn’t the little dog’s first choice.  We had the big dog bed, a big square cushion at the foot of the bed and then the little oval bed up by the book case on my side and everyone was O.K. with that until we had to move the little oval bed.  The other home office was being painted, so we moved his computer into the bedroom for a few days and I put the two dog beds next to each other at the foot of the bed. 

One day I went into the bedroom and found the little oval dog bed, with the little dog in it, right in the middle of the big cushion.  She looked pretty comfortable and maybe a little bit proud of herself.  I didn’t think too much about it, but when we were getting ready for bed I moved it back and I asked my husband why he had moved the little bed onto the big dog bed. He swore he hadn’t.  The next day, there it was again.  I always knew the little dog was smarter than the big dog!

I left the little oval bed where it was and later that day I found the big dog trying to sleep in it.  She managed to get her rear end kind of curled into the little bed, but the rest of her was lying across it on the big cushion.  It actually looked very uncomfortable, but she was happy because she won.  The little dog was stretched out on the real bed in my office, of course.

The dogs don’t respect the furniture rule.  We keep a dining room chair lying across the couch or they’re up there.  When company comes into the living room they often comment on the chair and that’s the only reason we remember to move it.  We’re used to it being there.  If one of us sits on the couch, we just push the chair over a little bit.

They usually stay off our bed because it’s a water bed.  We bought it back in the 80’s and never got around to replacing it.  The dogs don’t seem to like the swishing, but once or twice I’ve surprised a guilty looking dog standing next to a bed with waves almost large enough to surf on. 

The big dog likes to rub her face on her master’s pillows, which I think is a little weird. It’s also annoying since she un-makes the bed to free up a pillow for rubbing.  I never use his pillows.

The dogs spend most of their time in the house.  They are 12 years old after all, and the big dog barks constantly when she’s outside.  I’ll never figure out what she’s barking at, but I suspect she knows exactly how much it annoys me. 

I wish I could report that the dogs have replaced the kids in some small ways, but they haven’t. In spite of two noisy and jealous animals who like to move their beds around, I miss the kids.  It’s no fun to yell at the dogs when they simply yawn and go back to sleep. 

Dogs ignoring each other

Baby Its Cold Outside

Sometimes I really hate my wood stove. Our living room ends up covered in dust, ashes and even little bits of wood – all because of big black stove in the middle of the room. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it.
Sometimes I love my wood stove. I loved it during the big ice storm two years ago when we had no electricity for six days, but our living room stayed toasty. We really needed the stove those first three days when the temperature stayed below freezing and we opened the door of the freezer in the garage to keep all the meat nice and cold. But we live in Arkansas, so naturally it warmed up and we let the stove go out and found a foster home for most of our frozen foods. Eventually we even got our electricity back.
The first fire of the year is always an occasion around this house. It always feels so good when that heat first starts radiating and we remove the stove’s door and put on the screen so we can watch the flames. We’ve tried to do that once or twice when we entertained, but that’s when the wood stove works too well and all the guests start sweating and shedding clothing.
The problem is there’s work associated with a wood stove, even for those of us who have never cut their own fuel. It was more convenient when our middle child was a teenage pyromaniac. I could always get him to add wood to the fire and I could even get him to spilt some of the logs into kindling size pieces because he knew he would eventually get to watch them burn. Now that he’s moved out, the wood stove is a lot more work.
It would be nice if you only had to haul wood once a week, but we’ve never figured out a way to get enough wood into the garage to last more than three days. When bad weather is predicted, we fill up the basket in the living room. We fill up the two banana boxes near the back door and then we fill up the garden wagon and wheel that into the garage too, but within a couple of days someone has to go back out to the wood pile. The problem is, in our family everyone suddenly becomes warm when the wood needs to be brought in. They could be sitting around shivering under sweats and blankets and as soon as I mention bringing in wood, it’s suddenly too warm for a fire. This isn’t a surprise to me because this isn’t my first wood stove.
Way back in the B.C. years (before children), my husband and I owned a passive solar home with only a wood stove for central heat. I had no idea what I was getting into. That was when my husband suddenly developed his amazing tolerance for cold which forced me to take on the role of primary wood hauler.
I’ll never forget the Christmas when he gave me my own wheelbarrow so I could haul wood more efficiently. When I unwrapped the giant box I really thought it was a microwave oven to replace a recently deceased appliance. I wasn’t thrilled with a kitchen appliance as a gift, but I really missed the microwave and by then we had been married long enough to not expect much. There was a whole range of emotions when I realized I had received a wheelbarrow from my significant other for Christmas. But in the end I didn’t kill him because, well, I needed something to haul all that wood.
When we sold that house I swore I would never heat with wood again. It was maybe 15 years later when we bought this house with its big, black stove included. But there’s a huge difference between this house and that first one. This one also has central heat!
Today is a good day for the old wood stove but it took years to reach this level of expertise. I’ve learned to let it warm up slowly, building a big bed of hot coals so the logs sink into them without a lot of flames. Sometimes the stove gets so hot, we have to retreat into the bedrooms, but if you can keep the fire at just the right level, keep the ceiling fan on low and put a little window fan behind the stove to force the heat out, it will keep the whole upstairs a comfortable temperature. Then you put a pot of soup of the kitchen stove to simmer and add some moisture to the air, as well as nice savory aromas and you have the perfect place to spend a cold afternoon with a book and maybe even a cup of tea.