July 17, 2016

A Grease Monkey Is Born

For crying out loud, that hurt! My wrist was beginning to swell, and I watched the outline of a lovely bruise make it's appearance under my skin. There was grease under my fingernails, covering my hands, and smudged on my arms up to my elbows.

I frowned down at the exposed engine of my riding mower. A few days ago it started leaking oil from the valve cover, dripping oil onto the hot exhaust pipe and smoking like...

...like the crumbs left on the bottom of my oven that I forget are there until five minutes after I turn on the heat, and everyone starts coughing, and I feel bad because I was supposed to remember to clean it after it cooled down the last time I used it. You know, now that I think of it, I should probably put "clean oven" on my to-do list, or better yet, ask one of the kids to clean it for me, but I digress...

Where was I? Oh, yes. The mower. In the past I would have waited for someone to fix it for me. Perhaps I would have left it in Matt's able hands, or taken it in to be serviced, but Matt was working longer hours and being low on funds and with no trailer to get it to a repair shop, my options were few. I'd have to do it myself.  I could do this. Okay, so the only thing I knew about my mower was which end to put the gas in. Still. I'd look it up online. How hard could it be?

Several YouTube videos later I managed to remove the mower hood and had crouched down beside the engine, removing screws. The valve cover was supposed to be a cinch to pull off. Only it wasn't. At. All. The guy in the video didn't have any trouble. What was I doing wrong? I put in a call to my neighbor who knows how to fix stuff. He wasn't home, but his wife, Karen, a super sweet lady, reassured me. "Honey, I've learned a thing or two about fixing things and I can tell you - you're not going to break it. Use some more muscle. It will come off. You might try heating it up with a hairdryer..."

Removing the screws.
Hey Karen, see the hairdryer on the chair behind me? 

Fine. If Karen said I could do it...
I scored along the edge of the cover with a knife and wedged the tip of the screwdriver under it's edge. It was not going to get the best of me. But it did. The screwdriver slipped and I fell back onto my hind end, hitting my wrist on something as I did so. "Ow, ow, ow," I whimpered quietly. Darn it. I was going to get that cover off no matter what! I shook my wrist, grabbed the screwdriver and gave it another try.

I gave it all I had. Something had to give - and it did! For a moment I stared at the cover, now off of the engine and in my hand. My arms extended in victory. "Whoo hoo!" I shouted. I just couldn't help myself.

Inside, I was doing the happy dance.
I was almost finished. I only had to clean it up with brake cleaner and re-seal it. At least that's what would have happened if I hadn't noticed a crack in the metal. Uh oh. Maybe I could plug it up with sealant? No, I wanted to fix it right.

It took me a few days to hunt down a replacement part. None of the local shops had one in stock. I had fun asking though. I was amused by the shop guys' facial expressions. I could tell they were thinking, "Where is your husband?" I was even more amused to watch those expressions disappear when I asked for the part by name and number from memory. I had done my home work. I spoke the language. I really had no idea what I was saying, but they didn't know that. Alas, with each the result was the same. No part. One could be ordered and I'd have it in 10-14 days. In 10-14 days my yard would become a jungle. It was time to try something else.

I figured I'd call the mower manufacturer. What did I have to lose? It worked and in only two days my mower was back together. Yay! I was ridiculously proud of myself. It was a very simple repair, but I taught myself to do it. I felt so capable. The whole thing felt, as my kids would say, "epic."

It was too bad the grease washed off my hands so thoroughly. I kinda wanted to show it off. "What, that? Oh that's just some grease from the engine I just repaired." *cough, cough*

My lawn is nicely trimmed and all is as it should be. Except for that noise the car started making. Hmm... I wonder if there's a video for that.

June 15, 2016

Party Twister

Some party games are more entertaining than others and each person has a favorite. I'm partial to word games and of course the boys enjoy games that require popping balloons or smearing each other with shaving cream. Mary loves treasure hunts, and Joey likes anything that involves running around and making lots of noise.

The head of our rowdy crew, Matt, prefers to avoid games altogether and being his birthday I decided to forgo Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and focus instead on food and atmosphere. Any games that popped up would be of the unplanned variety.

Did some one say party games?

In honor of my Hawaiian shirt loving hubby the party had a luau theme.

Mary helped me decorate. Palm trees and pink flamingos...
Are there flamingos in Hawaii?

One of the nice things about having a husband who loves to cook, is... having a husband who loves to cook. It's awesome! I plan the menu and he makes it happen, even on his birthday.

Norma, Matt's mom traveled all the way from California
to be here in time for her son's birthday.

Just look at those clouds behind them. It had been sunny only moments before.

The party was a success. Everyone was having a lovely time and all was going well. Other than the fact that the weather radio kept going off with severe weather warnings, it was a perfect day.

The storm would be arriving in fifteen minutes,
and the chicken only needed another ten minutes on the grill, so... perfect timing, right?
The wind began to pick up and the radio gave a new alert every minute or so. It was looking like we were in for a direct hit.
"...large hail... wind gusts to 70mph... expect significant damage to cars, trees, and roofs..."

Matt sent the boys out to close up the chicken coop and duck house while he moved the van into the garage. Annie was closing windows. I watched images of the oncoming storm from the little TV in our bedroom. Tornadoes will occasionally form in storms like this and I always keep a eye for the beginnings of that signature "hook" that will show up on radar. Nothing so far.

A moment later I heard Matt. I had never heard him bellow like that! He was out back yelling at the boys, "In the house, NOW!"

He had spotted a rotation in the clouds over the woods about a quarter mile behind our house. A large tree crashed to the ground. I ran to the dining room just as they charged through the door. "It's a tornado!" one of the boys cried. "Really?" I asked Matt. "Not sure," he replied, "but we're not waiting to find out! Everyone in the basement!"

Fumbling for a moment with the basement door, I got it open and the children and my mother-in-law rushed down the stairs. I glanced at Matt. The color had gone from his face. Joseph was in my arms as I started down the steps into the dark. Matt descended last, closing the door behind us. We were now in the basement, but where in the basement should we be? Normally storms come in from the West, but this one was rushing at us from the North. "Come away from the North wall," I instructed. 

We huddled close together in the South section and Brendan started the Divine Mercy prayer. In moments the storm overtook us. There were windows in this part of the basement. The sky turned a dark purplish-gray. I could see the young trees in our yard lashed about and bent until their tops brushed the ground. I rocked Joey back and forth as if he was so much younger. I'm not sure which of us I was trying to comfort. The sound of the wind grew louder. I had never heard anything like it. The wind absolutely howled down the chimney with a ferocity that made my heart pound. And then it was gone.

As quickly as it had come up the storm moved on. With prayers of thanksgiving we ascended the stairs and found nothing damaged beyond some broken limbs on the edge of our property. A stack of pallets and several sheets of plywood had been strewn about, but that was it. 
"Great tornado drill, everyone!" I cheered. I received a handful of weak smiles. I truly was pleased. Not only had no one been harmed, but each person had responded quickly and correctly. Good to know!

(We later heard that the storm rotation had produced an EF0 tornado a few miles away, but the straight line winds had caused wide-spread damage - trees downed and power outages.) 

Poor Matt looked like he'd been put through the wringer. Concern for his family's safety had left him frazzled.

We sat together at the table. I dished up the food. At first no one wanted to eat. We still needed to recover from the adrenaline that coursed through our systems. The storm was over. We were fine, but that mad dash for cover had left us shaken. 

"Well, that was an exciting party game," someone joked. Now we were laughing, a mixture of humor and relief.
The aroma of teriyaki chicken and grilled corn beckoned.
Conversation became more animated.
Birthday candles were extinguished, and gifts given.
Our celebration slowly returned to normal.

Who doesn't appreciate a card that features sharks with lasers on their heads?

Well, as close to normal as this family gets.

June 10, 2016

My No Errand Day

I wouldn't say errands are the bane of my existence. It's not like they take up my whole day making it impossible to accomplish the other hundred and one things waiting to be checked off my list each day.

Early this morning I checked my calendar. Where would I be headed off to today? Grocery shopping? Doctor/dentist appointment? Taxiing teens to their jobs? The little square on the calendar was blank. Really? Could I really stay home today? I could clean my house? (How weird is it that the thought of house cleaning excited me?)

I finished my coffee and dressed for a day at home. I had just grabbed the laundry basket to carry clothes out to the line when the phone rang. It was Brendan's manager. Brendan needed to bring in his work permit. That meant a trip to the courthouse. No sooner did I set the phone down it rang again. We have a small rental property. Rent money was ready to be picked up. Fine, we could do both and still be home with plenty of daylight left.

Stop 1) Driving into town (a 20 min. drive), I noticed I had forgotten to gas up the car on my last trip. I'd better stop at the gas station first.

(Stop 2) Back on the road I realized the gas station was right across from the shop that had a part for the mower I was in the middle of repairing. How convenient! It would only take a moment. They didn't have the part in stock, but could order it. It would take 7- 10 days. How disappointing. Never mind. I'll try somewhere else.

Stop 3) We stop at Brendan's workplace. He runs in to get the form we'll need to file at the courthouse.

Stop 4) Oh look, there's the bank. The renters have left a check there for us. Standing in line I remember we still have to pay the second installment of property taxes on the rental. I guess I should do that today. After all, we'll already be at the courthouse. I cash the check and withdraw a bit more to cover the tax.

Stop 5) Now at the courthouse we sign the paperwork for Brendan's permit and wait for the clerk to enter everything into the database. Minutes tic by.

Stop 6) The tax office is only a couple doors down. Paid. Done. Whew! We're good for the next six months.
In the parking lot I receive a call from my hubby. He has a terrible headache and could I please bring him some medicine? (He is at a job site about 20 minutes away.)

Stop 7) First we stop at Brendan's work and he drops off a copy of his completed work permit.
 Annie calls from home. We are out of eggs and cat food. There is a store on the way to Matt's work site.

Stop 8) Eggs? Check. Cat food? Check. Oh, and fruit. Matt took the last piece with his lunch. Anything else? No? Good. Let's hurry so we can bring Matt his medicine and get home.

Stop 9) Matt's easy to spot in his safety florescent yellow work shirt. We chat for a brief moment. "Can you believe they didn't have the mower part I need?" I ask. He tells me of a store one town over, (You guessed it - 20 minutes away.) that is sure to have the part in stock. I sigh thinking of the over-grown lawn.

Stop 10) As we enter the new town Brendan discovers he still has a check he needs to deposit in his account. Our bank has a branch nearby. Speaking with the teller he explains he never received an ATM card. Looking into it she tells him he needs a different type of account, but not to worry, they could switch him over. There's a banker available now and it wouldn't take long at all.

 An hour later the banker is still clicking away on her computer setting up brand new checking and savings accounts for Brendan. He has lots of questions. I glance at the time and start to worry the parts shop will be closed by the time I get there. Little shops are notorious for closing well before their posted close time. The banker tells me head over to the shop now while she and Brendan finish up. Good idea.

Stop 11) The shop is closed. I'm pretty sure there is another just down the road a bit.

Stop 12) This one is open, but they don't have the part. They tell me to try the previous shop.

Stop 13) Brendan is finished. He leaves the bank with two new accounts and a stack of paperwork to review.

Stop 14) Home at last! ...and it's time for me to start dinner.

Busy, busy, busy! So little time, so much to do.
It's a good thing this was my No Errand Day.

May 12, 2016

A Fishy Tail

This year opening day for fishing was Mother's Day. (Of course it was.) As I was enjoying the lovely dinner Matt and Annie made in my honor, I noticed Matt was restless. He kept looking at his watch and glancing out the window at the lowering sun. Mid-bite it dawned on me.

"You want to go fishing!" 

He had been talking about it for weeks, but today was Mother's Day and he didn't want to disappoint me by taking off in the middle of dinner. I glanced at Annie. She would keep an eye on the kids.

"Come on! Let's go!" I said, grabbing him by the hand.

We live two minutes from the river and in flash I was settling down to watch on the grass near the water's edge. This really was a pretty spot. I could hear noisy birds, and the roar of water pouring over the small dam before rolling it's way over the rocks that extended into the middle of the river. The late day sun gave the newly-leafed trees a gorgeous green glow. The rocky river bottom could be seen through the tea-colored water and an occasional splash verified the presence of more than a few hungry fish. Matt waded in and made his first cast. Hopefully we'd have trout for dinner tomorrow.

Matt's shout alerted me he had indeed hooked something. That was fast! I ran to the car to grab the bucket. Any moment now we would have a trout or maybe a pike to bring home. I sat back down on the grass, bucket at my side, and waited.

An HOUR later I was still waiting. This was ridiculous. What on earth had he hooked? We still hadn't caught sight of the creature, but every time Matt reeled it in closer, it would suddenly take off pulling the line out behind it. The sun was getting closer to the horizon. We were going to lose light before long. He had to land this fish!

Suddenly the fish made for the rocks below the dam and for the first time we saw a sharp tail fin cut through the water's surface. Wait a minute. I knew that profile. These were the telling fins of a fish we had gathered many times to witness during spawning season. We loved these massive, magnificent, prehistoric-looking fish. Lake Sturgeon. Oh no! Matt had unintentionally hooked one! (They're not legal to keep.)

"Matt!" I called. "I think you got a sturgeon. You have to release it!"

Just then I heard a "snap" as the line broke. The fish settled into the shallows near the rocks. Matt waded over to remove the hook and rest of the line. As he grabbed hold to pull out the hook the giant fish executed what looked like an alligator death roll. From the shore all I could see was a massive amount of splashing. A moment later the fish swam off unharmed and Matt was carefully making his way back to me. It was difficult for him to see where he was putting his feet in the dusky light. I prayed he wouldn't fall in.

Poor man. All that work and he couldn't even keep his catch. He had so wanted to bring some fish home. I hoped he wasn't too disappointed. He wasn't. His hand was bruised and bleeding from a small cut, but he was grinning from ear to ear.

"Did you see the size of that thing?" he asked excitedly. "If he stood on his tail, he would have reached up to my shoulder! He must have been seventy pounds, at least! And all that on a six pound test line!"

We returned home that evening without a fish, without a photo, with the only proof of his catch - a Band-aid on his hand... But what a fish story!


I didn't have a camera when Matt went fishing, but here are a few photos taken last year when our family went to see the sturgeon spawning on the larger Wolf River. Hundreds turn out for this annual event.

What a good big brother.
Alex was keeping Mary from getting too close.

Do you see how tightly I was holding him? Joey wanted to "pet the fish."

  "I see them!"

The DNR catches,measures, and tags some of the sturgeon before releasing them. Huge crowds
gather to watch.

Smile Matt! Your turn will come.

December 31, 2015

A Penny's Worth

"Penny is acting weird," Mary reported. "I found her standing in the duck's water dish."

David immediately grabbed his jacket and headed out through the snow. No longer welcome in the chicken coop, Penny had been happily living with the ducks in the back pasture duck house. She had been doing well. She was a loved chicken with a special spot on a perch near the heat lamp and treats the kids brought her. I hoped she wasn't sick again.

"She's too cold. For some reason she's not staying near the heat." David brought her into the kitchen. Her feathers were puffed up and her comb looked ragged. She snuggled into his arms and promptly fell asleep.

David and I made a bed for her in a box down in the warm basement. We'd keep her inside until she looked better. She seemed to perk up when we brought her food and water. I figured in a day or two she'd be back out where she belonged.

Just before bed last night Dave went to check on her. He came back up in a rush. One look at his face and I knew what had happened. Penny was gone. The sad news quickly spread. The kids were heartbroken.

Does one mourn a chicken? Apparently, the answer is yes. We had indeed become attached to this little bird. She was a silly thing, who liked to sit on our front porch, peering in the windows, pecking at the glass for attention. Like a dog she followed the children around the yard, ever curious about what they were doing. A show off, she lorded her freedom over the other chickens, strutting around the outside of their fenced yard, eating grasses and bugs beyond their reach. And she loved my boy. She looked for David and always came to him to be petted.

It's funny the way some animals worm their way into our hearts. They each add something unique to the wonder of our world. They have value and worth. They are gifts from a God who loves us, and we are grateful.

Rest in Peace, Penny girl.

December 21, 2015

Small Town Connections

It was less than a week before Christmas and I was on the hunt. I scrolled through the online classifieds again, looking for a gently used washer and dryer. Mine were barely running. Which was ridiculous, really. I had only used them to run 2-3 loads per day for the last 13 years... Was nothing made to last anymore?

Oooh, there was a nice set, only a couple years old! The asking price was considerably higher than my meager budget would allow, but sometimes there was room to negotiate. It couldn't hurt to ask. I sent a message and waited for the reply. The response came quickly.

"Merry Christmas to you and your family! I totally understand hard times. I will accept your offer."

Wait. What? That was a yes?

A grin slowly spread over my face. Truly, in the grand scheme of things, failing laundry appliances are not so terrible, but in my day to day grind it certainly made things more difficult. A fully functioning laundry was one less thing to worry about. Yay!

That following day we went to pick up the appliances. Matt and Brendan loaded the machines into our van while the lady and I visited. She was really a very sweet person. I was delighted to find how much we held in common. We spoke about raising teenage boys, and we discovered we had mutual friends. How nice! Then she asked exactly where we lived. As I described our place a look came over her face.

"Do you mean you live on the big white house on the hill?"

So, she knew the one. "Yes," I replied, pleased I'd described the location well enough.

"That was my Aunt Emma's house!"

I had heard stories of Emma. She was our favorite neighbor's mom. I had heard what a faith-filled, prayerful woman she was. I'd heard how she loved the house in which we now lived, how she loved cooking, and gardening and how she was a sweetheart. It had always made me happy we lived in the former home of such a dear woman. And here I was speaking with Emma's niece (probably great-niece) about Emma's favorite view from our dining room window and about the yummy food she made out of our kitchen. This lady and I had met as strangers making a transaction. We left more as friends with a lovely connection.

We wished her and her family a very merry Christmas and headed home. I couldn't stop smiling.

I love small towns.

December 15, 2015

Masked Intruders

There was lotion smeared on the chair and on the blanket draped over the chair arm. There was a streak of lotion on the floor and covering the tops of a pair of shoes. There was even lotion on the dog.

I was confidant (fairly) that most people living in my house had matured beyond such antics. Of course I knew who the culprit was.

"Joseph Michael!"

His eyes peeked at me from under the table.

"Joey, who played with Annie's expensive lotion?"

I was giving him the chance to come clean.

"Lotion?" he asked with wide-eyed innocence. "What lotion?"

Taking his hand, I led him to the scene of the crime.

"This lotion."

"Oh" was his only response.

He was caught and he knew it. It was time to come clean, admittedly not an easy thing to do when your mama is staring you down, noticing for the first time your shirt front is slicked with small, lotion-y hand prints. His face was slightly shiny, too. Joey wiggled loose from my grasp. "He took a breath and confessed...

"It wasn't me."

I wasn't completely surprised. Where children were concerned, well, let's just say this wasn't my first rodeo. Inwardly, I laughed. Oh little boy. Your mama can see right through you. I decided to help him along.

"Joseph, look at the chair. Look at the dog. Now look at your shirt. No one else in this house would waste Annie's lotion and make a mess like this. Why don't you try again. Who got into the lotion?"

That did it. Even a four year old couldn't refute this logic. He'd been found out. The evidence was overwhelming. He had no option but to fess up.

I will never forget his next words.

"It was those raccoons!"


I had to leave the room.

As soon as I regained my composure, I returned, sent him to sit on the stairs for lying to mommy, spent some time talking about the danger of not telling the truth, and set him to cleaning up the mess.

I must say that was a first. Of course, I'll not tell him I was impressed by his 4-year-old creativity and that his daddy and I had a good laugh about it afterward. Come to think of it that excuse might help me out one of these days. If you arrive at my house and find it terribly messy, I now know who I can blame.

December 13, 2015

The Feet of a Mailman - Looking Back

How many miles? Seriously. If we could add them up, if there there had been a way to keep track, just how many miles had Papa's feet carried him? Enough to go across country? Enough to travel around the globe? Enough to get to the moon?

I used to wonder things like that. You see, my Papa has been a mailman for 36 years. 36! And it's true he drove parts of his routes, but the majority of his career entailed him pounding the sidewalks with his own two feet. Door to door... Box to box...

His career began by taking parts of other carrier's routes - naturally the worst parts. After this training period came his very own route, one he would carry for the next 24 years. He had two other routes during his career, the last of which included the Valley Plaza Mall, delivering to the stores - all indoors! This carried with it a most wonderful perk - Air Conditioning! I will explain why this was such a benefit in a moment.

I remember when he got the job all those years ago and wondering if that meant he would deliver mail to our neighborhood. (It didn't.)

I remember my mom teaching me to iron, and among the clothes I learned to iron, his uniform shirts. Sometimes, just for fun, I'd iron in military creases.

I remember him getting up at what I considered an ungodly hour to head off to his station to case the mail before starting his route.

Taken during Papa's lunch break
 left to right: my brother, Tim, my Papa, my sister, Bethany, and me
I remember going with my mom to bring him his lunch and how cool it was to see him in the middle of his day.

I remember occasionally running into people who lived on his route, how they greeted him like a friend and how he seemed genuinely glad to see them. Later he'd tell me, "That was Mr So-And-So. He lives at Such-And-Such an address. I was convinced he knew everyone's address by heart.

I remember when he became editor of the branch newsletter and the hours we spent each month folding, stapling, and labeling those newsletters prior to mailing. I also remember proudly reading his article "From the Editor-Guy" published each month. He is a fantastic writer!

I remember all these things, but what I remember most, though I never told him, is thinking about the beating his feet were taking.

My old hometown, Bakersfield, can get a little warm in the summer, in the same way my oven gets a little warm when I set it to broil at 600 °F.

Papa's feet, encased in heavy leather boots all day, must have felt like they were on fire as he walked for miles under the blazing sun, carrying a satchel of mail that weighed as much as a small child.
Sometimes when he came home he'd ask us to bring him a beer, and a pan of cold water into which he could plunge his aching feet. Then while sitting there, soaking his tired toes, he'd take a rag and black shoe polish and shine his boots up so they'd be ready for the next day.

Shiny or not, boots can only take so much before they give out, and his boots eventually had it. The sole had separated from the leather upper and flapped up and down with every step. New boots weren't cheap, and money was scarce. Papa was, after all, providing for his large family and he tended to put things like food, a house payment, and other such necessities ahead of new footwear for himself. What then was he to do?

Pop is a pretty resourceful guy. A fistful of rubber bands did the job admirably. Yes, they had to be replaced frequently, but they held his boot together for longer than he or my mom would like to remember. That rubber-banded boot cannot be entirely forgotten, however. There is a Letter Carrier group photo that clearly shows a lighter colored "something" wrapped around the dark boot of a young carrier who just happened to be in the front row.

He did eventually get a new pair of boots, and then another... One pair came to him in an unexpected manner. He was delivering mail to a trailer park when he noticed smoke coming from a laundry room. When he looked inside he saw flames coming from a plastic trash can (probably caused by a discarded cigarette) and no one else around to see what was happening. He immediately took action and to avoid burning his hands, kicked the can out of the building. His boot was covered in melted plastic. The laundry room wasn't damaged. No one was hurt. And the trailer park gratefully bought him a new pair of boots.

Despite the headaches and foot-aches that came with the job, he seemed to enjoy getting to know people on his routes. He would start conversations by saying, "I've got a dumb joke for you. Are you ready?"

He was always watchful of the elderly he delivered to, checking in on them to make sure they were doing alright.

He once gave aid to a baby who had managed to get the end of a metal hanger stuck in her mouth, piercing her tongue. She was bleeding profusely. Taking the baby from her frantic mother, he quickly pulled the hanger out and handed the little one back to her mom. The next day he heard the doctor said the baby would be fine.

He really did care for and take care of the people he served every day.

Every day for 36 years...

And now he is retiring. Now he will no longer have to pound his feet (and knees, and back...) for hours everyday. Now he starts something new.

And to him I have something important to say:

Thank you, Papa. 
Thank you for all those hours, all those years you gave to take care of us.
Thank you for choosing to have us kids instead of a BMW.
Thank you for working even when you were sick or sore, hot or cold.
Thank you for putting up with the hard parts of your job.
Thank you for encouraging us and teaching us to look for creative solutions to problems - even if it involved rubber bands.
Thank you for making sure we had food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, and a shoes on our feet.
Thank you for talking to us about life and teaching us how to look at both sides of an issue.
Thank you for taking us to church.
Thank you for trips to the beach, music in our house, and dogs in our life.
Thank you for showing us what hard work looks like.
Thank you for showing us what it means to take pride in your work and give it your all.
Thank you for being our Papa.
I love you.

Happy Retirement!!!

December 11, 2015


My toes are all pruney. I could get out, but that requires... you know... moving.
Instead I allow myself to sink a little deeper, the water up to my nose. My bath is cooling and the bubbles are long gone. I nudge the hot water tap with my foot. All's quiet (relatively) in the rest of the house and the trickle of warm water descending noisily further blocks any sound from other rooms. There is no pressing need to abandon my little escape just yet.

It had been an interesting day. I was over an hour away from home and my brakes were making a horrible metal-on-metal grinding noise. It made me wince every time I stepped on the pedal. What if they gave out? Matt left work to come to my rescue. Once he arrived we swapped vehicles. Matt drove the car with the bad brakes and I followed behind in our van all the long way to Mechanic Steve's. Unfortunately, this repair would not be a cheap one. Our car was actually an old police cruiser and everything on it was of the heavy-duty, beefed up variety. Great for driving,  but not so much for replacing... At least we knew we were leaving it in good hands.

I dropped Matt back at his work and came home to a chilly house. Our wonderful outdoor boiler still worked beautifully, but one of the water pumps that carried hot water to the heat exchanger failed several days ago. Local shops were out of replacements and repair companies were swamped this time of year, so I attempted to do it myself, researching and ordering the new pump direct from the factory. I watched online videos showing how to complete the repair. It looked so easy!

The new part arrived and I tried to replace it, stripping the screw on the old water shut-off valve in my attempt to close it. I almost had it...The repairman finally arrived and replaced the pump, first installing a new shut-off valve. The old one so corroded, it was no wonder I couldn't get it to move.

By this time Matt had arrived home and began to refill the boiler and build the fire to heat the water. Soon our home would be warm again.

But it wasn't.

Everything seemed to be doing what it was supposed to do, yet cold air still poured from the heater vents. We had been without heat for almost five days. What was the trouble now? We finally concluded air was trapped in the pipes preventing the water from moving. More online searching and a couple of phone calls later and we learned how to bleed the air from the lines. Warmth once more poured into our home and children began to shed their jackets onto the floor and couches. I let that slide for now.

In the midst of lessons, meals and laundry, car and furnace repairs, and a houseful of energetic children, tension built up in in my neck and shoulders. It was time for a break... And bubbles.

Today's frustrations have melted away with the warm water. I'm grateful to let go of this day, to breathe, to pray, to count my many blessings. I'm also full of gratitude for a warm house and fingers that are as pruney as my toes.  God is good.

November 18, 2015

Not Quite Silver

We're getting there. It's now within sight. Matt and I are now one year away from our 25th wedding anniversary - our Silver Anniversary.

Funny. I thought we would feel like an old married couple by now. Despite the graying hair and dawning appreciation for early bird specials, I'm pretty sure we're still just a couple of kids.

We still hold hands. (Not just because I've misplaced my cane.)

We still dance in the kitchen. (We've learned to ignore the childrens' expressions of dismay.)

We still talk about running away together. (What can I say? We live with lunatics.)

We still irritate each other. (Only occasionally on purpose.)

We laugh (hard) at all the inside jokes we've accumulated along the way.

We'd still rather be together than not.

So... I guess we're stuck together...

Here's to another year, Babe! 

October 12, 2015

Most of Which Never Happened

David lowered his window a little further. It was a hot day, and without the air conditioner working the van felt like an oven. The chicken on his lap protested by smacking him in the face with her wing. David raised the window again, reducing the air blowing in Penny's face. He looked at me, exasperated, a trickle of sweat running down the side of his cheek. Dumb bird.

The trouble began when I found Penny near the raspberry bushes. She was holding her wings up slightly, away from her body. Her mouth was open and she appeared to be gasping. Isn't this what heat stress looks like in birds?


All my children are good with our animals, but one of my 14-year-old sons has special skill with our chickens. His siblings teasingly call him "The Chicken Whisperer." David can quickly catch an escapee who has flown the coop. He notices discord among the hens before anyone else and heads off trouble by bringing a treat to distract the girls. Even a broody hen fusses less if  Dave is the one disturbing her nest. His help was just what I needed now.

Penny and David having a conversation.
I set up a small cage for Penny in a shady spot while David got a water dish and a bowl of ice to set beside her. Her breathing was labored and her feet were almost too hot to touch. Not good signs. She drank a little water and settled down near the ice. Hopefully she would cool down fast. Dave promised to keep an eye on her so I could get back to lessons with Mary.

A short time later Penny had indeed cooled and seemed more alert, but something still wasn't right.  Her beak was still open and her breathing sounded hoarse and wheezing. Do chickens get asthma? Great. Just one more reason our family was "special."

"Have you met that family? You know, the one with the pet asthmatic chicken?"

Those of you that know me, know I'm a worrier. I try not to be. I really do, but...
  • How do I know that headache isn't really a brain tumor?
  • The car makes a little noise? It's going to break down and we'll be stranded in the middle of nowhere!
  • The weather looks a little stormy? What if the weatherman lied and that little rain shower suddenly turns into an EF5 Tornado?
  •  I haven't seen one of my children for a few moments (at home, no less) and they've run away with gypsies straight out of an old movie, will be trained to play an organ grinder for a little hat-wearing monkey on a leash, earning change on street corners, wishing I had been a better mother to them and warned them that this was no way to make a living. 

Yeah. It's fun living in my head.

So there I am, driving to the vet's office with David in the seat beside me, holding a chicken on his lap. I'm sure I told Dave Penny would be fine, all the while thinking,

"What if it's not asthma? What if Penny has bird flu and it spreads to the whole flock - chickens and ducks alike? What if we have to put down all of our birds, and we get sick, too, and our tiny farm is quarantined, but it's too late, and it spreads to other farms, and everyone will blame us and no one will like us anymore, and we'll have to move to Alaska where no one knows us? Also, how much will the vet charge us today?"

The vet was less concerned. "Penny has a mild respiratory infection," he reassured us. "Give her this antibiotic and she'll recover within a few days."

I'm so glad. Penny, smallest of our laying hens, is a favorite of the family. She was severely wounded by the other hens (Pecking order is a real thing!) and had to be separated from them permanently, removed from the coop and chicken yard, and freed to wander where she will. She likes to sit on our porch, peering into our window, waiting for someone to come out and give her attention or a treat. She actually likes to be held and petted, and comes running when she hears our voices. Now that the antibiotics have made her eggs inedible, she has truly gained pet status - strictly a companion chicken. Yes, we really are that family.

 I rarely voice my worries. choosing not to give them more power and instead entrust all to Jesus. And I do hope to one day conquer them. Until then... a sense of humor helps, gives me something to blog about and you something to read. You're welcome.