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 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.