Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adventures in Bed Rest

So, my mother-in-law set my oven on fire last night. Yesterday, I put the leftover Christmas cookies in the oven while we went to the doctor's office so that Flash and Tucker wouldn't pull them off the counters and eat them all (as they had done the previous week). When she came over to make supper, I told her TWICE that they were in there, and to be sure to pull them out before she turned on the oven. I was sitting on the couch (my home these days), embroidering a pillow case for the baby's changing table pad, when I heard a feeble "Oh no. I need a fire extinguisher!" coming from the kitchen. Doctor's orders to stay off my feet or no, I jumped up and ran to the kitchen to find her taking my best kitchen towel and trying to slap out a fire in the oven (ruining the towel in the process, of course). I grabbed the baking soda from the refrigerator, sprinkled some on the flames (which weren't huge), and shut the door. No oxygen; no more fire. So, we were left with two oven racks covered in melted plastic , which of course hardened right back up as soon as it hit the air. She also set one of the oven racks on the floor while trying to deal with the other, which caused it to melt right through the linoleum. The oven itself was covered with burnt cookies and melted plastic. I just gritted my teeth and got a spatula to start scraping out the oven. Paul came home a little while later and promised to clean the oven racks, which he has since done. So, no major crisis, but my teeth are even more gritted than they were before...

Today starts Week 3 of doctor-ordered bed rest. Three weeks ago, I went to the high-risk OB to have the baby's weekly bio-physical test done, and to spend 30 minutes on the monitor to check baby's heart rate and to make sure I wasn't having any contractions. At that visit, my cervix measured between 1.2 and 2.2 mm, which was less than it had been previously (I'd been running 1.8 to 2.4 previously). The monitor showed that I was having regular contractions (which I had no idea I was having). The good news was that baby was as happy as a clam inside; the bad news was that she was quite concerned that I was going to go into full labor at any time. 29 weeks was just too early for the baby to come, so she admitted me to the hospital for 48 hours of magnesium sulfate to stop the contractions, and steroid shots to stimulate the baby's lung growth just in case he decided he was going to make an appearance. I ended up being kept there for a total of 96 hours, because the doctor in charge wanted to observe me for an additional 48 hours after the magnesium sulfate was taken off to make sure the contractions had stopped. Paul and I were given a tour of the NICU, both to reassure us that even if the baby did come too early, he'd have excellent care, and also (I think) to scare me a little bit into not pushing myself to the point that I would go into pre-term labor. I was released to go home on bed rest with a prescription for nifedapine, which is a smooth muscle relaxant to keep the uterus from contracting (interestingly enough, it also has my blood pressure, which was already low, at somewhere between invalid and dead. I don't have to worry about overdoing it while I'm supposed to be off my feet -- I only get about 10 minutes on my feet before I feel like I'm going to pass out and have to sit back down).

So, I've been living the sedentary life for the past few weeks -- taking naps at will, chilling on the couch, watching endless episodes of "My Fair Wedding with David Tutera," playing millions of games of Free Cell, and trying not to lose my mind. It helped immensely that Christmas came in the middle of it all, and my mom, dad, brother, and his wife came to stay for 5 days. My local sister-in-law came over the day before all the houseguests arrived and spent 5 hours cleaning the guest bed and bath, the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. Christmas dinner was supposed to be at my mother-in-law's house (which is a wee little place), but since I'm not allowed to leave the house (why, yes, you did sense a bit of resentment in that statement), it was decided to host Christmas dinner here. I admit to cheating quite a bit while we had company and sitting at the table to sew up some Christmas presents as well play a few hands of cards, but now that everyone has left, I'm back to living in sweats on the couch.

Paul's brother and family came over the day after Christmas, too, to help him empty out his back junk room into the new shed and then empty the former office/now nursery into the back room (one benefit: my hoarder husband came in that night and said, "I really need to go through all those boxes and just get rid of stuff." You think? There are boxes of newspapers from the 1980s in there, among other gems. If anyone would like boxes of Western Horsemen or Auto Life magazines from the 70s and 80s, give me a call. I've got some you can take off our hands.) Then, the next day, Angie (my sister-in-law and soon-to-be birth coach) came in and put all the nursery furniture in place. It's pretty well done, although we're waiting on some hardware to finish the crib (when the guy I bought it from on Craigslist said, "I've never put it together, but I'm sure all the hardware is there," I should have known...) I'm a little (and "a little" seems to grow in proportion to the amount of time I sit on the couch feeling useless) disappointed that the walls are still plain white -- I really had wanted to paint them the lovely shade known as "Green Acres" before we got the nursery put together. Still, it's pretty exciting to have a new room in the house -- Paul has been spending a lot of time sitting in the glider rocker in there since it's been put together. I'm not sure he's contemplating baby in there as much as he is escaping from the craziness around us...

And my mother-in-law, bless her painkiller and sleep aid-riddled self, has come over pretty much every day to clean the house and make supper for us (which pretty much consists of meat, mashed potatoes, and gravy. No wonder I can't get Paul to eat anything other than meat and starch. Last night I requested spaghetti for a change, which I thought would be really easy. We had sauce and mush that once resembled pasta. When one cooks the noodles for 20 minutes and forget they're on the stove, they don't tend to hold their shape very well.) And I'm grateful for the help. I really am. But it's SO HARD to let someone else in my home and kitchen. Dry-clean only items have been washed and dried. She can't remember to empty the drier lint trap, so she keeps complaining that the drier doesn't work and runs it three times to dry one load of clothes. It will take me at least a year to find things in my kitchen, since she washes dishes and just puts them away somewhere (would it kill her to ask where they go? I'm sitting right here on the couch...).

I'm being an ungrateful whiner, I know. But after two weeks of family in the house changing things, I just feel invaded. I'm pretty mellow, so it wasn't so bad and I just laughed it off until she set my damned kitchen on fire last night. Paul already lost it and yelled at her the night before for washing his dry-clean items. I'm not a yeller by any stretch of the imagination, but I definitely wasn't very happy.

There must be a silver lining to every cloud, though, and mine will come in two forms. First, the high-risk OB has promised that if I'm still stable and nothing has changed next Wednesday (week 32!), I can go back to work for four hours a day. Assuming my principal is willing to find a long-term sub for half days, that will make my outlook much rosier. Being confined to the house is killing me. I find myself dreaming of jail breaks to Wal-Mart... It's probably a very good thing that Paul has been driving my Santa Fe to work every day; otherwise, I might manufacture an excuse to get outside. At week 36 (only five more weeks, which is endless, but at least I can do a toilet paper countdown or scratch lines into the wall or something), she'll remove all restrictions and let me do anything I want to until the baby comes.

And that, of course, will be the biggest joy of all. The more the little bugger rolls around inside of me, using his little hands and feet to push against the confines of my belly, the more I can't wait to meet him in person. For a week or so, I was resigned to having to have him stay in the NICU for a while after he came. Now that I've made it through two more doctor's appointments with no surprises, I'm starting to feel a little more optimistic that when Paul and I go to the hospital next time, we'll be coming home as a family, with our little boy tucked safely next to us.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, Baby!

Dear Baby,

It is 4:51 in the morning, and both you and I have been awake now for an hour. We'll have to chat about these early mornings at some point (3 days in a row now that we've been up at 3), but since it's Christmas morning, we'll let this one slide. Kids always are up at the crack of pre-dawn on Christmas, and Santa is in the house (of course, he's sleeping in the spare bedroom and you'll know him as "Grandpa," but why quibble over details?

I wish you could see the outside, Baby -- God has sent a soft blanket of snow to cover all the earth's imperfections, and staring out the window is like looking at a nature painting: Study in Winter Beauty. Each tree limb is bent under the weight of the snow and looks like it has been especially beautified in honor of Christmas. What was predicted to be 2-3 inches materialized into 6 before any of us knew it. Considering that I'm stuck indoors, I am blessed enough to be able to enjoy its beauty without having to deal any shoveling or cold. I did step outside before we went to bed (don't tell Dr. Martin) to just breathe deeply and be thankful to live in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Even your Uncle Richard was impressed at how beautiful the forest was yesterday during the snowfall (pretty remarkable, considering that at the time he was chasing your hound dogs, who thought fresh snow was a perfect opportunity to hunt rabbits and ran away from him when he took them outside).

But, as much as I'd like to share this beautiful sight with you, I don't wish you here with us any sooner. These next two months will seem endless with the waiting for you, but after a week in the hospital and week 1 of bedrest, I'm prepared to do what it takes to make sure you are born as close to term as possible. After visiting the NICU last week during our hospital stay, I'm relieved and resigned to know that even if you come early, you'll have incredibly good care. That said, my wish for you is that you are born able to breathe on your own, able to take food the traditional way (as opposed to having a feeding tube down your nose), and ready to enjoy life with us, rather than having to fight for your breath, nourishment, and comfort.

Oh, Baby, I have so many wishes for you on this, your first Christmas. I have a feeling there may even be a present or two for you from your family, even though your presence at today's family event will consist of your aunts and uncles and grandparents rubbing my belly and feeling you poke and jab at them (and me).

I wish, most of all, for you to be safe and healthy. It's been a little stressful these last few weeks, knowing that you might be coming any time now, and knowing that if you do come in the next few weeks, you'll have to go to the NICU until you're healthy and strong enough to live at home. I know you're strong -- you're your daddy's boy, and he's always been strong -- especially over these last few weeks as he's had to do both his and Mommy's chores on top of his working.

I wish for enough financial freedom that you don't know hunger or want. Things are pretty tough right now, and I can't promise you a life filled with "stuff." There are so many things I want to be able to give you, but we may have to settle for a roof over our heads and food to fill our bellies.

I wish for you to know joy in life's simple things. I hope that you will know the peace that comes from wanting what we have, instead of having what we want. You may (should I say "will"?) never have a fancy video game system to entertain you, but you will have the back yard and the forest, in which you will be able to create your own worlds of imagination and entertainment. You may never have fancy clothes or toys, but you will have the love of everyone around you. You're coming into a pretty wonderful family, Baby. They bring me joy every time I am around them, and I wish that same sense of happiness for you whenever you get to be with them as well.

I wish for you a solid faith built on the knowledge that there is a force in our lives who loves and guides us as we live our lives. I hope you are able to find Him in the world around you and the lives you touch. I know He has already touched your life -- He sent you to us, even though medical technology told us we'd never be able to have a baby. Your very existence is a miracle, Baby, and I hope for myself that I never forget that (especially when in the throes of labor and delivery or when pulling living things out of your pockets while doing laundry...).

So, Merry Christmas, Baby. Go to sleep now, and when we wake back up, Christmas will officially be here, complete with family and love and even a few presents. I love you.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pardon Me While I Freak Out a Little

So, I had my 20 week ultrasound last Friday. I was very excited to get to see my little boy do some serious screen wiggling, and he didn't disappoint. In fact, he was extremely wiggly, and even obstinate about having his picture taken -- so much that I had to drink a bottle of cold water, get up and walk around, and perform a series of other contortions to try to get him in the right position for the ultrasound tech to get the necessary images. Our regular high-risk doctor (whom we've only seen once) wasn't there, and his partner handled our visit. I really liked her; however, I didn't really like what she had to say.

After the doctor came in to read the results with us, she told us she had three areas of concern. Whoa. So this was unexpected. After our last visit with the high risk OB, he seemed to think everything was going pretty swimmingly and just prescribed THOUSANDS of milligrams and micrograms of nutritional supplements -- a total of 8 pills a day, including 4 of the massively huge fish oil capsules that make me burp salmon all day long.

So, concern number one was our high risk of having a Down's syndrome baby. Been there, done that -- already looked at the probability and scary ratios and decided against having an amnio. Our motto as concerns the baby's chromosomal help (as refers to Down's) remains "it is what it is." For us, the risk of having an amnio outweighs the uncertainty of the possibility of having a Down's baby. The doctor, though, seemed to be encouraging us to have it so we would just "know." She listed this as her main concern.

Her second concern was about the baby's heart. The ultrasound showed that his blood flow was a little abnormal, which she didn't seem overly concerned about, but enough so that she wants him to have a prenatal echocardiogram in December when the technicians are here from St. Louis. She said she definitely didn't see anything that would necessitate a big worry or prenatal cardiac surgery, and that most babies with a heart murmur find that it heals naturally within the first two years of life. This was disconcerting, but not so scary as to send us over the edge into panic.

The third thing, which she didn't seem to prioritize as highly as the other two, is the one that has thrown my whole life into chaos. It seems that my cervix has gone from 32mm at 16 weeks to 18mm at 20 weeks. This could show that I'm at an increased risk for pre-term labor, and since the baby is nowhere near ready to live outside the womb, it's a pretty big honking deal. She had me sit for twenty minutes hooked up to a monitor to make sure I wasn't having contractions that I didn't recognize as contractions (because I sure don't know what those feel like). After twenty minutes, she came back and told me it looked like the monitor showed no contractions, but that my bladder was filling up. I could have told her that -- no monitor required. She asked me about my activity level and what plans I had for the weekend -- I told her that I was going to clean the house and that my folks would be coming to visit, and then on Sunday we'd be going to Warm Springs Ranch to see the Budweiser Clydesdale breeding farm and operation. It was advertised as a 1.5 hour walking tour. She asked about my activity level at work, and whether or not I could teach from a chair. I told her that I'm not really that kind of teacher, and since my schedule doesn't necessarily allow for regular exercise, I use my walking around while I teach as my activity. She thought this was just fine, but told me to take it easy and not do anything too strenuous. I asked about vacuuming, which she thought was fine (ironically, she didn't want me scrubbing toilets, which is a whole lot less strenuous for me than vacuuming...). I'm scheduled to go back on Friday (a week later) for another ultrasound to decide whether I've continued to shrink, or whether I'm holding steady at 18, or whether my little Buddy has flipped and taken his head off my cervix, and that it has sprung back up to a more acceptable thickness. At that time, she'll make a call about where to go from there -- but it looks like bed rest is possible (if not probably) in my near future.

Bed rest.

Holy hell.

The one thing I have been adamantly pre-freaking out about since I found out that I was pregnant. The one thing I begged my OB to help me avoid. The one thing that I didn't even allow myself to think of as a possibility, because the consequences are too gruesome to even contemplate (what do you think the chances of the mortgage company letting us just skip 6 months of payments and adding that to the end of the loan will be? Yeah -- that's what I thought, too.) And here it is, staring me in the face. So, I've spent as much time as possible this week on my butt with my feet up. I sit in class rather than walking around. I go home at night at sit in my recliner. I'm being as sedentary as possible, as well as drinking massive quantities of water and emptying my bladder super frequently. I am, of course, freaked out that every twitch and cramp (which I was taking as due course in this whole pregnancy thing) are now signs of incipient and impending early labor. In short, I'm pretty much a mess.

Thankfully (she says with an ironic question mark in her voice), my priorities have done what they needed to, and shifted. After a little time trying to wrap my head around this, I'm a whole lot more concerned with keeping my baby inside and growing than I am with concerns about how I'm going to pay the bills. I won't say I've hit that zen state wherein I won't be freaking out and will be just handing it all over to the Almighty to handle, but I think I'm on my way. We have friends (none of them rich, unfortunately, but good enough that they might be willing to come vacuum my house or bring me books once in a while) and family who will help us in any way they can. The school will hold my job for me, and will make sure that I don't go any months without a paycheck of any kind (although it will consist of my total estimated time off minus my accrued sick leave prorated over the time gone, if not the rest of the year -- so basically, a loss of around 1/3 of my salary over the course of 5 months). Of course, we don't have any short-term or long-term disability insurance, since we dropped it several years ago when the doctor told us we couldn't have kids; there's also no way to get disability insurance once one receives a diagnosis of pregnancy.

I have to have faith that Baby is going to stay inside and growing until he's fully (or fully enough, anyway) cooked. Then, I have to have faith that the rest of it's going to work itself out. Until Friday, it's a waiting game.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Stick Peeing and Other Summer Adventures

And so, I find myself at the age of nearly-39 with a baby on the way in 21 weeks...

Perhaps I should step back and explain.

Paul and I decided when we were first married to wait to start a family. Having children was always a plan for us; we just wanted to enjoy one another's company first. Plus, we were living 5 states away from our families, and just didn't want to put either us, our children, or our parents through the strain of not being able to see one another as often as we would want to. So, we waited until we moved back to the Midwest to begin trying for our family.

That was eight years ago. We did several rounds of infertility treatment, stopping short of in vitro fertilization because 1) we had no money left to pursue it and 2) I was just done with the emotional ups and downs of the whole infertility roller coaster. The doctor told us not that we "couldn't" get pregnant, just that we "wouldn't." We just planned to enjoy our nieces and nephews and leave it at that. We looked briefly at adoption, realized that we weren't in a financially good place to pursue that option, and just moved on.

So, exposition over.

We went to Maine in late June and early July of this year for the wedding of a friend -- he married a Maine girl, and Paul was honored to be asked to be one of his groomsmen. We thought, "Cool. Maine. Never had any thought to visit, but it sounds like a pretty cool place." It was -- an absolutely gorgeous visit that reminded us a lot, topographically, of upper Michigan and the Piney Woods of Wisconsin. Of course, staying practically on the Atlantic Coast made the experience a little more unique for us. We took a tour on a lobster boat, drove down the coast looking at lighthouses (for what seemed like FOREVER -- my husband is FAR MORE INTO lighthouses than I will ever be.) It was a nice vacation, especially considering that we hadn't taken one since our trip to the UP of Michigan four or five years ago. When combined with our earlier trip to Washington, D.C. this spring, we considered ourselves pretty lucky to be able to log two trips in one calendar year.

I enjoyed Maine, even though a nagging part of me hadn't wanted to go -- the trip was pretty expensive, and it wasn't on my top 10 list of "Places I'm Willing to Spend a Lot of Money to See." However, we had a nice mix of time to ourselves and time with friends of the bride and groom who had also made the trek from Missouri. I did find myself tired by the end of the day -- almost like a power switch that would flip off at about 7:00 each night. One evening, we were taking a car tour of Acadia National Park, and we got to the lookout point for Cadillac Mountain (the first place in America to see the sun rise every day). It was a short 1/4 mile hike to the summit, and I just refused to go with Paul and the others -- I just wanted to stay in the car and read the guidebook. This is SO not like me -- I'm usually the one scrambling to find every hysterical...erm...historical marker and scenic overlook possible. I just didn't have the energy. I chalked it up to let down from the excitement of getting ready for the big trip and tiredness from having spent that afternoon walking all over Bar Harbor and visiting the tourist shops.

And then we came home to Missouri. I didn't have the energy to unpack -- I took a few things out of the suitcase each day and listlessly threw in some laundry now and then. My mom had taken care of the house and critters for us while we were gone, and the place looked wonderful -- I couldn't keep it that way to save my soul. The only thing I could muster up the energy to do was shower in the mornings (eventually) and plop my butt on the couch to spend the day watching reality TV marathons on the Bravo channel (pausing, of course, for a 3 hour nap every afternoon). Paul was less than thrilled at my lack of gumption, and just gave me holy hell one night for being lazy and unproductive, which was true. However, I didn't care and couldn't explain to him why -- I just told him I didin't feel good, to which he replied, "Then go to the doctor and get it taken care of." Good point.

I had to work at the library the next day (but not until noon, thank heavens -- I could still indulge myself in a relaxed mornning), and I woke up feeling just icky and queasy. The feeling didn't go away, and I thought back to realize that I'd been off for a while -- I didn't eat very much while we were on vacation (and again had just chalked it up to excitement from the trip) and hadn't felt much like eating since we'd been back (took too much effort to cook anything, so I existed on cold cereal). I went to the pharmacy while on a break from the library and told the girls working there that I wanted some Pepto Bismol to calm my stomach. In our conversation, they somehow came up with the hair-brained idea that I might be pregnancy (I scoffed) and that I should take home a pregnancy test just to make sure (I disagreed -- I've had a long-standing belief that I have a bad gallbladder, and I was pretty sure that it was just time for the sucker to come on out.). They pretty well forced the test into my sack, and I laughed at them for their silliness.

And then I peed on the stick. Since it was a cheap one (I stopped spending money on the good ones years ago), I had NO IDEA how to read the results. I'd have thought a degree in English would qualify me to decipher the fine print on a generic pregnancy test, but no such luck. I finally called Paul (who had no idea I had even bought one) into the bathroom to help me try to interpret. He couldn't tell either, but from what we were both reading, it looked as if it MIGHT be a positive result. Holy cow. Neither one of us even allowed ourselves to think that it might be a possibility, though, and I decided to head into the doctor's office the next day to start talking seriously with the doctor about getting the gallbladder yanked. I was, by this time, pretty tired of feeling like poo all the time.

The next morning, I popped into the doctor's office and peed on another little stick, then stepped back to let the doctor tell me that I was NOT in fact, pregnant, so we could have the "remove the gallbladder" chat. Yeah. It wasn't the gallbladder. Her fancy little test showed one pink and one blue line -- positive for pregnancy. Holy cow.

I refused to believe her, and told her it must by a chemical or hysterical pregnancy (I'd been watching the television show Glee, in which hysterical pregnancy was one of the major first season story lines). I challenged her -- "Well, if I'm pregnant, the spot where I used to get pain from ovarian cysts hurts -- it's probably a tubal pregnancy, right?" She did some math after asking me a few pretty personal questions (although she is the doctor -- you kinda' have to answer those honestly) and let me know I was a little far along (six weeks) for a tubal -- I'd have noticed it a long time before now if that had been the case. However, knowing my history of infertility and my refusal to believe that I was, in fact, knocked up good and proper, she sent me into town for an ultrasound. An hour later, I was laying on a table watching a little fluttery heartbeat on the screen and thinking, "Holy cow." Savannah, the lovely ultrasound tech with the ready box of Kleenexes, printed me off a picture of the blob and kindly marked it with an arrow that said "Baby." I took it to Auto Zone to show it to my flabbergasted and slightly disbelieving husband.

That was 13 weeks ago today. Since then, we've had 3 more ultrasounds (during which times we've seen him hiccup, grab his toes, and flip himself completely around) and are scheduled for another one (the big one) next week. We have a pretty good idea that the little booger kicking me (I can't feel it, but my innards feel like they've been beat with a blunt instrument) all the time is a baby boy. As of 2 weeks ago, his heart beat was strong and sure, and considering that my belly is growing every day, I'm guessing he's still in there getting bigger. According to this week's entry in "What to Expect When You're Expecting," Buddy is the size of a mango and is covered in vernix. That's a lovely thought -- a cottage-cheese covered tropical fruit with legs who does flip turns like Michael Phelps. Yesterday, I bought a used crib on Craigslist, and this afternoon, I picked up a brand new changing table that I found the same way. More and more each day, this whole situation is seeming less like a made-for-TV movie and more like reality -- it's going to happen. We're going to have a baby.

And I can't wait to meet him.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Which I am a Happy Horse Mama

I've always wanted a miniature donkey, so once we found some land and moved to the country, I started keeping my ears and eyes open for news of one that might be able to be purchased on the cheap. My dad kept insisting that they were selling up at the sale barn in Iowa for next to nothing. I thought that was simply wonderful, but I didn't think a donkey, even a mini, would do so well on a 4-hour car ride back to Missouri (although, come to think of it, they're not too much bigger than Lucy Lab). It was a Friday during summer school last summer, and whilst my students were playing Free Rice (they LOVE that game, and I am mollified by that fact that even though they're playing an online game, they're also donating food to the starving with every correct answer. Plus, they actually tend to learn something from playing it.), I popped open Craigslist, one of my favorite time-wasters. There were no minis for sale, but my attention landed on an ad for a Missouri Foxtrotter mare and foal for $550. Now, I know we're in the middle of a recession and that people are reducing their horse herds at alarming rates due to the cost of feeding the things, but that was still an exceptionally low price for a twofer. There were no pictures on the ad, but my attention was nabbed. My wonderful horsey neighbor, Claud, had been urging me to start my own herd ever since we moved in. He and I had even talked about what it would take to get the fence made for the pasture. We also had a "barn" of sorts, since Dad had managed to trade our camper for two carports the year before, and we were using one as an open storage shed (to be fair, when we chose to place it way down from the house, we did have in mind that it would be a good barn location one day). I knew I'd have plenty of money to pay for the horses, as well as enough to buy materials for a fence and some left over to pay for several months of upkeep. It was just a matter of saying to myself, "Yes. It's time to become a horse owner." Paul and I drove down to the Lake that next weekend to take a look at the girls, and it only took one glance for me to know that they'd be coming home to Critter Country. Mama Horse was pretty enough, albeit skinny as a rail (and was only green broke -- silly me to think it would be nothing to have her trotting all over our National Forest trails in a matter of weeks). But, it was the baby who sealed the deal for me.

Now, my dad (from whom I've always tended to take my horse cues) is a color man when
it comes to horses. He likes a lot of chrome -- stockings and blazes -- the flashier the better. He has always, always (since he was a little boy) yearned for a "John Wayne" horse -- a sorrel with four white socks and a blaze. And here, standing in front of me, was a pretty little sorrel with a white main and tail, a huge white blaze, and the promise of four high white stockings. Some part of me knew I had to buy this horse for my daddy, even knowing that he would probably never ride her.

Paul and I took a look at the horses, and we went in the pen and played a little with Mama Horse. Paul said to me (knowing full well the answer already), "You want them, don't you?"

I was raised better. I knew that you were supposed to buy a horse based on what you were looking for, in this case, one I could ride all over. If I were going to buy two horses so that my not-such-a-confident-rider of a husband could ride along with me, I should probably turn around, walk away, and look for a pair of geldings. But, oh, that baby horse. The owners hadn't done a thing with her -- never laid a hand on her, in fact. She hadn't been imnprinted (a training technique used by most horse people -- when the baby is a few hours old, humans rub them all over with a bunch of potentially scary items they will come into contact with as adult horses -- clippers, brushes, blankets, ropes, spray bottles, etc), which many horse people will say leads to untold difficulties training a horse when it's older. The owners also didn't have the mare's registration papers in hand -- they were with the woman from whom they'd bought her, who had promised to send them along, yada, yada, yada. But I just sensed something about that little girl horse -- I had mental visions of my daddy's face when I showed him his dream horse, and I couldn't walk away from that opportunity.

So, three weeks later (after a fence was hastily constructed and I went on an internet crash course in horse ownership, considering it had been 20 years since I'd been responsible for one. Even then, Dad took care of things like feeding and vet bills -- I just showed up and rode when I wanted to.), my horses arrived. I bought a halter for my little baby horse, and the previous owner was brave enough to put it on her while she was containe in the trailer. Mama Horse came off the trailer glad to be free again, and started munching on the lawn. Baby came off rearing and whinnying. Neighbor Claud had hold of her lead rope, and she was NOT happy to be held (a fact which, he thinks, led to the fact that she doesn't particularly care for him to this day). We took them down to their new corral, and let them settle in.

Since I was home from school for the summer, I started working on taming my wild baby. I took a lawn chair and a book down to the corral and just sat down. It took about two days, but finally Little Miss Curiosity decided to nose the strange human to see what she would do. By the time a week had passed, we were practicing being led (not very successfully, but we were practicing.). I decided to name her "Ginger," since she was an ornery little girl.

Flash forward to today -- almost a year later. I've had quite a few people tell me I should just sell the baby and buy a horse I don't need to wait three years to ride. Babies are a pain, why feed a horse you can't ride, blah, blah blah. But, Miss Ginger and I are a team. When I go outside, she comes to the fence to wait for me. She doesn't necessarily follow me around like a dog, but if she's in the pasture and I go out to see her, she comes running up to me. Her pretty flaxen mane and tail have turned black, which is genetically impossible for a sorrel horse. Since Mama Horse is technically black (she's a lovely sort of Hershey's chocolate drenched in sunshine) and Daddy was a dark palomino, Ninny had a 50/50 chance of being black or palomino -- those two colors don't mix, and one dominates the other. However, Daddy was a Peruvian Paso, those lovely Spanish horses who throw their feet to the sides when they walk and always look as if they are in a parade. According to the vet, Peruvian genetics are odd when it comes to color, and he believes that she'll either be a one-of-a-kind sorrel with black and white striped mane and tail, or she'll change color entirely at some point. It doesn't matter to me -- she's going to keep those pretty white legs and big white blaze.

Anyway, today was spa day for the horses. This morning, I went out and gave Angel a bath. Their new pasture is full of poison ivy, and I live in fear of getting it from them. Horses don't usually get poison ivy, but the oil can stay on their coats and transfer to their human caretakers -- not my idea of a good time, and not really very nice to the farrier who was coming out to do their hooves. Paul came out and helped me with Ginger, since she had never had a bath before. She is always really spooky about new things, and I knew this bath would be a two-person operation. Paul tried holding her while I used the hose to wet her down, but she looked like a guest star on "Dancing with the Equines." So, Paul looped her lead rope around the utility pole and let her pull for a bit. Once she figured out she couldn't pull away, she settled down and let me give her a full bath. She even went as far as to drink out of the hose when I held it up to her nose -- she thought that was kind of a fun game.

After lunch, I mixed up a batch of homemade fly spray using Avon's Skin-So-Soft, vinegar, and dish soap. Ninny has never let me spray her, either -- but today was definitely a day of firsts. Once she figured out that the spray wouldn't hurt her, she stood still and let me cover her. I'm not sure if the fly spray will work (I'm not sure any fly spray works out here), but if it can give her some relief, I'll be happy. I even painted her little white nose with sunscreen, since it tends to burn on hot, sunny days. Around 2:00, the farrier came out to do the horse's hooves. This farrier has been out once before, but it was while Paul and I were in DC for Braden's baptism, so the house/horse sitter handled them then. She said that the baby was really well-behaved last time, so she didn't expect any problems this time. Ha! We were putting front shoes on Angel and were halfway through when a huge thunderstorm blew up out of nowhere. We went under the garage, but since it is open to the west, we the wind was blowing fiercely and Angel was not having any of this strange pounding on her feet in concert with lightning and thunder. So, we went down the barn, which is enclosed on three sides and protected from the western storms. Ninny, of course, went with us. After Mama Angel was finished, the farrier decided to go ahead and try to trim Ninny's hooves, since she was pretty calm in the storm and curious about the whole operation.

Even though the rain was sheeting and blowing horizontally in front of the shed, and even though lightning and thunder were cracking overhead, my little baby horse stood like a statue while she had her feet trimmed. The farrier remarked, "Man, this little horse is good. She's a keeper." When we were all finished, the farrier came up and kissed her on the nose, then said to me very seriously, "I have never seen a young horse behave this well with all this going on. It just doesn't happen. If this were my horse, I would never, ever sell her." I couldn't agree more.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who Are You?...and You Haven't Changed a Bit...

There is a strange sort of alchemical magic that occurs when old friends who haven't seen each other for years finally reconnect -- all the time that has elapsed since the last meeting evanesces and conversation picks up right where it last left off.

The first time I experienced this phenomenon was when I met up with my high school friend Liz (who by that time had decided she wanted to be called "Beth" -- talk about your major life changes...) some time after we had both been away to school. With no effort at all, we caught up on what had happened in our lives and reestablished the bonds that had carried us through the joys and horrors of public high school. We manage to get together about once a year, and have become even closer since the miracle of Facebook has plopped us directly in one another's paths -- she gets to read daily updates of my horse and dog stories, and I get to see pictures of her adorable children and hear about their antics.

But I put the timelessness continuum to the test this past weekend. While in college, I was blessed to spend an inordinate amount of time with two friends, Ed and Paige. I met Ed at the beginning of my freshman year -- his dorm room was right next to a friend from high school's, and I feel madly in freshman love with his roommate, who subsequently broke my heart in short order. Ed was there to pick up the pieces and force me to take a reality check look inside. Paige came back to school a few years later, and we immediately became tighter than ticks. All three of us shared a love of politics, karaoke, and time spent with good friends. We managed to take care of one another during the low times in our respective lives, and we celebrated one another's joys and triumphs. When they graduated and I went off to student teach, we vowed to get together often and stay important parts of each other's lives.

And I tried. I have always been a far better correspondent that those with whom I associate, meaning that I tend to send a lot of letters and e-mails to people I care about. Unfortunately, neither Ed nor Paige is all that great about staying in touch, so when combined with my not-so-subtle paranoia about not being liked (Sally Field complex?), I just thought they had moved on with their lives and didn't want me to be a part of it any more. For the first few years, we didn't do too badly, though -- Ed came and spent a week with Paul and I our first winter in Texas and we had a ton of fun, and I spent an evening with Paige in Dekalb while on my way to O'Hare to pick up a flight back to Texas after having visited Mom and Dad. They were both in my wedding -- Ed in the honorary brother role of usher, and Paige as the blue bridesmaid (which refers to the color of her dress, not her mood at my impending nuptials). And that was 13 years ago. Nothing since. I Googled them both through the years and was able to find Paige in Dekalb -- I also found an e-mail address for her and for a while, we e-mailed one another pretty regularly. I also tried to find Ed's address at least once a year to send him a Christmas card (you know, a lot of people poo-poo Christmas cards, but I have to give props to a social institution that forces people to correspond with one another at least once a year in order to keep bonds alive). I always sent the card, and they usually didn't come back, so I'm guessing he probably got them. People Finder on Yahoo is usually fairly accurate, and I knew he was in the Twin Cities, so I was fairly confident when I addressed the Christmas card envelope each year that it had a pretty good shot of landing in his mailbox. When the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis three or so years ago, I took a chance and called the number that was listed in People Finder for him and left a message saying that all I wanted to know was that he wasn't on the bridge when it collapsed, so call me and let me know he's still alive. He did, and we spent over an hour on the phone chatting and remember why we were friends in the first place. At that time, he mentioned that he was planning to ask his long-time girlfriend to marry him that very weekend. He promised to send me a wedding invitation and made sure he had all my numbers and addresses. He also promised to stay in touch this time, and not let another 10 years go by without contacting me.

Never heard from him.

About 6 months ago, Paige bowed to peer pressure and signed up for Facebook. Since that time, we have done a much better job keeping up with one another's lives -- this is the joy of Facebook: instant catching up on the lives of people with whom you share some sort of common bond (even if it's a kid you know because his mom is friends with your mom and with whom you went to elementary school with a million years ago). So, when Paige and I "reconnected" (to borrow FB phraseology), one of my first questions was, "Have you heard from Ed?" I (somewhat grumpily) related my last conversation with him, including his promise to stay in touch this time. She said, "I don't know -- I'm going to call him right now and find out." This is vintage Paige -- meet life head on, and just do it; whereas I tend to prevaricate and think I probably shouldn't just pick up the damned phone since he hasn't called me, and thus must not want me to be in his life, and get all over-reflective and wonder why people don't want to stay in nauseum, ad nauseum.

Two hours later, I get a message from Paige: "Holy Cow! Ed's got a baby! And he's getting married in a few months! You need to e-mail him your address so he can send you an invitation."

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when neither Paige nor I had received an invitation. I was all self-indulgently paranoid and whiny, thinking he didn't really *want* to invite me, when Paige once again gut-checked me (this is why we're such good friends -- she doesn't let me put up with my own crap) and told me to get over myself -- the first thing Ed had said when Paige called him was, "Have you heard from Justine? How is she?" She then went on to say, "Remember -- this is Ed. I'm sure our invitations are still sitting on the kitchen table. I'll call him to see what's going on." That was Tuesday -- the invitation came in the mail on Saturday.

Plans were made, reservations were confirmed, and last Friday, I left Missouri for Cedar Falls. I spent the afternoon and evening with Paige (including experiencing my first-ever pedicure -- it was totally fun, but I'm already tired of my toenail color, and they put some sort of UV coating on it that turned the polish to some sort of industrial car clear coat paint -- I think it will be on there until my toenails fall off...) and family. Her neice is horse-nuts, so I shared all my cell phone photos of the girls with her and told her lots of horse stories (my little girl cool points were way up at that point). We went out for dinner at a restaurant in the building that once my beloved Granny Annie's bakery (sigh -- small sob), then hit the town for drinks (obviously, we've aged -- one drink and I was ready for bed). Around 10:30, we found karaoke -- this was probably the best way for my Cedar Falls life to come full-circle. Ninety minutes and four songs later (thankfully, the place was pretty empty, and there weren't too many singers), we headed for Paige's house, where I took out my contacts and crashed.

The next morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed (this dragging seemed to be a theme for the entire weekend -- my lifestyle these days means being up at the crack of dawn, which precludes staying up late and enjoying the soulful stylings of karaoke queens everywhere; however, this weekend was all about catching up), showered and breakfasted, and then hit the road for Minneapolis. Yahoo maps promised us that our trip would only be 3 hours long or so, but after a wrong turn and road construction, my latent obsessive-compulsiveness regarding being late started to rear its nervous little head. We originally planned to go to the hotel, check in, change, apply faces, and head over to the church. The closer we got, though, the more we realized this plan would not be very likely to fall together as seamlessly as our college "wing it" plans used to. We pulled over at a rest stop about 30 minutes south of the Twin Cities and changed in the bathroom, which was hilarious. One little girl was totally in awe of our beauty and verve as we cosmpolitan ladies brushed on our foundation and lined our eyes -- actually, she just liked our dresses. My dress was white with black flowers. Paige's was black with white designs. I had a black shrug to wear with mine. Paige had planned to bring a sweater, but forgot it at home, so she wore my white eyelet lace camp shirt. We figured that one of us had to be the negative. Regardless, we looked fabulous.

We headed into Minneapolis and faithfully followed our Yahoo maps instructions to the church...well, we intended to, but road construction shut down the exit we needed to get on, and we spent an extra 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get to where we needed to go. By this time, that obsessive-compulsive tendency was starting to really gnaw at me (either that, or it was the Tuscan Herb Baked Lays I had eaten for lunch). We pulled into the parking lot of the church with about 5 minutes to spare, grabbed camera and purses, and headed on in. We ran into Ed as we were waiting to walk into the sanctuary, and he gave us both a big hug before he headed off into the next phase of his life.

It was a lovely, simple ceremony, and when Ed choked up while reciting his vows, Paige and I quietly wiped our tears away from our seats in the corner. At the reception, after all the beginning hoopla and assorted toasts, he made time to come and talk to us at our table. We could tell it meant a lot to him that we had come. Of course, we wouldn't have missed it. We also extracted a promise from him to sign up for Facebook, so that we could definitely keep in closer contact. We talked about a possible reunion in Cedar Falls for homecoming this year, which would be fun.

And then, we danced at his wedding.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

So, we thought we were done making fence last year. "How much pasture can two horses mow down?" we thought. Mother Nature, however, laughed at our naivete and sent a wet, rainy fall, followed by a wet, snowy winter, and a wet, rainy spring. "It's okay," we thought, "all that water will just make the grass grow." And, it might have, had the grass not had eight hooves slogging through the mud in which it was attempting to root and grow. Thus, it's high spring, and once again, my horses have eaten their pasture to dirt.

Recently, we've been letting the horses out into the yard to eat when I'm home to supervise. This works well, since they're really not going to go very far away from their barn. All it takes to get them flying back into their pasture is the sound of grain being poured into their feed pans. I just let their lead ropes drag on the ground and let them eat down the yard. It was actually working pretty well to use them as our organic weed eaters for a while -- they were keeping the sides of the driveway and side walks nicely trimmed for us. The only real drawbacks when we started letting them out were the fact that Lucy and Tucker thought that Ginger Chasing might eventually become a Canine Olympic sport and decided to practice running after her every chance they got. I feared that my little horse would be scarred forever and totally afraid of dogs for the rest of her life, until the afternoon when I watched her go up to the deck where Lucy and Tucker were snoozing and whinny at them, then turn around and run off, then come back and try to get their attention again when they ignored her. The second disadvantage was the fact that our swimming pool is perfectly-sized for Angel to use a watering trough. I don't know if there will be long-term effects from the horses drinking chlorinated water, but I'm not too worried -- I'm not always very good at keeping the chlorine levels high, and she's pretty picky about her water being clean; thus, she'd rather drink from the swimming pool than her own watering trough.

Eventually, though, all chicks must leave the nest, and Angel and Ginger decided to get adventurous. After yet another trip down the road to retrieve the girls from Steve and Lin Masterson's back yard, I finally convinced Paul to let me fence off some more of the top pasture for horse use, even though he is highly unwilling to give up the prairie as a wild critter habitat. Honestly, I don't mind having as much of a buffer as possible between our farm and the next place over -- that neighbor likes to dump his deer carcasses on the tree line that separates our properties, and walking the dogs out that way is always an adventure -- I never know what they're going to get in to when they wander. But, the farm girl in me says it's just silly to let land sit fallow when I've got hungry livestock. The conservationist and the farm girl compromised, though, and we sectioned off some more of the upper pasture to fence off and use as a day pasture for the girls. I'm really hoping that if I block their access to their current pasture, and just turn them out in this upper pasture in the mornings and evenings (I'll put them back in their barn pasture during the heat of the day), the lower pasture will grow. Of course, after the threatened return of Noah and the Ark this spring, we've now gone two weeks without any moisture at all. It's been great for working on my tan, but we could definitely use a nice soaker.

We tackled pounding the fence posts on Sunday morning. Paul, bless his heart, was the one who pounded them all in. Thankfully, the ground hasn't baked too hard yet, and it wasn't nearly as tough a job as last summer's fencing turned out to be. It was hot work, but we (okay, he -- I just carried the fence posts and held them while he pounded them in) go it done in just a few hours.

This morning, I finished it off.

Now, for those who haven't "made" fence before, it's quite a process. We use electric tape fencing, which is suitable for horses and is relatively easy compared to stretching wire and making old-fashioned tensioned electric fences. Pounding the posts in the ground is only half the battle. Once that's done, plastic insulator clips have to be put on the posts at the appropriate heights. The first time I made fence (and special thanks go to neighbor Claud, who showed me how to do it), I measured very carefully from the ground to make sure that all of my clips were precisely at 2 feet and 4 feet. I'm so over that now -- today, when I put the clips on, I put one at knee height and one at boob height. That will just have to do. So the clips are meant to just slide on to the "T" post and wrap around the other side. I suppose they do that on nice, shiny, new T-posts. I'm working with rusty old ones from someone's back yard, though (thanks to my dad, who found them for me cheap -- they're not pretty, but they're functional.), and the insulator clips don't just snap on. After I put the clips on, I had to take a flat blade of some sort (I just used the scissors I took with me to cut the electric tape) and grab the plastic wrap-around section, then maneuver it over the third edge of the post. Not exactly a mental challenge, but still a pain in the butt, considering that I put posts every 14 feet, and there are two clips per post (technically, I should have put the posts every 10 feet and put 3 clips per post, but I'm running out of fence posts, and I'm calling this a "temporary" pasture, so I cut a few corners. I'm sure I'll regret that decision when the horses laugh at my attempt to save money and walk through the fence as if it were spider web). After the clips were on the posts, I had to start stringing the tape. For this project, I used 1/2" electric tape, which is actually plastic threads interwoven with fine metal wires that conduct electricity and pop inquisitive horses on the hose with an electric charge if they decide to try to go through the fence. Electric tape is pretty east to work with -- I just had to tie it to the end post in a knot, then feed it through the clips on the fence posts, stopping at every other post to wrap it around the clip. It's important the tape be taught, so wrapping the tape keeps the tension in the tape. Eventually, the plastic stretches and the fence has to be re-tensioned, but this is just a matter of wrapping it around the guides on the clips to take up any slack in the tape. Once I came to the end of the fence, I had to use an insulated gate handle to make a gate. This meant that I took the end of the tape and tied it to a piece of metal with a hook on one side and a rubber grip around it. I made an "eye" on the existing fence to hook my gate in to, and then I went back and did it all again for the second line of the fence.

Not such a bad job -- three hours of fun in the sun (and yes, I used sunscreen, but I'm still pretty rosy). I only had one tick crawling on me when I was finished, which was actually quite a surprise considering how many thousands of the little fiends are in the grass. I did have an -- ahem -- encounter with a legless occupant of the pasture. When we were out pounding posts on Sunday, Paul was fascinated to find a long snake skin in the pasture line. At that time, he remarked, "Ooooh, I wish I could see the guy who left this." Unfortunately, he was at work this morning when I got that very opportunity. Mr. Humongous Black Snake was sunning himself next to the very fence pole to which I needed to attach clips and fence. I know snakes don't hear well, but I thought that surely he would hear me very politely saying, "Go away, Snake." After all, I repeated it several times, and increased my volume with each repetition. Since he refused to give up his tanning bed and I refused to walk any closer to where he was, I thought about just abandoning the fence project until I had my own personal snake mover home from work. That would have been admitting defeat, though, and I reallly wanted to get this project out of the way. So, I called in reinforcements. I went over to the Mastersons (again -- the horses had wandered over there two times already) and collected my ninja warrior snake-scaring Foxtrotters and sent them down the fenceline to show Mr. Humongous Black Snake just who would be claiming this fence row for the next hour or so. He was gone by the time I got back with the girls, so I just made sure I stomped on the ground really hard whenever I walked through that area. The horses, of course, obliged me by running down the fence row and then hightailing back over to the neighbor's. I don't know why the neighbors' lawn is so much more appetizing than mine, but thankfully, the neighbors have gotten a kick out of looking out their kitchen window and seeing two horses grazing in the yard. I imagine this novelty would wear off quickly, though, and so I am very glad that the fence project is done. Starting this evening, my girls will be mowing down yet another pasture.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Baptism Day

The day was absolutely gorgeous, as only a cloudless spring morning can be. The air was lightly scented with overtones of flowering crab and cherry blossoms -- it's a little early for lilacs in DC, but they'll soon be adding to the potpourri coloring the air.

It was rather comforting to be back in church -- there's something timelss about sitting in a pew surrounded by strangers, and still knowing the liturgy by heart. It's been many years since I've been to a traditional Lutheran church when it wasn't a special service, and it's nice to know I still know all the tunes.

Anyway, Braden was most unhappy to have had his morning breakfast disrupted by a group of people running around the house asking if someone had grabbed the camera, diaper bag, cookie cake, extra clothes, etc. He is at the "no one but Mommy" stage, so while poor Mommy tried to get ready to go, Braden treated us all to an impressive display of lung capacity. Kay was trying really hard to time his feedings so that he would be full, dry, and happy for the baptism. As is the way of babies, though, Braden refused to follow this arbitrary schedule and decided he wanted to finish his interrupted breakfast when church started. Kay took him to the nursery room to feed him. This was going to be okay, though, because the baptism was scheduled to be after the sermon. Because he is a baby and doesn't always follow everyone else's schedule, we also didn't dress him in his little baptismal outfit -- a decision that was borne out the day before when he blew out the brand new little horsey-and-bib-overalls outfit that Justine brought him from Missouri with a "we've been waiting for three days" poop. The pastor assured us that if we quietly took him out and dressed him up in his new little outfit, we'd have plenty of time to get him back in time to walk him to the font during the last stanza of the post-sermon hymn.

Now, in the church in which Kay and I grew up, the sermon was 20 minutes on the dot. Any less, and the old Germans didn't feel they'd gotten their offerings worth; any more, and the farmers started grumbling about missing prime field time in the afternoons. So when Kay hadn't come back by the time the sermon started, I calmly grabbed his little outfit and went to find her so we could get him dressed and happy before his big church debut. I found her and we put him in his little duck romper (the matching hat was a TOTAL no go for him). Since that took less than 5 minutes, Kay thought she'd have another 10 minutes or so to "top him off" and make sure he was dry and happy before we headed back in. She had just gotten him appropriately placed and sat down in the rocking chair when we both heard the unmistakeable strains of the organ -- the hymn had started. We looked at each other in horror and started throwing things into the diaper bag. Grandma Mary came flying through the hall of the church and banged on the door, mouthing, "Get in there NOW!" through the glass. I grabbed Braden and set sail toward the sanctuary, while Kay frantically put herself back together and made sure that nothing was showing that isn't supposed to be showing in church, nursing mother or not.

So, as a result, Braden was NOT "topped off" for his baptism. I most assuredly was NOT his mommy, and he most assuredly was NOT happy with the situation. He spent the entire baptism screaming his displeasure to the congregation while I tried to keep a serene and beatific smile on my face. Kay finally rescued me and took him to try to calm him down. His unhappiness subsided a little, until the pastor took him and started pouring water over his head. That was SO not okay in Braden's world. At least I wasn't the only baby holder for whom he screamed.

So, baptized and sealed with the cross, Braden and family took some requisite pictures after the service, and then we all headed to a local restaurant that specialized in serving bison burgers. I just couldn't convince myself to take the plunge -- I went for regular cow.

We went back to the house, changed clothes, and just hung out while we tried to work up the motivation to get back on the road and leave. After two days, Paul was starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of holding the baby (he lives in fear that he's going to drop one), so those two snuggled in together for a while. Braden tried on the cowboy boots that I brought him -- too big, but oh my stars are they cute, and Grandpa Tom put together his rocking horse that came from Missouri.

It was pretty hard (let's be honest -- I'm a Puck descendant, and so are Mary and Kay, so there were tears involved) to say goodbye, but we finally got the car loaded and headed back east around 4:00. Paul was just as disappointed to go flying by all the Civil War battlefields on the way back as he was to have to do it on our way in. He consoled himself by sticking the camera out the window and shooting pictures of the Allegany mountains while we passed through them. I can't say they're great photos, but they're not too bad for being shot through the window at 80 miles per hour!

We drove to Cambridge, Ohio, where we spent waaay too much on a motel room and crashed. The next day we had a lazy morning, enjoyed the free (snort -- it ought to have been free for as much as the room cost) continental breakfast, and hit the road at a leisurely 9:30. We barreled on through and made it back home before dark.

There's a strange sort of disconnectedness this week, as if I'm still expecting to walk through the door and see family. I also downloaded our pictures as soon as we got home, and it was a very odd notion to think that only 48 hours earlier, I had been standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gazing over the Reflection Pool at Congress and the Washington Monument.

It's good to be home, but a small part of my heart now lives in Washington, DC. I can't wait to go back again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Home Again

Ahhh...the joys of MAP testing. Every year, the state of Missouri in its infinite wisdom, forces students from grades 3-8 through an annual rite of passage designed to make them hate the idea of formal education from now to perpetuity. Of course, this test is mandated by the Federal government, who wants to make sure that we teachers are leaving No Child Behind, especially including those who we drag kicking in screaming into the next levels of knowledge. This test, the Missouri Assessment Program, is a weeklong odyssey into the joys of essay questions, reading comprehension, and number 2 pencils. And so, here we are -- my younguns are calculating away as we speak, and as I'm not allowed to look at the questions on their test (Heaven forbid I actually know what's going to be asked so that I have a better idea of how to prepare them for it), I'm sitting at my desk trying to avoid paper grading by adding to my blog.

But I digress.

Paul and I arrived back home last night as the sun was setting over the pasture. Our dogs were thrilled to see us, as we were them. The cats ignored us until it was time for them to be fed (in the way of cats everywhere, and the horses just wanted to be fed and brushed -- five days of warm weather have turned their winter coats into a shaggy burden they're almost desperate to be freed from.

We arrived in Broadlands around 9:30 Eastern time last Friday night, and immediately got to see Braden as Bret was trying to put him to sleep (to no avail -- Braden is in serious "Mommy and NO ONE else" mode these days). After blowing up the airbed, Paul and I crawled in and I was treated to an hour of Paul and Jon (my cousin's son, who is 29 going on 17) giggling like schoolgirls as they caught up -- those two get along like a house on fire. At one point, I was afraid I was going to get out the nail polish so they could do each other's toenails during their all-night slumber party. Seriously, they both turn into 12-year-olds in each other's presence -- complete with fart jokes and ogling good-looking women.

So the next morning, we got up and nibbled on some breakfast. I ventured out into the wild of the DC suburbs in search of panty hose and a razor for Jon, who had left his at home thinking he wouldn't be able to take it on the plane. Kay loaned me her Garmin GPS, which is perhaps the coolest toy with which I've played so far this year. It directed me right to Target, and, mission accomplished, I headed back for the townhouse. Bret, Jon, Paul, my cousin Rita, and I all piled into Bret's car for a day of sightseeing. We went first to the Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian exhibit at Dulles International Airport. Fascinatingly enough, admission to the Smithsonian is free, but a $15 parking fee applies. The museum was interesting, but it wasn't necessarily "my thing," so I took the requisite tourist photos of the space shuttle Enterprise (no Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, so I wasn't so interested)
and the Enola Gay.
We then went up in the observation tower, which allowed us to see (and hear) Dulles. Unfortunately, no planes came in for a landing while we were up there, so I took some more tourist photos and we headed back to ground level. We met Kay, Mary, Tom, and baby Braden for lunch at an interesting little sandwich shop called "Potbellies." I was afraid for a moment that it was due to the fat content of the food, but I soon was reassured to learn that it was due to the pot-bellied stove in the corner.

Then came the fun part. Our tourist group headed to East Falls Church to pick up the Metro and head downtown to see the sights. Unfortunately, last weekend was Cherry Blossom Festival time in DC, so the Metro was packed -- not so horribly on the way in, but I never want to relive the ride back out. We got off at the Smithsonian stop and walked up and on to the Mall. We started walking toward the Washington Monument (stopped to use the bathrooms there), and then headed for the World War II Memorial. We kept on cruising around the Reflecting Pool and toward the Vietnam Veteran's War Memorial. I had seen all these sights many years ago, so I got a kick out of watching Jon and Paul (still giggling like little girls) and Rita see it all for the first time. I also was trying to take lots of cool tourist photos. We headed over from The Wall to the Lincoln Memorial, at which point I decided that my feet hurt and there was no way I was climbing all those darned steps -- Lincoln was still sitting up there, according to what I could see on a penny, so I was just going to take it on faith that he wasn't going anywhere. Paul, Jon, and Rita, headed up there and Bret and I took a breather while we waited for them to check it out. After that, we headed down the other side of the Reflection Pool and went into the Korean War Veteran's Memorial. I had not seen this one before (that I could remember), and I was really moved by the knowledge that four of my five uncles had served during this war. Part of the monument is an etched marble wall that has faces of many people who served in Korea, and I swore that I could see my Uncle Woody in the face of one young sailor. I turned to my cousin Rita and said, "Look -- there he is before this damn war changed him." Too many young men went over to Korea and came back to fight demons so strong no amount of alcohol could drown them.

Even though it was Cherry Blossom Festival weekend, the cherry blossoms were gone (ARRRRGGGGHHH!), so I didn't get to take any tourist pictures of them. We cruised back down toward the Metro station, stopping every once in a while to check out women (Jon and his oh-so-helpful cousin, Paul), scenery (Rita and me), or tell the family tourists something cool about the area (Bret).

Finally, we got back on the Metro and headed back. We were at the back of the car, and Rita and I got separated from the rest of the group. We herded outselves like good little sheep to the back of the car, where we quickly found out that we had nothing to hang on to. The seats were packed, and the boys all had overhead bars to hang on to. There was also someone already leaning against the back escape door, so we just tried to braced ourselves and "surf" the starts and stops of the Metro car. Not so well. It was only a half hour ride, but by the time it was over, I was ready for a shower a nap. Paul weathered his first subway ride with flying colors; in fact, he had the people around him in stitches by giving relationship advice to other commuters. I was worried about him, knowing how uncomfortable he is in crowds and new situations, but every time I located him through the throng of humanity, he was surrounded by laughing people and holding court like Buddha at the Temple.

That night, we went to a Japanese steakhouse for dinner. Jon was completely not interested in the whole hibachi thing, but Paul and I convinced him to give it a chance. By the end of the night, he had decided it was a really good time, and really good food, to boot. Of course, the Singapore Slings he and Paul were drinking probably made things look even more rosy. That night, we came back and baked Braden's big cookie (easier to transport than a cake). Paul, true to form, got his hand slapped by both Mary and Kay for trying to sneak cookie dough out of the bowl. He was mollified, though, when they gave him ALL the extra icing after it was frosted. I swear, the man thinks that powdered sugar and Crisco is a food group.

Anyway, this post is approaching record length, so I'll continue with the story later.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Good Morning! Motel 6 has, in their infinite generosity, provided free wireless internet access. Thus, I am spending that thirty minutes it takes Paul to get motivated to get in the shower (and which I usually spend grinding my teeth, sighing obviously, and checking my cell phone for the time) checking my e-mail and starting the chronicling of our getaway weekend. We didn't get a nice, early start yesterday afternoon. Then again, we always have good intentions of getting away early and never do. We hit the road last night at 6:41, which actually worked well for avoiding rush hour traffic in St. Louis. We didn't quite make it through STL unscathed, though -- the exit to get to Illinois on I-70 is closed and a lovely flashing sign instructed us to "use alternate exit." Of course, the happy sign did NOT tell us WHICH alternate exit we should use. The next several exits were closed, and it appeared that we were well on our way to Memphis by the time I told Paul to chill out (he was cussing up a veritable hurricane and trying to read our ancient atlas in the dark), and pulled off, made a left, and got back on the interstate going north (west?). He yelled, "What are you doing that for?" I replied calmly, "The exit was closed, not the road. I figure eventually we'll come back to I-70 and the northbound exit won't be closed.." About 5 minutes later, we were crossing the Mississippi.

We drove until 10:30 (well, I drove until 9:30 and started making some strong hints about stopping for the night. Paul took over and decieded that we'd just call it at 10:30). We could have made Terre Haute in another hour, but we also knew that the time zone switch occurs in Terre Haute, so getting in at midnight would mean it would automatically have been 1:00, and that just wouldn't have set us up for a good day today. We are in Effingham, Illinois -- seems like a pretty big burg for the middle of Illinois, but it looks like we're just in the middle of Interstate land, since there are tons of chain motels, restaurants, and truck stops/gas stations.

The Motel 6 chain are not the most luxurious of hotel chains; however, I flat refused to go to the Hilton Garden Inn or some other pricey place when all we were planning to do was fall into bed and get up to shower the next day.

So, soon we'll be on our way to Washington, DC! We have to go through Indiana and Ohio -- I think we'll be able to hit Columbus by lunch. I packed a cooler full of lunch-y type food, so we'll find a nice park somewhere and try to save some pennies by picnicking. After that, the Yahoo Map I downloaded gets a bit more complicated. I'm a little nervous about driving in Virginia, but I know I'd better be the one at the wheel. If Paul tries to do it, we'll see the advent of several brand-new cuss words.

And tonight, we meet our Braden for the first time! We are so excited to spend the weekend with family (and to be gawky tourists in DC). Paul is a bit disappointed that he won't be able to go to Congress and tell them how he really feels about them, but so far, he's been accepting of my telling him it just doesn't work that way. I think he'll be satisfied to see the monuments.

We're on our way!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Faux Finishes, Part Deux

Painting in one's underwear smacks of a certain level of freedom...and perhaps a bit of decadence. When the reason one is painting in one's underwear, however, is that the laundry isn't done, we have to assume that there is no Bohemian spirit at work...just a need to protect one's few remaining pairs of pants that fit from the ravages of Valspar's Brushed Suede paint in the lovely shade known as "Palomino Blanket."

I awoke this morning excited to finish the painting aspect of Project Redecorate the Spare Bedroom. Knowing that I only had 1/3 of the can of paint left, I read the Paint Man's faux finish brochure instructions once again, making sure that I was following them closely so as to not waste the horridly expensive stuff. I took out the 4 inch faux finish brush that I paid the equivalent of 10 toothbrushes for, dipped it confidently into the paint, and started to make random x patterns on the wall. After I finished an entire wall ("Only three to go!" I thought excitedly), I stepped back to admire the "subtle undertones that evoke the texture of brushed suede," as promised in the Paint Man's brochure.

It pretty much looked like I didn't have enough paint and just missed several sections. The undertones didn't evoke the texture of anything except the plain off-white walls I have been attempting to cover up. Oh crap.

So now I'm on Plan B. I ordered more paint from Lowe's, and Paul will pick it up on his way home from work. I used to what paint I had left to roll a second coat on to two of the walls. Then, when I get more paint, I'll finish rolling a second coat on the third wall, wait for it to dry, and start doing the faux finish technique on the walls that now have two coats. I guess I'll just do the whole x thing again on the walls I did this morning. I've effectively managed to add another day to the paint process, but I am undaunted. This spare bedroom will be finished during break, and it will be wickedly cool. Mr. Paint Man and I cordially invite you to come see my subtle undertones.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Faux Finishes

For some reason, the onset of a break from school means I feel an inner compulsion to take on a project. Of course, I simply refuse to think of cleaning the house in terms of italicized, and bolded letters, so that never qualifies as a project.

And thus begins Spring Break, and my quest to spruce up the spare bedroom, also known as Paul's garage and my saddle storage room. Not being a total cretin, I have, in the past, made a few futile attempts to decorate said room by making a very cute quilted valance for the windows and using the leftover fabric to make a wall hanging of sorts.

But now, I've decided to go for the gusto. I started my day with a trip to Lowe's -- the Holy Grail of house stuff for me. I've been researching faux finishes -- somehow, I got in my head the idea that it would be very "cool" to make the walls look like leather. While that faux finish is probably well beyond my abilities, I did watch a few online videos about different faux finishes available for those of us who face the daily struggles of being decorating-challenged. After consultation with a gum-snapping paint clerk who readily admitted she didn't know anything about faux finishes, I perused the different options and decided to go with something known as "Brushed Suede." Supposedly, the finished product is supposed to mimic the muted undertones of suede. All I know is that the paint chip looked pretty cool, and the instructions seemed idiot proof.

So I was wrong.

A few observations for those of you out there contemplating a redecorating project that involves painting:

1. Don't.
2. If you decide to go ahead with it anyway, be assured that no matter how many times you watch the damned video on the internet, your experience will in NO WAY match that of Mr. Professional Paint Guy.
3. Be sure to practice your repertoire of swear words in advance. You'll need them.
4. Paint that is designed to have a faux finish probably has something in it. If you go with Brushed Suede by Valspar (available exclusively at Lowe's), it will be a form of silica (according to the can). If I remember my chemistry correctly, that means that what I've got sticking to me everywhere is sand that has been added to paint. As if the paint itself wasn't hard enough to wash out of the the paneling...out of my hair...
5. Don't move the bed out of the room. You'll need it to jump up and down on as you try to roll paint to the top of the wall connected to the vaulted ceiling.
6. Putting a bar stool on the bed to stand on so that you can more easily reach the top of the wall is not such a good idea, especially when you're holding a loaded paint roller.
7. If you throw the comforter in the wash immediately after dropping a loaded paint roller on it, the paint comes out pretty well.
8. Make sure you have all the walls finished before you walk out of the room, slam the door, and wonder who in the world's fantastic idea this was.

The good news is that the base coat is on. I now have to wait four hours before I can start with the top coat. Considering that it would mean I'd be painting all night, I think I'll just play Scarlett O'Hara and sigh, "Oh well, tomorrow is another day." Besides, it may take me that long to work up the courage to go back in there.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In the Midst of Joy We Are in Sorrow

I'm tired today -- drained by a whirlwind 36-hour trip to Iowa for the visitation and funeral services of my Uncle Kenny, who passed away on Sunday after a long goodbye. Kenny had Parkinson's disease, and it slowly enervated his strength and abilities year after year. He was in a coma for some time before his death, and as my mom said, "The stubborn ol' Swede just wouldn't give it up." His death was met with sorrow at losing a part of our family, but also a sense of relief that someone who so richly loved his life while he enjoyed it would no longer be a prisoner to a disease that changed him into someone he was never meant to be.

But, as is somewhat traditional in our family, this visitation was full of laughter through tears. All of Kenny's children were able to make it home from the far corners of the country in time to say goodbye to their father, so the shock of his passing was mitigated by their opportunity to make their farewells. We got to see Myron and his family, who live in Washington state, and Sandra and her husband Jeff, who make their home in Colorado. A stready stream of friends, neighbors, and family made their way through a receiving line where hugs and memories were exchanged. My cousins faithfully arrived throughout the course of the visitation, and we made our way through the queue, ending with the iron strength of my Aunt Tootie (who is, without doubt, one of people I most admire in this world), then retired to a side room where we caught up on one another's lives -- it had, of course, been a long time since our annual Thanksgiving reunion. We laughed about life, and fondly remembered Kenny as a slide show of pictures from his life flashed across a screen.

Afterwards, my parents, my brother and his wife, and my cousin Mary and family all went out for pizza at a local restaurant. Paul, Rich, my dad, my crazy, wonderful cousins (Jon and Lee), and their dad (Tom) sat at one end of the table and listened to my father, Wally the Great Storyteller, pass on joke after joke. Mary, Mom, my brother's wife (Toni), and I oohed and aahed over Mary's new grandbaby brag book (this amazing, incredible, wonderful grandbaby is my new soon-to-be godson, Braden). It was a loud, boisterous, almost raucous evening where we laughed and ate and made plans to travel to Virginia in a month for Braden's baptism. Jon, Paul, and Lee have decided that they don't care about seeing Washington's historical sites -- they're more interested in trying out the DC night life. We laughed and told stories and enjoyed every minute of our time together, even knowing that the next day, we would meet at the church I grew up in to say goodbye to our uncle.

But that's just part of what makes my family so important to me -- we take any opportunity to love each other. We gather together in sickness and in health, in sadness and in joy. That's what makes us family -- we find joy even in our sorrow, and we live knowing that our family is what gives us roots to hold us firm and branches to allow us to touch all the wonderful things in life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's an Honor Just to be Nominated...

So the phone rang last Sunday afternoon. It was my cousin's daughter, Kay, who recently had her first baby, an adorable little guy named Braden. She lives in Ashburn, Virginia, which is pretty much Washington D.C. I couldn't figure out why she was calling me, of all people, and on a Sunday afternoon to boot. I thought perhaps she was calling at the urging of Mary, my cousin, who asked me to order a book for the upcoming little tyke way last Thanksgiving, which I agreed and them promptly forgot to do. I was all set to tell her that I had, in fact, ordered the book from Amazon and that it was on its way, when she said, "The reason I was calling is because Brett and I were wondering if you and Paul would be godparents for Braden."

Me? A godmother?

Perhaps second to my life's sadness at not being a mother is another, softer layer of quiet grief at not being a godmother. My godmother, Eileen, was such an integral part of my life that I mourn her every day, and remember her with joy every time I walk past my china cabinet, which is part of her legacy to me. The other part is my fierce determination to fight for the underdog and absolute refusal to accept bullying of those who are different physically or mentally. Eileen spent her entire life fighting palsy, a physical disability that made the simplest acts like brushing her teeth or drinking a cup of coffee a challenge that would be insurmountable to most of us. She lived her life with quiet grace and didn't complain about what she had to work harder to do. Her soul was one of the purest I have ever known, and her death was marked with a rainbow that I know to my bones was sent by God to welcome her into a home in which she would never again have to worry about the limitations of her physical self. My godmother was so important to me that she sat next to my mother at my wedding, and Paul and I presented her with a rose during the ceremony, along with my mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother-in-law.

When my nephew was born and my husband was asked to be his godfather, I cried a little inside. Okay, I cried buckets. I was angry and hurt that I wasn't perceived as "good enough" to be considered as his godmother, whether it be because I'm not Catholic (they are) or because she chose her best friend from childhood for the honor. It's still a wound that goes deep enough that I have never talked about it with my sister-in-law. I'm sure she never thought of it as excluding me, even though that's how I perceived it. Pushing my completely-non-active-in-the-Church-recovering-Catholic husband to be involved with his godson's religious life is really one of those character-building activities for me. There's a small grain of sand in my gut that irritates every time someone brings up the fact that Paul is Jordan's godfather, and sandpaper that wears away when they ask why I'm not his godmother, too. I try to be tactful, mature, and graceful when I answer, but I'm sure that "I just wasn't good enough" has slipped through my lips before my mental filter could catch it.

But now, a woman who I had a very small part in raising (Kay was my first babysitting project, and I still remember several Halloweens of wearing my boots and jeans to look like a cowgirl so I could take her trick-or-treating around the streets of Walcott when she was little) and her husband (a man I didn't meet until their wedding) have asked me to accept the responsibility of being a part of their child's life. Honestly, I never even expected to know this child other than through pictures and stories. The fact that we are two full generations apart, and that he lives an entire country away, would pretty much preclude the idea of him "hanging out" with me for the weekend.

But I'm going to be his godmother. I'm going to stand at an altar and pledge to assist his parents in raising him as a child of God. What an amazing gift. I'm humbled, and grateful to be thought worthy of the honor.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wally's Kid

I just had a patron at the library check out, and when she handed me her card, I remarked, "Oh, you're Dillon's Mom!" She laughed at told me how growing up she had always been "Dwight's sister," and now she's pretty much known as "Dillon's Mom." She wondered if she would ever be known just as herself.

Well, that got me thinking.

Growing up, I felt that my identity was alwasy intrinsically tied to my parents'. Being the daughter of the local barber always meant that I had to do my sinning three counties over, because anything and everything naughty that happened in town was hashed and rehashed over stale coffee and conversation at Wally's Clip Joint. In fact, the only behavioral dictate my mom ever gave me was "Don't do anything you're going to regret later in life," and the only one my dad ever gave me was, "Don't EVER let me hear your name in this barber shop." I had to completely grow up and move away to stop being known as "Wally's kid" or "Jeannie Puck's (you know, she married the barber) girl."

But forging a completely new identity was hard. There's something very Midwestern-y, small town cool about being able to identify yourself as your parents' child and having people immediately know your family tree. Then again, I was lucky enough to have been born to an illustrious family tree known for its good folks and fine roots. I've never been ashamed to be "Wally's kid" (even though I did go through the requisite "my dad's a weirdo and I can't stand to be seen in public with him) phase that is pretty normal for teenagers.

In fact, I'm lucky that even though I have to earn my position in society today by my words and deeds, there is still a place out there that I get to visit every once in a while where I can walk in, say "Hi" to the locals, and go about my business. Then, when I get up to go, I'm gratified to hear as I walk out the door, "Oh, who's that? That's Wally's kid!"