Monday, August 13, 2012

Scarecrow's attire was truly my worst nightmare

Original print date August 14, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

Can you sense it? The hint of cooler evenings and pleasant days – fall is just around the corner and I’m so ready for it.
Fall is by far my favorite season and time of year. The months of September and October are more enjoyable than any other timeframe. The cooler evenings just put me in a better mood. I can work outside for a while after getting off of work. The crockpot can make its way back to the counter top and be used for warm soups and ready to eat dinners of an evening. Okay, so maybe I’m rushing it a little since it is still August but the start of school and football season always makes me wish I could slow the clock down and enjoy the beautiful fall weather for six months instead of just two or three.
I don’t tend to do a lot of decorating for the seasons around my house these days. Putting them all up is always a lot of fun but taking them down is a pain. I do occasionally build a creative scarecrow to wave at (or moon) the neighbors as they drive by but scarecrows always bring up “the” discussion I wish would just go away.
When Larry and I were first married, I decorated for every season and holiday. I would put my creative energy to use in trying to come up with the most unique holiday display in the neighborhood. That first fall, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Larry was working long hours at his job so one evening I went to work on my creative endeavor.
I actually had two goals in mind when I started building my friendly scarecrow. Not only was I decorating the front yard, I was also going to get rid of the most hideous shirt ever crafted by the fashion industry. Larry had this so called shirt that I could not stand to see him wear. The material looked like someone had picked up all the clippings off a sewing room floor and slapped them together to make one last shirt. I’m pretty sure the manufacturer wondered if anyone would even buy it off the rack. It was an atrocious combination of stripes, plaids, polka dots, flowers, and swirls. There was not one solid color patch anywhere on that shirt.
Much to my dismay, my husband was the one human on the face of the earth that thought that shirt was cool. Needless to say, since it was buried on the clearance/closeout rack, it was a cheap purchase. I tried to tell him there was a reason it remained on the rack and was dirt cheap but he bought it anyway. He proudly wore it, in public, even though I begged and pleaded with him on a daily basis to get rid of that atrocious, monster of a shirt.
As I started gathering the needed supplies for my fall scarecrow, I naturally dug in Larry’s clothes pile for materials. Jeans full of holes so the straw would pour out – check. Old cowboy hat well beyond good use – check. Gloves, old boots, and ratty leather belt – check. Shirt? My prayers were answered. I could finally get rid of that shirt once and for all. Surely after sitting in the beating sun, rain, and maybe even a snow flurry or two Larry would let it go!
I assembled my man, perched him atop several bales of hay and adorned his surroundings in appropriate fall d├ęcor. I was pretty proud of my first fall masterpiece when I was done. I made my way back into the trailer we called home and cooked up the perfect fall supper.
Larry didn’t come home until well after dark. I excitedly asked him if he noticed the work of art in the front yard. Of course not, it was dark and he was tired. He left before the crack of dawn the next morning so I still didn’t get a reaction to my handiwork.
I’m not exactly sure how many days went by before he actually noticed the seasonal arrangement but even before he made his way into the house, I knew. The screech of slamming brakes and the sound of Larry’s truck grinding into reverse echoed through the house.
He didn’t come in the house for a while. I didn’t venture outside to see what he was up to either. When he finally came in, he had the shirt in hand. My arrangement had been mangled. He put the shirt in the washing machine and gave me a look that dared me to try something like that ever again. I rarely back down from a dare!
His work schedule kept him away from home of an evening for several nights in a row. The challenge to not reassemble my friendly character was just too much to ignore on my lonely evenings. I managed to find where Larry had stored the shirt for safekeeping and recreated my masterpiece.
I’m not sure if he just decided to let it go or if when he finally realized the shirt was back on the scarecrow it was beyond saving. I left the fall scenery up way past it’s prime that year in hopes of the material on the shirt rotting away. Material that ugly does not rot but it did fade bad enough that Larry did not try to save it when we finally put all the fall decorations away to make room for Christmas.
Twenty some years later that shirt still haunts me. It was long ago disposed of but every year, when the first scarecrows start adorning the front yards from Salisbury to our house, Larry reminds me how I ruined a perfectly good shirt with that nonsense. Every year I remind him that was not a shirt. It was a science experiment gone terribly wrong.
Larry dreams of finding another patchwork shirt to replace the one I supposedly ruined. I dream of ways to dispose of it promptly and without fanfare. I just hope it is burnt far beyond saving when he gets the hot dog on a stick held over the fire. My luck he will abandon the hot dog and use the stick to save the shirt.

Weekend house guests makes for loads of entertainment

Original print date August 7, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

There are so many perks to being an aunt. I’ve spent years perfecting the spoil them and send them home technique. I even have the payback technique down to an art these days since my siblings were so good at hyping mine up and sending them home as well. A couple of weekends ago, Larry and I entered a whole new realm of being an aunt and uncle. We are once again honing our spoiling skills with the great niece and nephew but that weekend, we learned a new skill – dog sitting!
As my nephew took the family on a long weekend, we were asked to dog sit the most precious family pet – the weiner dog Annie. Little did we know the entertainment factor in dog sitting for the active and rambunctious dog would be far more valuable than anything money could buy.  Annie is a rescue dog. Therefore, Annie loves life and exploring every crack and corner that life offers. This translates to Annie annoyed the daylights out of two cats for three solid days.
Annie has far more energy than her appearance would lead you to believe. If you stretch the tape measure to the last possible mark, her legs might be four inches long. The sum total of all four legs is about a foot short of totaling the length of her body from nose to tip of tail. It does not affect her ability to cover ground in record time. It does lead to some problems for her in body control at times though.
We first witnessed this after letting her out of the kennel the first evening she was with us. Her curiosity led her to exploring the house – much to Zoey’s dismay. I wasn’t sure what caused the commotion at first. I heard a snarling scream from the cat followed closely by the clickety-click of Annie’s pursuit down the hallway. Zoey was on record setting pace through the dining room and into the kitchen with Annie close behind.
The corner to the basement steps where Zoey sought refuge was no problem for the nimble cat. Annie tried her best to stay on track but unlike Zoey who knew to slow down before making the sharp turn, Annie failed to slow for the hairpin left. Her front half made it just fine. Unfortunately, the momentum of her back half caused the apple cart to overturn. She rolled into the refrigerator door. Zoey’s cat instinct told her what was coming because she stopped at the top step of the stairs to watch the wreck that was going to happen.
I will give Annie credit though. She didn’t give up. The next morning as I was making breakfast, I witnessed a repeat performance. The clickety-click of her toenails once again caught my attention. Annie slowed down for the first hairpin turn but failed to factor in the quick second turn before hitting the first step. She took out the trashcan that time. Zoey was about three steps down before she stopped this time. I know that cat was laughing.
Larry came home from work and we were fixing lunch when the curtain was raised on the third act. By this time, I figured out what started the commotion to begin with. Annie found the cat food. Zoey was not impressed and would take a swipe at the poor, starving dog every chance she got which led to the high-speed chase. The third time proved to be a charm for Annie though. Zoey once again stopped about three steps down waiting for the crash and burn she just knew was about to happen. Much to Zoey’s surprise, Annie made the corner this time and was one step away from inflicting revenge before Zoey realized Annie had learned to navigate the corner. They disappeared into the depths of the basement. The racket that followed had me concerned for Annie’s safety. Jake assured me all the critters were safe. Annie had Zoey “treed” and was baying like a full-blooded coonhound.
The fun didn’t stop there. Later that evening, Zoey once again took offense at Annie helping herself to a snack from the cat food container. Since she now knew Annie could navigate through the kitchen, she took a different route.
The clickety-click once again echoed through the house. Larry looked up to watch the show only to be shocked at becoming a character in their production. Instead of the right turn into the kitchen, Zoey made a left into the living room, ducked under the foot rest of Larry’s chair, jumped onto the couch and disappeared over the ledge of the window into the stairwell and to safety.
Not to be outdone, Annie decided to take a shortcut and try to cut Zoey off at the pass. Annie made the first left hand turn with precision. All body parts were cooperating. Her back half was staying in the tracks blazed by the front half. Instead of following the sneaky cat, Annie took a short cut. She leapt over the armrest on Larry’s chair and raced across his arm, stomach and legs. The footrest served as a perfect springboard to the couch. Annie was in perfect timing to beat the cat at her own game.
Thankfully, Larry was not taking an evening nap and his reflexes were sharp. Annie was positioned perfectly at the top of the couch and the bottom of the window overlooking the stairwell ready to pounce on Zoey with one quick motion when Larry grabbed her before she fell to her death. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to explain to my young niece and nephew that my cat tricked their dog into suicide on the stairs.
Sunday afternoon brought an end to our weekend of entertainment. Annie went back home to her real family. Chloe came out of hiding finally. She had disappeared at the first sign of our house guest. Zoey plopped down in the middle of the living room with great fanfare when she realized the offending house guest was gone. She could once again eat in peace.
Larry and I made sure to put our names at the top of the list to dog sit again. We could not rent all the movies at the movie store and be as entertained. I’m sure Zoey will not be impressed if Annie comes back to visit. Even Shylo seemed to sigh a breath of relief when Annie left.
All the commotion in the house was just too much for Shylo to take in three short days. Who knows, maybe we will just borrow Annie a couple of nights this winter to go coon hunting. She seems to have a knack for treeing the cat. Maybe she can find us enough coons to generate Christmas funds this year.

The family that floats together has a lot of stories to tell

Original print date July 17, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

The family that floats together ... has lots of stories to tell!  The annual family float trip is over and I’m exhausted. Not because of the trip itself – I want to go back for more. It’s the unpacking, washing of clothes, and putting everything away that wears me out. But it is worth every ounce of energy it takes to recover.
Last week I told you about my lack of luck in the fishing department. Thankfully, that did get better – the last day we were there. In my defense, one of the naturalists at the lodge did say everyone was having a hard time catching much this year since the river was down and it had been so hot. I’ll stick with that excuse.
Once again the float trip was a memorable day. There were 22 of us in five rafts and enough food to feed everybody that floated by us that day. Yes, floated by us!  We got on the river about 10:30 a.m. and came off at 7:30 that night. We live by the motto that it is a “float” trip, not a “paddle” race. The only time the paddles tend to hit the water are when we come to a dead stop or if we need to direct ourselves away from hanging trees or clumps of grass on the edge. Snakes like those areas and staying away from snakes is a priority for most of us.
It isn’t hard to tell if the raft Larry is in gets anywhere near a snake. As it speeds past everyone else, I find myself looking for the motor mounted on the back. I then realize they don’t need a motor when Larry sees a snake. He paddles fast enough to outpace any outboard manufactured.
Several years ago we started renting the rafts versus the canoes. Several in the family cannot swim and we have increasing numbers of smaller cousins joining the floating crew every year so it made sense. The rafts won’t tip, dumping anyone into deep water. That doesn’t mean everyone stays dry.
It has become a tradition for the young men in the family to take Uncle John down at some point on the trip. This year was no exception. I made sure Zane and Mariska both had water guns insuring Donald wouldn’t have a dry spot on him the whole way. They take great pride in not only soaking him but anyone within range. Of course, we return the favor! 
My beautiful niece Heather decided I should go for a swim this year and swim I did – unintentionally. The water on her side of the raft was about stomach deep so she caught me not looking her way and off the side we went. Much to her surprise and mine, the water was much deeper on my side of the raft. Thank goodness I was close enough to the raft to grab a handle when I came back up and made it the five feet to shallower water. Revenge was pretty sweet though. I happen to catch her napping, face down on the raft and a paddle to the posterior served as payback.
We did have one unusual sighting this year. For the first time in nine years, we had a shark trailing one of our rafts. It was a little weird hearing the shark singing the Jaws theme song as he moved in closer to his prey. Never fear!  My sister has pretty good aim with a boat paddle and managed to make contact scaring the shark right out of the water and back to his raft. My guess is the shark – shall we call it Doug – won’t be looking for prey in the Current River next year.
I’m not sure why we rent a raft for Jake anymore. Our trip this year was an eight- mile adventure and I’m positive Jake was in the water for at least seven and a half miles. At least this year the group of boys in that raft didn’t flip it over and use it as a trampoline and diving board when they hit deep water.
When everyone loaded up and made it back to camp, Grandma Bonnie had enough food for an army cooked up to feed us all. After a full day in the sun, everyone was hungry and it all disappeared pretty quickly.
Not every memory from this year’s trip happened on the river.  Anyone that has camped at Montauk knows the chance of being visited by a skunk at camp of an evening is pretty high.  We had more than one encounter with our striped friends this year.  From digging in our trash to helping themselves to the leftover biscuits on the table, they certainly made their presence known. 
The evening the “kids” of the group decided to direct one out of the campground so they could visit in peace was almost entertaining.  As Joni came screaming into my trailer to watch from the almost closed door, I learned of the plan.  The skunk happened to be under my trailer at the time so I quickly informed the young men doing the skunk herding if it sprayed, I was taking one of their vehicles home.  The skunks are used to all the humans invading their terrain so fortunately for me and my living quarters, it never sprayed.  Even when grabbed by the tail and gently guided to the neighbors lot.
We laugh every year when we roll into the campground at Montauk. There is always somebody who hasn’t experienced this family reunion that comes up and asks where we left the horses. Some of the campers remember us from years past. It is kind of hard to forget all the horse trailers grouped together and our cook shack tent. We can’t help but have a good time when everybody gets together for breakfast every morning and supper every night.
It seems kind of crazy that all 24 members of my family pack up and drive the four plus hours every year to spend three days together acting like complete idiots. Everyone in the family but one lives within 10 miles of each other, but every year we gather the troops and head south for another float trip and fishing excursion.
Memories are made on and in the river that will forever be a part of our family. Every year we add a story to the float trip memory book. This year we had Jaws, the twitter patting armadillos, and close encounters with the skunk world. Only 51 more weeks until we write chapter 10 in that book and I can’t wait!

God has a sense of humor

Original print date July 10, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

God has quite the sense of humor. My family goes on a float trip and trout fishing vacation every summer and I have resisted being bit by the fishing bug for many years. Last year, it finally sought me out and bit hard. God’s sense of humor kicked in because he also started whittling away at my patience about the same time.
For anyone who enjoys trout fishing in Missouri State Parks, you know exactly how much fun and frustrating it can be all wrapped into one big wad of fishing line. For anyone who has never been, I have a little bit of explaining to do.
The spring fed rivers in southern Missouri provide a great place for the state to release hatchery-raised rainbow trout for fishing enthusiasts. The water is clearer than the water that comes out of my faucet most days. The cold water will make your eyes snap open faster than munching on a coffee bean of a morning. Who wouldn’t want to go fishing when you can see those little buggers floating five feet in front of you?
It sounds like the perfect setup, doesn’t it? Hatchery raised fish are fed from the day they hatch. Floating fish food makes breakfast, lunch, and dinner easy to find and catch. It also makes for stupid fish – in theory anyway.
Enthusiasm for the sport runs high every evening at the lodge as the daily tags fly from the pile behind the counter to eager fishermen. As I stand in line for my first tag of the year, my confidence abounds. With a daily limit of four fish, I just know that with the first three casts of my line, I’m going to have enough fish for my supper. I can then leisurely cast the rest of the day, only keeping the last fish so I can make my way back to my air-conditioned trailer for a nap.
The blare of the alarm clock at 5:30 a.m. the next morning puts the first dent in my armor of enthusiasm. I am not a morning person. But I willing drag myself out of my warm nest to go show these people how to make trout fishing look like kids play. I pour myself into my waders, strap on my fishing vest with pride, ensure my tag is secure to my vest, and tuck my travel coffee mug safely into the bibs of my waders and head for the river. If all goes as planned, I’ll be snuggly back atop my air mattress by 7 a.m. Don’t bother waking me for breakfast guys, I’m sleeping through it today!
I wade into the river next to my brother, husband, son, and niece. They all part the waters to allow the room for the professional. The truth of the matter is, they have all seen me cast and no one wants a chunk of their hair used as a lure. I smugly sip at my coffee until seconds before the whistle blows. My perfect fish sense tells me when to put the coffee back in the bibs and unsnap the lure from my rod.
As the whistle blows, the first cast is made – by everyone around me. Instead of mine landing perfectly in the deep hole about 10 feet in front of me, it soars to the right across the lines of everyone standing upstream. I apologize quickly as I make note to buy myself a new reel as soon as I get to the lodge. This one is obviously defective. The splash of water catches my attention as my niece’s boyfriend reels in the first lunker of the day. He is no longer Keith to me and his new name is certainly not printable here. I make note to tell my niece when we get back to camp that I certainly don’t think he is husband material.
I reel in the renegade line and take a moment to reassess the situation. About 20 feet to my left is a school of fish. Wait, that’s not a school, that’s a college. There must be hundreds of them waiting patiently to swallow my jig. I confidently cast in that direction and the crappy reel I’m using malfunctions once again. This time my jig lands in the tree canopy covering the college of swimming filets.
My aim gets better as the coffee kicks in. The jig I’m using must be the wrong color. As I confidently continue to cast, Keith reels in yet another fish using the exact same lure I am. Same style, color, and weight as the one I just brushed effortlessly across the back of the stupid fish five feet in front of me. The law of averages says that the more fish in the school, the more dropouts and flunkies there should be. Obviously Keith and Jake are better in finding them than I am because they have three on their stringer already.
My brother Donald, who bought his first tag this year, has even caught a freshman fish – it’s too uneducated to know the difference between food and a lure, too small to contribute anything to the dinner plate but it certainly adds life to the party when it hangs on his stringer. As most of our group heads back to camp to enjoy breakfast, I make like a college student who has flunked a class or two, and stick around for my fifth year. I am determined to come out of the river smarter than the colorful critters I mean to make into dinner.
When the day is done, I lovingly look in the freezer and am very thankful. My fishing ego didn’t kick in until we hit the welcome sign at Montauk so I brought plenty of food rather than rely on my fishing skills for my supper. I am now in about year 12 of fishing college and Professor Rainbow and Professor Brown Trout are happily swimming upstream exchanging stories of the goofy woman wading around in her son’s tennis shoes like she owned the campus.
I’m sure God knew what he was doing when he starting taking my patience away. Even he needs a hearty, belly laugh now and then. Pairing my lack of patience with the desire to fish for trout guarantees him a comedy show like none other for a few days every year. I just hope before this fishing trip is over, he has pity on me and pairs me up with a fellow flunkie – one of those pretty multi colored ones that is swimming around in the river.

I would like you to meet Mother Hen, Houdini, and Sleeping Beauty

Original print date July 3rd, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

The first weeks of July always take me back. For most people, July brings memories of family bbq’s, fireworks, time spent at the lake, and vacations. I have one very fond memory dealing with July that has absolutely nothing to do with any of those things. I get a reminder in the mail every six months that allows me to relive that hair-raising day in July back in 1995.
Yes, I remember the year. Only because Jake was a tiny baby and didn’t mind riding in a car seat every day as we made our way to town. The girls on the other hand, had a totally different view of car seats. They hated them. Joni just complained all the way to town and the mother hen in her would chastise Jeana, aka Houdini, every time she managed to escape the restrictive straps and buckles that contained her energy.
This particular morning was not going well. I was late – again. Getting all the kids into the mini van that morning had been particularly nerve racking. We had moved the back seat to the middle and all three children were lined up, properly restrained (next to each other) and the girls were not too happy about it. Jake, on the other hand, really didn’t care. He was sleeping peacefully and nothing was going to wake him – his sisters had already conditioned him to be a heavy sleeper.
As I was making my way down Highway 24, I caught unfamiliar movement in the rear view mirror. I looked up just in time to see the bottom of Houdini’s feet flip over the back of the seat into the rear of the van. Mother Hen immediately started chastising Jeana about the evils of escaping the car seat. I sighed; looked up and realized the car coming at me could spell trouble; looked down and realized that as I was trying to make sense of the chaos in the back seat,  my foot had gotten a little heavy; and realized that in the matter of mere seconds I was toast!
The highway patrol car lights burst into action. Joni burst into screaming fits. Jeana burst into laughter. I pulled over and was hoping to have the chaos in my vehicle under control before he made his way to my door. That was a pipe dream. I knew he had seen Jeana out of her car seat already. She was waving at him through the back glass. Joni was crying and screaming at the top of her lungs, “MY SISTER IS GOING TO JAIL”. Jake never flinched.
I was still trying to calm Joni and get Jeana at least back over the seat when he approached the door and I rolled down the window. He was a young man and fairly new to the area. From the shell-shocked look on his face – I would venture to say he did not have children.
I politely excused myself to turn in the seat and help Jeana back into her car seat. Joni had finally managed to quit screaming but she still had a look of terror on her face. After everyone was settled in and I could once again hear, I politely said “good morning”.
We went through the typical “do you know how fast you were going” question and answer session. He politely asked for my driver’s license and insurance cards. I opened the glove box and pulled out the insurance card on top. It was two days out of date. The new one was at home on the desk waiting patiently to make its way to the proper place in the glove box. I asked Joni to please hand me my billfold out of my purse under her feet. She quit chastising Houdini just long enough to tell me my purse wasn’t in the car.
At this point, I just wanted to go back home and start over. I took a deep breath, gave the officer the best smile I could muster and handed him the outdated insurance card. I efficiently rattled off my social security number since I had just gotten my CDL and at that time, they used socials as the number on them. He smiled, chuckled a little at the brow beating Joni was still administering to Jeana in the back seat and made his way back to his car.
Thankfully, he never made me leave my van. He probably thought Jeana would take off with it. He came back and politely handed me my tickets. I won’t lie and say I was thrilled with the pile of papers I received. I will say he was much nicer to me than he had to be under the circumstances.
The officer took a few minutes to explain to Jeana the need to stay in the car seat while Mom was driving. He assured Joni he would never arrest her sister at such a young age. He seemed impressed at Jake’s ability to sleep through the chaos. Then he extended his hopes that my day got better and went back to his car.
I made sure and set my cruise control the rest of the way to town. As a matter of fact, I refuse to buy any family car to this day that is not equipped with cruise. I said a prayer of thanks that in the few seconds between seeing those feet in the rear view mirror and seeing those bursts of red and blue, nothing happened that caused physical harm to any of the kids.
Every six months, the insurance company sends me a reminder of my insurance payment being due. Every six months I remember the day in 1995, two days after paying my bill, the young highway patrol officer could have had a hefty day end ticket total off one person but instead chose to take some pity on a young, frazzled mother.
Maybe I should use that reminder every six months to also say thank you to the highway patrol and other local law enforcement officers in our area. They seldom get the thanks they deserve for protecting our county and citizens. Many times they just receive a tongue lashing as they administer justice. Even as the officer handed me those tickets that day, he was protecting my kids, myself, and the people I met on the road that morning as I was distracted by the kids. A thank you seems in order for the service all law enforcement personnel extend to the citizens in Chariton County.

Now I know why Mr. & Mrs. Conrad chose twin beds

Original print date June 26th
Chariton Valley News Press

The summer months usually mean crazier than ever schedules around our house.  Jake is crazy busy playing basketball, various camps, and managing to find time to work in between it all. We always have more than enough projects to keep us busy around the farmette. Throw in some mandatory horseback time and all the family time we can muster and I’m exhausted every night. 
This year, Larry finely got to go on the vacation of his dreams.  The first week of June he loaded his horse, saddle, and a food cooler in my brother’s trailer and left for a few days of ranch work on a real, modern day ranch. He was in heaven – but so was I!
Whenever Larry has to leave for a few days, it means I have a few more chores to do but a few days apart also means a small break in the ongoing war. I love the man and all but I won’t lie – I like having a queen size bed to myself for a night or two here and there. No fighting over covers, pillows or property lines.
Yes, property lines. It is an ongoing battle for us. Getting eight, uninterrupted hours of sleep is virtually unheard of for either one of us. Between the jerk and roll of the blanket that has sent me tumbling to the floor on occasion; the snoring and the ensuing elbow to the rib cage that makes him mad every time; and the fights over where exactly the center of the bed is, somebody is bound to be rudely awaken during the night.
This battle is nothing new to us. When we first got married, the baffleless waterbed was our first war zone. Larry found great humor in the “run and jump” which caused waves big enough to launch me over the side and onto the floor. The waterbed finally had to go after the night he was having nightmares about snakes and in his attempt to get away from the slithering, slimy creatures, he once again sent me overboard. Yup, the waterbed had to go!
The war reached epic proportions a couple of years ago.  The battle of who took up more space after falling asleep reached a fever pitch. After one particularly sleepless night, I decided to end the war once and for all.  The next evening, after carefully measuring the bed and determining the exact location of the fence line, I carefully drew a line in the sand so to speak. When Larry came to bed the night, the property line had been surveyed with precision and a beautiful “fence” had been erected. A line of duct tape ran from head to toe on the bed.
He shook his head.  He may have won a battle or two but I was about to win the war. The beautiful silver fence was my permission slip. Any limb that crossed onto the tape was given a quick warning. If it crossed over the line completely, I was allowed to administer my best Hong Kong Phooey chop to the offending appendage – and I did!  I took great pride in the first few maneuvers. It worked, believe it or not. He stayed on his side of the bed the rest of the night.
Three nights later as I was getting ready to call it a night, something seemed amiss. I thought I knew what was wrong but couldn’t be sure.  I once again broke out the measuring tape and my suspicions had been confirmed. He moved the tape over about two inches.  War broke out once again. 
Larry’s occasional trips away from home without me allow us to call a temporary truce in the war – until this trip.  Larry claims to hate the cats and wasn’t exactly thrilled when I adopted Shylo a couple of weeks ago.  He didn’t want another animal in the house.  I did have to chuckle at Mr. Tough Guy though. The first night we had Shylo, I asked him to make sure and crate her before he came to bed.  I woke up the next morning with her at our feet. 
Apparently, before leaving on his trip, Mr. Tough Guy made a pact with the critters. As I settled in for my first eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, here they all came.  I quickly banned the cats from the bed.  Shylo was allowed to stay since that is the only place she has slept since joining us but I made sure she was settled in on Larry’s side before drifting off to sleep. She seemed thrilled to have the extra room.  After several trips back and forth and in circles, she made her nest. We were settled in for the night.
I made it about five hours. I woke up with a cat on my right, a cat at my feet and a sneaky dog plastered to my chest and we were nose to nose. Really? Now, I know why my kids act like their father - it is in the genetics - I understand that. But how on earth did he get the critters talked into hogging the bed in the same manner he does?
The next night, the cats were disappointed to find my bedroom door tightly sealed the second I crossed the threshold. I was not dealing with them again.  Shylo was once again enthusiastic about picking herself a spot in the large section of bed she was claiming as her own. Even though we discussed the situation at length that night, she still ended up plastered to me by morning.  At least this time I didn’t wake up to doggy breath.
I don’t foresee the disagreement over the center of the bed ever really going away. I remember as a kid, laughing about the fact that our elderly neighbors had two twin beds in their bedroom. These days, I completely understand their choice. I did cut Larry just a little slack when he got home this time though.  At least with him, a careful survey and meticulous administration of duct tape gets the point across.  When it comes right down to it, he is a lot easier to argue with over where the center of the bed is than the critters.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

And the award goes to

original run date June 12, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

I hereby nominate my dad for an Academy Award based on his Father’s Day performances from years past. It seems like every dad takes on the role of performing artist during the early years of fatherhood. The cards start rolling in and the father of Picasso performances begin. In the case of my poor father, the performance usually had to last for months.
When I was a kid growing up, we always had a milk cow around the farm. Every morning, Dad would dutifully bring the cow up to the old garage and milk away. Every year around Father’s Day I would set out to make his morning chore easier – and always did just the opposite.
It started out pretty innocent. The first year I rummaged around the piles of used boards and came up with just enough scrap material to make a feed pan. Surely Bossy or Bess or whatever her name was would stand still better for Dad if she had a nice, big feed pan full of feed to keep her focused. Nice theory but my carpentry skills lacked a little in the finishing department. The scraps all fit together nicely, I thought and paint covered all the blemishes.
I did not take into account the need for the feed pan to be wider than the cows nose. A couple of two by fours slapped onto the side of another two by four did not make for a wide enough feed pan to fit her nose down into. This led to Bessy/Bossy/whatever her name was trying to lick all the feed out of the bottom of the “feed pan”.
It also led to the feed pan moving with every swipe of the tongue, Bessy moving to catch up to it, and Dad moving to keep up with Bessy. This may have led to some colorful commentary on his part as well but he certainly never led on to it being a problem when I was around. He always played the part of the “grateful” father for having a shiny new feed pan to use every morning.
I was so encouraged by his performance the next year I decided he needed a stool with a smooth seat on it to go with the feed pan. The empty bucket he used as a chair had that rim around the bottom left marks on my bottom so I knew it couldn’t be comfortable for Dad. It took a long time to milk a cow and that lip left a mark. Back to the scrap pile I went in search of another praise worthy Father’s Day gift of my own making.
In my eyes, every cow-milking dad needed a milk stool of this caliber. I hammered and sawed throughout the afternoon. To the garage I flew to find the perfect color of paint (translation – a can that had enough in it to paint the milk stool one solid color). Next, I found a box and wrapped it up with great fanfare. I’m sure Dad had to stifle a groan when he came in that night and saw the box.
It was time for Dad to once again take off the farmer’s coat and enter the world of the performing arts. As every great father has done, he pulled it off with a convincing performance. I followed him out to help with the milking after church on Sunday just to make sure it was as great as I thought.
Poor Dad!  The two, two by fours were not nearly wide enough. The legs were not all the same length and the craftsmanship made for a very wobbly foundation. I’m sure had Dad not been a successful farmer, he would have been an amazing circus star on the high wire. His balancing talents served him well that morning. How in the world he managed to balance himself on that milk stool, keep the can upright, and chase Bessy across the driveway as she licked the feed from the bottom of the previous years catastrophe I will never know.
Eventually, we got rid of the milk cow and started buying milk from the store. Mom and Dad claim it was due to the fact that Dad didn’t have time to milk a cow everyday. I wonder if Bessy didn’t go to market shortly before Father’s Day so Dad didn’t have to endure another one of my attempts at carpentry.
I may never find a gift as perfect as the feed pan or the milk stool ever again but the gifts Dad has given me certainly have not gone unnoticed. The moral compass he engrained in us growing up sometimes seems old fashioned in today’s world, but it is one I have tried very hard to pass on to my kids as well. His work ethic, even today, is one that wears me out trying to keep up with. The levels of integrity and honesty he expected from us as kids set a standard I find myself applying to everyone I deal with in day-to-day life.
As a kid, I always seemed to know exactly what Dad wanted/needed every year. These days, it isn’t so easy.   Finding the perfect gift for a man that has everything he “needs” and never seems to “want” anything is nearly impossible. Sometimes I feel like just spending time with my parents these days is a gift with all the demands on my time. I just hope I never reach the point that I need a reminder from the retail world or a red-letter day on the calendar to say “thanks Dad” for all you have done for me.