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 décor. 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.

The unofficial start of summer

original run date May 29th
Chariton Valley News Press

Memorial Day Weekend!  The unofficial start to summer. The weekend that used to take me a month to prepare for and was over in 72 short hours.
Memorial weekend used to be the first weekend Larry and I were brave enough to pack kids, food, horses, and tent for a trail ride and campout. The kids couldn’t wait – I could. When the kids were little, we had a stock trailer, tent and Rubbermaid boxes full of camping gear for these weekends. We would shut the front gate on the trailer and try to organize all the boxes and saddles so we could still get to everything before packing like sardines into the single cab pickup and heading out for some family fun – aka chaos.
When we pulled out of the driveway, the sun was always shining. We would get to camp and the kids would bail out of the truck to find their friends. Jake would grab his tractors and trucks out of the back of the pickup and head for the nearest pile of dirt he could find. Much to my dismay, dirt was never the only thing he scooped and hauled with all those horses around.
The thing about camping with my kids when they were little was - they never seemed to mind if we went somewhere with “primitive” accommodations. Translated?  They didn’t have to shower for two days unless I drug them - kicking and screaming - to a friends house nearby. They were adamant that riding the horses to the nearest creek, tying them to a tree, and taking a swim in the heat of the day sufficed. Oh, wait, - the inevitable memorial weekend monsoon was good enough for them as well. The monsoon even washed their clothes while they were “showering”.
These days, campouts are a lot less chaotic even when both Joni and Jake decide to go with us. Our horse trailer has a dressing room where I can keep all the camping supplies stored year round. It even has a semi comfortable air mattress to sleep on. Jake is more interested in socializing than playing in the dirt these days and doesn’t mind the shower anymore. Everybody can saddle their own horse, fix their own plate, clean up their own mess, and even lend a hand when it comes time to cook.
Larry and I tend to avoid the three-day holidays for campouts though. Equestrian friendly campgrounds are full months in advance these days. The thrill of “primitive” camping is long gone. That went out the window the day I shut the trailer door and turned that beautiful air conditioner on for an afternoon siesta when it was too hot to ride. Yes, I’m a wuss.
That doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the break from the workweek when a holiday grants us an extra day off work. My honey do list is pretty extensive this year. We have lots of little projects left around the house to fill that extra day nicely. Add to the list, bonding with the new addition to our household. Larry and I adopted a miniature Australian Shepherd dog this week. She is adapting pretty quickly – the cats, not so much.
I’m pretty sure I witnessed Zoey do an eye roll that rivaled anything Joni or Jake could master in their day. She quickly found a hiding spot far, far away from anything canine. Chloe on the other hand worries me just a little. The evil gaze she threw poor Shylo last night as I was petting her came straight from a psycho cat horror movie. I’m hoping the long weekend with Larry and I supervising their interactions will help them all adjust.
As we use the extra time at home for projects and family, we will also stop and take to heart the real reason for the holiday weekend. Memorial Day is not the “official” start to summer or just a break from the grind of a typical work week as so many retailers want everyone to believe.
Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember and be thankful for all the brave men and women who have fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms. Freedoms to own a home of our choosing and design, spend time with family and friends, attend the church of our choice, speak freely, and own firearms for both recreation and protection. It saddens me when people forget the sacrifice it takes by the men and women of the armed forces to protect all those liberties.
In a perfect world, our government wouldn’t have to set aside one day a year to remember our lost heroes. A perfect world would mean there would be world wild harmony and no need for wars, conflicts, peacekeeping missions, or deployments.  Families would never be in fear of the phone ringing while their loved one is serving overseas. No family would ever feel the deep-seated pain of grief at the loss of someone they love due to conflict and war. The world would not harbor evil with its sights set on harming those who enjoy freedom everyday.
But a perfect world we do not live in so we will continue to honor those heroes every chance we get. The Salisbury Steak Festival this year revolves around “Veteran’s – Our Heroes”. What a wonderful opportunity to once again say thank you to the men and women of the armed forces who have selfishly served our country and the younger generation filling the voids as they retire. Our three day weekends would not be filled with bbq’s, trail rides, family, and honey do lists if it were not for the brave men and women who courageously gave their lives and those who continue to bravely fight today. Thank you today, tomorrow, next week and next year!

This world never ceases to amaze me

original run date May 22nd
Chariton Valley News Press

It never ceases to amaze me the level some people will stoop to for their own benefit. I see it in the world around me and wonder how and why. An incident recently made me shake my head in wonder as some person’s lack of conscience touched our family.
Seven years ago on the anniversary of Jeana’s death, the kids and I planted some bright orange peace lilies next to her headstone. They almost always bloom out the first of June near her anniversary and are gorgeous – until this year.
I always go to the cemetery near her birthday to clean up faded silk flowers, broken trinkets, and replace flowers in the vases. This year I noticed a hole next to the headstone. I didn’t think too much about it until later in the day and I realized that is where the peace lilies should be poking through the ground. I went back the next week – surely I was wrong?  But I wasn’t.
Someone had gone to the cemetery, dug the bulbs for the peace lilies out of the ground and taken them. I wonder – do you steal flowers from a cemetery in the middle of the night or are people brave enough to do something like that in the middle of the day as the sunshine from above beats on their shoulders?
Our family talked about the situation and what kind of person would do something like that. A quick “message” to my “friend” on Facebook brought responses that made my jaw drop. Apparently, stealing from a cemetery is not really that uncommon. As friends and neighbors told me of stolen flower bushes, shepherd hooks with hanging baskets, and items of meaning left at the headstones of loved ones, I was dumbstruck. Seriously, people drive through and think they truly “need” these things?
As the post to my friend mentioned, I hope as Jeana watched you dig up those flowers, she turned to the Big Man on her left and they concocted a plot of revenge that rivaled some of the pain she would inflict on Joni and Jake when they really ticked her off. Yes, I know, that isn’t a Christian attitude but it was as nice as I could come up with under the circumstances.
Images of Jeana’s revenge started flashing through our minds. By far the most infamous was the day a $2.00 can of cooking spray reeked havoc in the household. Once again, the story starts with Jeana accusing Joni of being too bossy. As Joni bolted out the door to drag me into the middle of their feud, Jeana’s mind gears quickly went into high gear and revenge was imminent.
Locked doors, kitchen linoleum that was a little slick to begin with, and a can of Pam was all she needed to get even. As Joni busted through the only unlocked door in the house to inform Jeana that the mission had been accomplished – she had made me stop mowing to tattle – reality struck as Joni went gliding across the kitchen floor. The ensuing screams brought Jake barreling into to watch the action and he quickly became a scene in Jeana’s revenge plot as well.
The three of them combined made enough noise to wake the dead. My mower came to a screeching halt and I quickly made my way into the house to take care of the situation. I don’t think I was supposed to be a victim but that didn’t keep the three monkeys from enjoying the show. They were all three sitting on the carpet just far enough away from the linoleum to not get hurt when I came crashing down. They looked like the “hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil” monkeys – innocence was not their most convincing facial expression.
Needless to say, my screams could be heard by all the neighbors, which brought Larry in the house rather quickly. They still hadn’t unlocked any other doors. Since the seat of my shorts had soaked up the biggest portion of the oil glistening on the kitchen floor, Larry’s ending was not as earth trembling as mine. I must admit though, the show he put on trying to keep from the crash and burn had moves I had never seen before.
In the end, Jeana spent a good part of her evening scrubbing the floor. It seems cooking spray sticks pretty well to linoleum and it took some elbow grease and Dawn dish soap to get it all up. It didn’t seem to phase her much though. She sang the whole time she was scrubbing.
As we recalled this incident and others, we all had to chuckle just a little. If she can cause such a stir with a can of Pam, what on earth is she capable of these days?  I read a quote somewhere that read,  “as she has planted, so does she harvest; such is the field of karma”. I hope our thief’s garden will feel the sting of karma with disease and pests. Again, I realize that isn’t a Christian attitude to have but wouldn’t it be great if karma was actually our loved ones way of defending those of us left behind from the evil here on earth. If that’s the case, I pity the fool who stole those flowers.

Release the Beasts

original run date May 15th
Chariton Valley News Press

Ahhhhhh – the sounds of summer. The voices of kids set free started ringing through our open office windows last week. More voices will be added this week as all the Salisbury schools “release the beasts” for some summer fun.
As a kid growing up, my favorite thing about summer vacation was the fact that once school was out I could officially ditch shoes. We didn’t have flip flops and socks were hot so the shoes were thrown in the back of the closet.
By the end of the first week out of school, I could walk across the gravel driveway without flinching. After week two, running was a breeze as the bottoms of my feet had developed into soft, leathery soles that rocks couldn’t penetrate. The only thing that ever seemed to penetrate my feet was an occasional nail, which is why Mom never let our tetanus shots go overdue. As I grew older it also meant the chore list grew longer. There were more animals to feed, hog waterers and feeders to keep clean daily and at least one building was due for a fresh coat of paint.
It’s no wonder I was in such good shape as a kid. I was moving from sun up ‘til sundown. If I wasn’t trying to cross chores off my list, I was usually on my bike headed to Grandma Bixenman’s to mow her yard. I wonder how many miles I put on that three-speed bike over the summers before I turned 16?
Graduation came and went and summer vacation disappeared – the joy of growing up right?  The hardest part about summer after I had kids of my own was keeping them out of trouble while Larry and I were at work. If you have read any of my previous columns, you know we weren’t always successful at that parental duty.
I’ll never forget the first summer we let them stay home by themselves. It was nerve racking! Thankfully I had an understanding boss during that first week or I would have probably been home with them permanently. They were only supposed to call in case of an emergency. My biggest mistake was not immediately defining emergency.
We had a rotating list of chores on the refrigerator door. Every day, each kid had a list of age appropriate tasks to complete before lunch. If I came home at lunch and everything was finished to my satisfaction, then all three kids could go to the pool that afternoon. If any of the three messed up, they all stayed home. Yes, I used the “everybody pays if you screw up” approach.
The first question all three asked was “who’s in charge”. I wasn’t stupid – NOBODY had control over anybody else. And then the phone calls began. Since no one had control, they all thought tattling was appropriate.
By the end of the week, we had a family sit-down complete with a list of good reasons to call Mom at work. The only “good” reason to call was if there was bloodshed – why oh why did I jinx myself?
When the phone call came in, I wasn’t the one to answer it. One of the guys in the office had a concerned look on his face when he told me that Joni was on the phone and had assured him there was blood involved. I took a deep breath and picked up the phone. Joni wasn’t in a state of panic, which surprised me. Joni panicked over hangnails.
She tried to calmly explain to me that Jake was okay – she thought. Her explanation of the injury completely confused me. Apparently, it was Jake’s day to sweep the kitchen and dining room floors. For whatever reason, a fight had broken out between him and Jeana. As he was yelling at her, he bent down to pick up a rug in front of the refrigerator. His mouth was running - his brain was not. He ran the handle of the broom down his throat and as Joni calmly put it “scratched that thing that dangles back there and the back of his throat and it was bleeding.”
I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the fact that a six year old that was barely four foot tall could scratch his tonsils with a broom handle. I was still confused as I told my boss that I needed to make an unexpected trip home. They all looked at me in total confusion as I tried to tell them what happened. It didn’t make sense to them either.
I got home and Joni had Jake sitting on the couch eating ice cubes. The bleeding had stopped but he was still mad at Jeana for whatever reason. The big scrape across his tonsils didn’t even need a flashlight to be seen. It was a “slap my head” moment. Okay, maybe it was an “only in my house” moment.
I decided leaving the warring tribes together the rest of the afternoon was not going to be conducive to him healing. As long as he was yelling at his sister, that scrape was never going to get any rest. I made him grab some busy work and we headed back to my office. After proudly showing the men his battle wound, he settled in for an afternoon nap.
As I brace myself for Jake to spend some time with kids this summer, as their parents are off to work, I pray – a lot. I have already given him a list of “do NOT let them do” activities. All items off the list of “activities” my own kids decided to try while Larry and I were at work. As I was making that list, Jake and Joni added a few more things to the list. Apparently, they could get along once in a while since they made a few pacts over the summers of things not to tell Mom and Dad they had done. 
As they share some of those stories now (long after they can get in trouble) I keep telling myself, they are only young once.  I’m glad they developed a sense of fun that does not take a big bank account or fancy equipment.  All they seem to need is a sense of adventure and good friends that can keep a secret.  It’s nice to know that one of those friends is their sibling.

The games must go on

original run date May 8th
Chariton Valley News Press

Do guys ever really grow up?  I ask myself that almost daily now that Joni has moved into her own home and left me alone with her father and brother.
Larry and the kids have always enjoyed competitive activities of any kind. It seems games with any kind of ball involved has always attracted them like mosquitoes to a bug zapper. I have tons of pictures from when the kids were little of impromptu basketball games, softball in the front yard, and games without a name involving the extra large balls from the dollar store and a plastic bat. I even have pictures of badminton in the pasture using the horses as a net.
We always kept a bat and ball of some kind in the horse trailer for campouts. It usually started out pretty simple and before you knew it, all the adults had been suckered into a game of baseball. When the adults hit the ball too hard and broke the bat and deflated the ball, the kids would quickly scramble to make a ball out of the tin foil from the grill. It was easy to find a bat with all the manure forks hanging out in trailers. Paper plates always made the perfect base.
As the kids have grown, the games aren’t near as abundant in our house. My décor is thankful for that. Larry and the kids used to play “football” in my living room. Larry would sit in the recliner on one side of the living room and one of the girls would become the marker on the other side about five feet away. Jake started at the fireplace with helmet secured to his head and football tucked under his arm. If he could make it to the couch on the wall behind the chairs, it was a touchdown.
This was all fine and dandy until the pass play came into effect. Larry would launch the ball at Jake in hopes that he would catch it. Since the ball was bigger than Jake for the first few years, the pass usually went right through his hands. Jake eventually grew big enough to catch it but in the mean time, the décor in my living room suffered. I have a two-foot tall defenseless cowboy these days because his arm holding his rifle is broken at the elbow. Another cowboy riding his horse has been decapitated and his horse has two broken ears and a docked tail.
The Indian figurines Larry collected over the years paid a price as well. The hunting warrior’s bow was left hanging by the bow string, the majestic deer became a unicorn, the proud and powerful chief is missing more than one feather from his headdress, and the canoeing squaw has a hole in her boat and a headless dog in tow.
Although it was usually the guys in the house who got the blame for the broken décor, the girls had to take the blame for the most expensive living room loss. The first summer the kids were allowed to stay home on their own, we lost a tv. Larry and I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until late into the evening. As a matter of fact, the tv looked fine until we turned it on. That is when the hissing and popping followed by sparks and smoke caught our attention.
Apparently, the girls were quite intrigued by one of the carnival games at the Steak Festival earlier that summer. We never allowed them to play many of those games so they decided to recreate the “shoot the parading duck” game on their own one day.
The couch served as a large armrest and their super soaker water guns had enough power to reach all the way across the living room and meet the target. The target was, of course, their gullible little brother running back and forth across the room – in front of the tv. I probably never would have known about their wonderful game had they not gotten water into the vents on the front of the tv and fried all the circuitry. The beauty of that incident was I didn’t have to think of an appropriate punishment. They were home all morning for a good part of the summer with no tv since we just decided not to replace it for about a month.
The games eventually were banned from the living room and moved to the front yard where they belonged. Our dog Gus loved the move since he could join in. He loved to catch Jake not paying attention as he pursued whichever girl had the football under her arm. Gus became a master at tripping Jake then laying on top of him while the girls ran for safety. Yes, I have pictures!
My outdoor décor did not fair any better than the indoor. I now have a concrete St. Francis statue holding a beheaded child and several one-winged angels. My hanging baskets seldom lasted an entire summer. I wonder if any company has ever truly made a child/husband proof accessory for the home or garden?
Jake had a rare evening at home the other night and the thump of the oversized tennis ball he won at the after-prom party almost lulled me to sleep. He and his dad were casually bouncing it back and forth across the living room. I could have sworn I had two six year olds in the house as they laughed at each other each time the ball hit the bulls eye they were aiming for on the other’s body.
I didn’t even bother to yell at them when it took a couple leaves off the plant or bounced through the window and hit the computer monitor. I gave up on them growing up years ago. Besides, we had just gotten home from a college visit in Iowa and a reality check for Mom. Nothing like driving three and half hours and seeing the gleam in my son’s eyes as he checked out the college campus and everything it had to offer to make me realize he really is going to leave home next year.
Larry has long quit playing football against Jake – he says Jake’s tackles hurt too much these days. They still cannot resist a game of horse every now and then even though it always leads to good-hearted arguments. I have no doubt I’ll hear that silly tennis ball bounce across the living room several more times over the course of the next year.
As I face Jake blazing forward into preparations for his senior year of high school, I’m a little thankful for all the broken décor. The one-armed cowboy still stands proudly in my living room, situated strategically behind a plant stand. The earless horse still carries his cowboy with the glue mark around his neck. Although the home décor will never be the same, the memories attached to those broken pieces of art will remain priceless.
Every cleaning day I’m reminded of the laughter that rolled through my house as those games unfolded through the years. I’ll miss those sounds as the quietness of the empty nest settles in but I have no doubt - no doubt whatsoever there will be more games over the course of the next year and more broken décor. It’s a small price to pay for the memories I’ll hold on to and treasure for a lifetime.

The family that rides together

original run date April 24th
Chariton Valley News Press

 The house is almost finished! The carpenters should be able to finish up the outside this week. Larry and I took a break from it all this weekend and had a little fun. Although we did do some cleaning up around the yard and barn on Saturday, most of the afternoon was spent getting tack checked and cleaned.
Sunday afternoon we loaded up the bruts and headed south. One of our favorite places to ride is Rudolf Bennett Conservation Area. We joined my brother, my nephew and his family and a few friends for a long, lazy Sunday afternoon ride. Life is good again.
As we were riding along, enjoying the cackles from my almost two year old great-nephew as he “drove” the horse he was riding with his mom, Doug reminded Larry and I how he got started riding in the first place. Back in the day, Jeana and Jake tended to get into all kinds of trouble. Most was dealt with quickly and we moved on. There was occasionally an incident though that the punishment lasted long term. Like the time they got caught trying cigars in Jake’s bedroom and then snuffing them out on the woodwork.
I don’t know why there were cigars in the house but those two managed to find them and get into a HEAP of trouble. Between them lighting up in Jake’s disaster of a bedroom and then not thinking before they spoke when confronted about the butts left lying around, they were doomed. The punishment lasted far longer than usual and both kids lost privileges to ride anything – horse, bike, little tykes car, scooters, roller blades – you name it, we took it away.
In order to get our point across even better, we decided one Sunday afternoon to invite my niece and nephew along on a trail ride. Jeana and Jake’s horses were free to use. They were not happy about staying at Grandma’s while we all went riding. It served as the exclamation point at the end of the “you messed up big this time” message we were trying to get across.
Doug and Heather fell deeply in love with our favorite pastime that day. Larry and I chuckled all the way home as Doug sat in our truck plotting how he was going to talk his dad into letting him buy a horse. My favorite scheme was his plan to not say anything right away. Doug planned on “casually” mentioning it sometime in the next week at the dinner table. His plan didn’t make it to the back door.
Doug hit the back door screaming, “Dad, I want a horse”!  Larry and I couldn’t decide what was funnier – Doug’s impatience or the look on John Darold’s face. He was doomed!
Before that summer was over, John Darold and his family were all riding with us. Jeana and Jake eventually got their “rides” back and our families have spent many weekends riding together since. We’ve even managed to bring a few more family members into the group of riders.
As we were reminiscing Sunday afternoon, we had to chuckle. Jeana and Jake’s cigar encounter had them in hot water for a while but what a great ending. Doug is now married and our families still love to get together every chance we get to go riding. Doug is also a ferrier by trade and provides for his family based on that love of horses we found in him that sunny afternoon.
When many families find the generations spending less time together, ours is usually on the phone every Friday night deciding if we can find a time we can all go riding. Whether we head south to the wooded trails that Rudolf Bennett provide or stay close to home, we love to get together for a casual afternoon of riding and yes, there is usually a whole lot of babbling going on as well.
I have heard the quote by Winston Churchhill many times, “there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”  In our case, that horse is also good for our family as a whole.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Give the gift of life long after you are gone.

original run date April 17, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

My column is usually pretty laid back and meant to  beentertaining but this week I would like to take the opportunity to reach out to all the readers of CVNP and ask a big favor.
This week’s feature story is a topic that is near to my heart. As I did the interviews for the piece, the conversations certainly took a very personal turn. In June 2004, my family went through a deeply emotional loss. Our daughter (and sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend) Jeana, died from head trauma following a fall. We were able to hold onto her for a little while with assistance from modern medicine (machines) but brain trauma was more than her body could compensate for and we were forced to make the decision no family ever wants to make.
For reasons none of us know or understand, our family was not approached about Jeana being an organ donor. Later in the evening, we received a phone call asking for a tissue donation, which we quickly agreed to. Although the life saving donation of vital organs could no longer be made, we chose to make the life-enhancing donation of corneal and heart valve tissue. It is a decision we will never forget or regret.
Early in our marriage, Larry and I had discussed organ donation and how far we wanted life saving measures to be carried through in the case of a medical emergency. It was never a conversation we ever dreamed of having with or about our children. As we were faced with the decisions we had to make in the hours after Jeana’s accident, it was not a topic that crossed our minds. As I said before, we don’t know why we were not approached about the possibility of Jeana being an organ donor. She would have been a perfect candidate to save the lives of many.
As I was doing research earlier this year trying to find ideas for stories to write, I looked up all the “national month” designations online. The April designation of “Donate Life” screamed at me to do something in honor of my daughter’s 19th birthday on the 21st of this month. After the shock of her death wore off and we were left to accept our life without her, I vowed to do the best I could every year on her birthday to celebrate the gift of her life just as we always had. This year, that “celebration” is by getting as many people as I can to sit down with their families and talk about organ and tissue donation and become a registered donor.
It is not a topic most parents want to talk about with their children but the importance of the conversation is many fold. If something happened to you today, would your children know what your wishes are in regards to organ and tissue donation?  Would you as parents, if you were faced with that decision, think about reaching out to another family with this life saving gesture?
As your kids reach the age of taking that wonderful driver’s exam and test, please use it as an opportunity to talk to them about organ donation. Set an example by becoming an organ donor yourself. If you are not already a registered donor via the driver’s license renewal process – jump online and register. Make sure your family, closest friends and minister all know your wishes in case of death.
Pull that driver’s license out of your billfold and sign it!  If you need a permanent marker that won’t smear or fade, feel free to stop by the CVNP office. We have fine point sharpies ready to legalize a gift that money cannot buy. We will even be a witness if you need one. If you think you are registered but not sure, we’ll help you look it up.
Even if you think you are not eligible to be a donor because of current health or past illnesses, please sign it anyway. Tissue donations of skin, corneas, bone, and tendons could be possible. It may not save a life but think of the ways it can enhance the life of a burn victim or someone suffering from limited mobility. I often wonder about the recipient of Jeana’s corneas. If any of her outlook on life transferred – oh what an outlook they have now!  There is truly some solace for me in knowing her death was not completely without meaning. Someone, somewhere is able to live a better life because of the gift she was able to give.
My family all know my wishes to be an organ and tissue donor. As a matter of fact, my two kids serve as the witnesses on my driver’s license. Larry had the insignia put on his license at his last renewal date.  Should the time come for our registry to actually be used, it won’t make it any easier on the family to say good-bye but at least they won’t have to worry about making that decision in a time of stress, sorrow and hardship. Maybe someday, after I leave this world behind and join my daughter, someone will benefit from my heart, lungs, kidney, pancreas, intestine, and liver as well as all the tissue I have left to someone still living life to the fullest.
As Jeana’s birthday rolls around this year, we’ll find some way as a family to pull together and “celebrate” her life. As hard as we try every year to keep the tears from flowing, they will still fall. Because my eyes are still in good shape, I’ll still be able to see her image in pictures. I know somewhere someone can also now see their family and friends because of Jeana. Maybe that thought will help absorb a few of the tears. In the meantime, please “show me your heart” and join me on the Missouri registry for organ and tissue donation. Give the gift of life long after you are gone.   Please register with your state organ/tissue donor registry wherever you are from!!

Fixing government woes with chickens

original run date April 10, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

I don’t follow a lot of politics, but the recent laws wanting to restrict farm kids from being able to work on the family farm really baffles me. Some of the most important lessons I ever learned were as a farm kid. I would think since the government is looking to hire the next generation at some point, they would want employees that have learned the lessons farm kids learn by working on the family farm.
Doing chores everyday instilled work ethic into my young mind. I didn’t mind most chores except for those stupid chickens. I hated the laying hens with a passion. I couldn’t leave eggs lying under the roost just because I didn’t want to crawl through the droppings. Not to mention, if you left to many eggs behind, other critters would come eat both the eggs and chickens. I didn’t mind so much when chickens became dinner for other creatures but it tended to upset Mom.
I despised having to get the “sitting” hens off the nest of eggs they were so closely guarding. They were determined to turn that egg into a baby - I was determined to turn it into either breakfast or noodles. I had a special stick that I kept at the door of the chicken coop that was tailor made for those feathered beasts. I’d poke at them and they would peck at me everyday.
I always won the initial battle. They usually won the war though since they would attack me as I was leaving. I did get the last laugh though. Since we never kept roosters around, they were never going to get that baby anyway.
My family will vouch for the fact that I loved all animals except for those stupid chickens. I got in trouble more than once for finding the barn cats new litter of kittens and taming them down. I was notorious for picking either a fat hog or a calf out of the lot as a pet. Then I would bawl hysterically when they were hauled off to the packing plant. But when it came to the chickens, I could care less. That attitude led me to one of the worst butt whippings of my life. The physical pain was no big deal. The pain of knowing who administered it left a lasting impression.
After one particularly brutal attack, I decided the chickens had to go. I devised a brilliant plan to get rid of all of them so I would never again have to collect another egg from a psychopathic chicken. I was going to kill them. I was probably about eight years old and in my mind, my plan was brilliant.
I decided if the chickens didn’t eat, they would die. That should fix the problem. Yes, looking back, I realize this was a cruel way to end my misery but don’t panic - it didn’t take long for my plan to backfire.
 Apparently, the day I decided to put my plan into action, I was a little to enthusiastic. My oldest brother, John Darold, noticed my enthusiasm as I grabbed the feed bucket and headed out to do chores. Since the whole family knew how much I hated those chickens, he decided to stalk me to find out why I was uncharacteristically happy about gathering eggs.
I made my way to the bin  for the mandatory bucket of corn. I thought I was putting on an Oscar worthy performance. I ran my hands through the corn as if filling the bucket to the rim. I failed to factor in the lack of sound effects confirming the corn actually going into the bucket. Add to that my trip to the coop with the bucking swinging like an Easter basket full of fake grass and my Oscar performance took a nosedive.
I picked up my chicken poking, get even stick as I opened the door and made my way in. I thought I was home free. A few days of no food and those chickens would be coyote bait and I would never again feel the pain of a beak in my hand.
John Darold caught me coming out the door of the coop, singing a happy song. He turned me around and pointed out the lack of corn in the feeders. Let’s just say, my tall tale that followed convinced him not to waste his time delivering me to Mom. He took care of the situation himself. The pain I felt had nothing to do with his hand connecting with my butt cheeks. It did break my heart that my best friend in the world decided it was something he had to do.
The lessons I learned that day still carry with me both in my personal life and at work. First, most of the time it is faster and less painful to just do those daily chores whether at home or on the job and get them over with quickly. It takes a lot more time and effort to concoct plans to get out of something than it does to just do it.
Second, starving the enemy never works. Interacting with the people you live and work with everyday is critical to good relationships. Administering the silent treatment just comes back to haunt you in the end. Maintaining good relationships takes effort but the rewards are great.
The most important lesson I learned that day was to not do things that will disappoint those you “live” with on a daily basis. Respect is a powerful emotion, even if it is for nothing more than a chicken. I didn’t have to like the chickens to respect them and the power their beaks carried. I didn’t want to respect John Darold for doing what he did but as I grew up and entered the world of work and had kids of my own, I knew he did me a favor that day.
 Maybe our current government officials looking to restrict farm kids from working on the family farm need a chicken coop in their backyard. Instilling a little work ethic in their daily grind and getting holes pecked in their hands as they gather breakfast might just put some common sense back into the laws they make. If that doesn’t work, I vote we send John Darold to Washington to straighten them out!

Man's best friend lends a helping hand.

original run date April 3, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

Memories come flooding back to me at some of the weirdest times.
 I can’t seem to get any of my “city” friends to come walking with me of an evening at my house. They all seem to have an aversion to walking on gravel. The other night in my quest to get some kind of workout in, I resorted to taking the bird dog walking with me. It turned out to be a good move.
Not only did I turn the mile and a half trip into closer to two miles, I got some resistance training in as well.  Mattie was convinced that the road ditches were full of quail and was enthusiastically going from side to side to check every inch for birds.  My normal trek was easily extended and she unknowingly powered it up even more.
Mattie spent at least at least 25 minutes of the 30 pulling me down the road. I had the brakes on most of the trip so I had built in resistance training. I’m sure I looked like a carton character at more than one point as I was bracing myself at the end of the leash to hold on. The brakes were applied and my heels were dug in for traction. Our gravel road has a couple of pretty big washboards in it. There is probably a start for two or three more to form from the divots I left as Mattie continued her mission of finding every bird in the county in that short section of road.
As we reached the stop sign at the highway I tried to turn around to head back home. Mattie in her excitement made the turn and headed back to the house via the tunnel created by my legs bracing for her to hit the end of the leash. The leash formed a firm grasp on my ankles and I realized things were about to get really ugly. I managed to catch myself on her back and maintain my upright position – barely. I’m pretty sure the trucker that passed by about that time is still laughing.
I stopped for a minute to catch my breath and calm Mattie. As I was looking around, a memory hit. I’m not sure why this particular event came flooding back but it made me chuckle all the way home.
There used to be a mobile home across the highway from where we turn onto Hwy 24. I never really knew a lot of the people that lived there since it was a rental.  I don’t even remember the name of the last people that lived there but I do remember doing them a big favor when they were preparing to move.
These particular renters had a lot of “critters” around. Dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, geese, and emus come to mind. Mainly because we received a phone call one evening from them asking if we could help them move to their new place at Excello. They had lots of critters and no way to move them, especially the emus.  They knew we had a stock trailer for our horses and wondered if we could haul the emus for them.
Larry was a little reluctant to take on this venture but being the neighborly sort of guy he is, he agreed to help out the following Saturday afternoon. All three of the kids jumped in the truck with enthusiasm. They had seen the big, ugly birds from the highway and were excited to get to meet them up close.
Getting the birds into the trailer was nothing short of challenging. I won’t lie – the kids and I were hiding behind the trailer at one point so Larry couldn’t see us laugh at him. The birds would not voluntarily step into the trailer. They wouldn’t even volunteer to look at it. When Larry brought out the lariat from behind the seat of his truck to lasso them, we hid our enjoyment.
He was not impressed with the job he was about to undertake. He managed to catch one of the birds and ran his end of the lasso through the side slats and coaxed/pulled the first bird in and closed the middle gate. One bird loaded - one to go.
Long story short, emu number two escaped its confinement and the last time we saw it, she was headed over the hill and through the woods. I don’t think they ever did catch it. There is either a very old emu still roaming the countryside or the coyotes had a very large chicken dinner one evening.
The ride to Excello was no less exciting. This was before Hwy 63 went to four lanes all the way into Macon. We were cruising down 63 on the two-lane portion following the couple to their new farm when Larry audibly gasped. The image in his rear view mirror and the vision of the oncoming traffic created a terrifying vision.
Apparently our friendly passenger decided it needed to see where it was going. The openings on the sides of the livestock trailer were just wide enough for it to stick its head through and enjoy the rush of air much like a dog with his head out an open car window.
This probably wouldn’t have been to bad if the emu had chosen the passenger side versus the driver’s side. The oncoming semi and that birds head stuck out what looked like about 15 feet spelled disaster in our minds.
Thank goodness the shoulder of the road was paved enough Larry could move over and save our passenger from a very ugly beheading. The girls didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Jake didn’t hesitate. He was still laughing so hard when we got to the farm he couldn’t even tell the emu owners what was so funny.
Larry did manage to hold it together until the bird was unloaded and we were back on the road towards home. At that point, he vowed to never again put any kind of animal other than a horse in any trailer he owned. He has stuck to that vow.
The trailer is filled every year with camping equipment for the family float trip/fishing adventure; it has been filled with furniture and belongings from family and friends when they moved; and it has carried building material for home improvement projects but it has never carried any critter besides our horses.
The older I get, the harder it is to remember all the funny things that have happened through the years. I wish many times I had started a journal when my kids were young and kept track of all the memorable things they said and did. Maybe I just need to take the dog walking with me of an evening more often. Who knows what memory she may jar out of me the next time.

So many reasons to be proud of the boys!!

original run date March 27
Chariton Valley News Press

I think I am suffering from withdrawal.  I checked my calendar this week and there were no basketball games to attend or take pictures at.  I wasn’t sure what to do with my time.  I did manage to keep myself from shaking and crying too much by working on cleaning up some of the mess in my house but that wasn’t near as exciting as games.
I have to say I’m proud of the Salisbury boys basketball team for many reasons this year.  Of course, I’m especially proud of the second place state finish.  WOW!  District tournament began the last week of February and fielded 122 Class 2 boys teams.  What an amazing accomplishment to play through the season and finish as one of the four premiere teams in the state.
With that being said, there is a much more important reason to be proud of this group of young men other than their state finish.  I have been a part of the excitement surrounding this group of junior guys since Jake joined their class as a seventh grader.  I have watched some of the juniors and seniors since they were in the second and third grade when they started playing football.  Needless to say, I have a case of bleacher behind from all the hours spent watching them in various sports over the course of the years.
This entire group of young men has always been a great example of sportsmanship and composure both on and off the field.  Yes, they have been “boys” at times, that’s what makes them all loveable and fun to be around.  But as they have entered high school and the spectrum of people watching them have expanded, they have always tried to set an example of what high school sports is all about.  As some of the younger boys meld into the team, it isn’t hard to see they are following the example set by the older guys.
They have won with grace and humility.  They have lost with poise and dignity.  Their composure on the court when down by what seemed like insurmountable odds could teach some adults a few things.  The boys on the bench are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the guys on the floor.  They win as a “family” and lose as a “family” and I couldn’t be prouder of them if they won a world title.
I was honored to be at the t-shirt signing at the high school a few days before their final four games.  As the elementary students poured through the high school cafeteria, it was hard to tell who was the most excited – the little kids or the team members.  The elementary kids were ecstatic to meet some of the guys they had been watching on the court all year.  The team members were amazed at how many of the younger kids knew them by name.
I found myself chuckling at some of the reactions of both age groups.  Some of the young ladies coming through the line seemed a little awestruck.  The boys were equally impressed with meeting the guys they emulate during pickup games.  Some of the team members recalled the Panther final four appearance in 2005 and being on the t-shirt side of the autograph session.  What a testament to the positive influence high school sports can have on kids these days. 
I know some people think we put to much emphasis on high school sports but this past season highlights why they are so important to small communities.  Even before the state run, the town united in support of both the boys’ and girls’ teams.  That excitement carried to the district tournament in Sturgeon and beyond.  I was so impressed with the sea of purple in Sturgeon when Salisbury brought more fans than the hometown team did. 
The support never faltered as the boys team traveled to Sedalia, back to Moberly and finally to Columbia.  One of the security officers at Mizzou Arena was overheard talking about the show of support for the team on Thursday evening.  He commented that if burglars wanted an easy hit, Salisbury would be the place to be because he was certain most homes were empty.
I was so happy to be the primary photographer for Salisbury teams this season.  Because I have a son on the team, it seemed logical for me to photograph their games.  Man was it fun.  I found myself taking way more pictures than really necessary.  It is hard to put the camera down when four boys on the team can dunk with ease.  I might miss that perfect shot if I wasn’t ready.  I certainly hope to follow both teams from behind a camera in years to come.
Jake has given us a break from sports for a few months.  I won’t lie, as much as I enjoy watching him play sports, I’m happy for the break.  Our house project could use a few evenings of attention to finally wrap things up. 
As this school year rolls to an end, I have to brace myself for the inevitable.  I have to face my youngest becoming a senior and my last year of organized high school sports.  I’m already excited about football season come fall and basketball next year could prove to be just as exciting as this year. 
In the end, I’m grateful for the coaches and supporters that have been a part of Joni and Jake’s lives through the years.  The lessons they have learned, both good and bad, will serve them well throughout life.  They have learned to deal with the heartache of loss, enjoy the ecstasy of winning, how to deal with people and learned the importance of integrity and honesty. 
If you happen to meet up with me around town and I’m shaking a little bit, don’t fear.  The withdrawal symptoms have been easing through the week.  By the time summer basketball rolls around, my backside will be ready for my last year of bleacher residence.  The sports mom in me will be pumped and ready by football season to support our team as I’m sure the community will be also.
Congratulations Salisbury boys basketball, Coach Wyatt, and Coach Green.  It was a thrilling ride.  The community was proud of you every step of the way.