Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Year, New Routine, New Attitude

original run date December 27, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

I normally don’t make New Years resolutions. But this year, I need to find something that is actually a goal I can reach. Not because I feel a burning need to join the resolution bandwagon, but more because it always feels good to cross something off one of the many lists I have lying around. I haven’t been able to do that much lately so maybe a resolution is just what I need.
I’ve already been working on the whole fitness and diet lifestyle change so that typical resolution won’t work. I’ve given up on ever getting ahead financially. Just when I think there is some breathing room in the family budget, something else breaks and has to be fixed. I don’t smoke, drink heavily, or shop excessively so there goes all the no brainer resolutions. I’ve decided the only thing I have left is to be nicer ñ to my alarm clock.
I’ve said before, I’m not a morning person. Mr. Sandman hates me. Therefore it takes me a long time to go to sleep at night. I’ve tried every home remedy to make sleep come faster but I’ve resigned myself to laying in bed for at least an hour every night before falling into a restful sleep.
Then that annoying blare rudely blasts me out of my peaceful slumber and the fight is on. My alarm clock is a small appliance. I’m not sure how such a small grey box can blast such a obnoxious, nerve-grating noise but it does. It always ends with me slapping, punching, or throwing it through at least two snooze sessions before I finally open my eyes enough to find the off button.
At some point, during all this commotion, Larry has quietly slithered out of the bed and into another room so he doesn’t have to dodge flying objects. Both of the cats are usually cowering under the bed waiting for me to leave so they can nestle into the warm spot under all the covers I just vacated, without risking injury. And so my morning begins.
I’m usually successful in quieting the monster so that my morning routine can bring me out of the grumpy stage and allow me to flow into the smiling, happy person that I like to be. It sometimes becomes a process to shut the alarm clock up for a full 24 hours though. The off button is so small and my eyes have not fully focused so it can be difficult to find the magical switch to bring peace and tranquility back into my life.
When I finally get my eyes focused and figure out what day it is, I’m ready for the blast of warm water to fully bring me to my senses. Ahhhh, the shower! It is just what I need to start the day off right. And then it happens – I hear that sound once again. Apparently, I missed the off button and hit the snooze again because I can hear that nails on the chalkboard shriek all the way across my house and over the soothing sound of the shower.
Decisions, decisions. Do I get out of the shower and dry off enough to go shut the alarm clock off or do I just listen to it for the duration of my morning shower? Getting out of the shower without drying completely off means I will have to clean up the mess before leaving for work.  Listening to it blare for the next 10 minutes ruins the hope of being a pleasant person for the rest of the day.
I usually make the effort to silence the menace and turn it off but by then, my whole day is in shambles. It is going to take more than one cup of coffee on my way out the door to make me pleasant.
Adding early morning workouts to my routine is helping. I have found it much easier to pull on workout clothes and tennis shoes then walk on the treadmill while still in a sleep induced stooper than it is to actually go to a job and be useful in the first hour after I get up. I can avoid the exasperating second round of piercing beeps just by doing something good for myself.
If I happen to be on the treadmill at my house, I get a morning chuckle just by listening to the commotion as Larry tries to both find the off button and maneuver through covers and cats that are intertwined on the bed. The cats will stare him down because of the hubbub disrupting their comfortable spot, which in turn gets a reaction that is indescribable. Mainly because it isn’t something that can be printed in a newspaper that children might accidentally read.
So, I guess that will be my New Years resolution. I will be nicer to my present alarm clock. If that doesn’t work, I vow to buy one with Sam Elliott’s voice as the “buzzer”. I won’t be slapping appliances around anymore but I may never go to work either. I’ll just listen to that smooth baritone voice lull me right back to sleep.

Her actions spoke volumes about her spirit

original run date December 20, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

I know all my neighbors think I’m a sandwich or two short of a full picnic basket. I would think the same thing after seeing some of the antics that our closest neighbor (Mrs. Laura Kaye West) and I have pulled on each other.
 But the last few weeks, we have put all antics aside and efforts have been wrapped up in praying for Laura Kaye’s mom – Grace Eberlein.  Sadly, last Monday morning, Larry, Jake and I joined her family to say goodbye to Grace. She was an amazing and beautiful woman with a smile that lifted my spirits each and every time I saw her.
Grace wasn’t originally a member of the neighborhood when the West family first moved to our neck of the woods but she was always part of the fun.  When they were getting everything ready for their new home, the shrieks and screams upon finding all the snakes in the old well reached far and wide.  After we checked to make sure no one was seriously hurt across the road, Grace and I got quite a chuckle out of picking on Laura Kaye.
When Jeana died, Laura Kaye and Grace became the “traffic control” at our home. They greeted family and friends, took care of food and supplies, and made sure anything we needed was there before we even knew we were going to need it.  Grace made sure to write down everything that came through the door so we would know later where all the food and supplies came from. I still have those pages and pages with her detailed accounts stored in a scrapbook for safekeeping. Little did we know at the time that she was also about to undergo trials herself for the remaining years of her life.
The next month we found ourselves back at University Hospital as Grace underwent surgery for cancer. She made the choice to battle the disease even though it cost her the ability to talk with her family. The lack of verbal communication didn’t keep her from letting everyone know where she stood though. Whether she gave you the thumbs up or thumbs down, a smile that lit up the room, or that warning look that said you might have just stepped over the line - she never lost the ability to communicate her feelings to those around her.
Grace officially became our neighbor when she moved in with the West family that fall. She and Laura Kaye would drive by the house and we could see Grace smiling and waving even if it was dark outside. Her smile and graciousness always warmed my heart even on those dark and gloomy days when being personable was not something I wanted to be. How could I possibly be gloomy with her positive spirit in the face of everything she was dealing with?
Grace enjoyed our neighborly antics and I knew I had one-upped Laura Kaye the day I got not only a double-thumbs up, but saw her slap her legs in motions of laughter. Even though the sound of laughter did not ring across my front yard, I could still hear it in the background as Grace realized what I had done.
Our antics started out pretty innocent. As I was driving past the West’s driveway, I saw Grace’s car at the end and slowed down enough to wave wildly at Grace sitting in the passenger seat. She smiled that smile and waved back just as happily. Then I heard it – apparently Laura Kaye was at the mailbox getting the mail and I totally missed waving at her.
Grace laughed at the two of us as we exchanged good-hearted crazy talk about the incident. I mean really – if a car is in the driveway, who looks across the road for somebody to wave at? The conversation somehow led to the big round hay bales across the road from my house “waving” at Laura Kaye and Grace the next morning as they headed into town. Much to my surprise that evening, the hay bale had grown a very large smiley face sticking it’s tongue out at me every time I looked out my living room window.
The antics escalated. I thought a “mooning” scarecrow with a personal message to Laura Kaye would be a fun way to decorate my front yard. The look on Grace’s face as she realized the heart tattoo on his backside had her daughter’s initials will forever be a memory I hold dear. The thumbs up and wink while Laura Kaye wasn’t looking made me burst out in laughter.  The look of innocence on her face when Laura Kaye turned around was even funnier.  It didn’t matter which one of us got the last laugh, Grace always laughed the longest and “loudest”.
As my mind was meandering through my memories of Grace the other night, a sudden fear struck me. As much as Grace enjoyed the neighborhood antics, I can only wonder what is in store for Shelby Avenue. I know for a couple of years after Jeana died, things would happen at our house that made all of us look at each other and say “what the ?”. Now that Grace and Jeana can join forces – the whole neighborhood may be under attack. Pairing Grace’s sense of humor and experience with Jeana’s spirit and spunk – I’m afraid the neighbors may choose to have us committed if crazy things start happening we can’t logically explain. I just don’t know how we will be able to tell our side of the story without the men with the white coats thinking the neighbors are right.
My thoughts and prayers will remain with Grace’s family as well as all families who have lost a loved one this year. The holidays seem to intensify that void left in our lives after losing a loved one. It has taken me a lot of years to realize that the Christmas season should do just the opposite. The Christmas gift we all received over 2000 years ago is the reason I have faith in life after death. As long as we keep Jesus as the center of the Christmas season, that void will fill with the faith of seeing Grace, Jeana, and all our loved ones again.

Melanie got ran over by a reindeer

original run date December 13, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

The Christmas season is once again running over the top of me and I have yet to put one single Christmas decoration up. It is the same dilemma every year.  Do I spend a couple hours digging out the tree and all the decorations when I could be doing some other domestic chore?
When I was a kid, the Christmas decorations didn’t come out of storage until Dec. 11. My brother’s birthday was the 10th so we didn’t put up anything until after celebrating his day. Of course, we also didn’t take anything down until after Jan. 7 either.
Bringing the family Christmas tree home was always an adventure. We didn’t go to a Christmas tree farm or lot; our Christmas tree always came out of the pasture. We usually went looking for it while we were checking cows with Dad. Some of the best trees were the ones that lost calves were found under. The definition of a good Christmas tree was always the one that only had one or two missing branches and the hole could be shoved back in the corner of the living room and hidden.
We used the same big lights and metal decorations every year. The strands of silver tinsel had to be placed one at a time. We painstakingly placed them – when Mom was watching – on each individual branch. The second she turned her back, I would hurl a handful at the tree in hopes of finishing it up faster. She caught me every time and made me take the globs of tinsel off the tree and put them on correctly.
I can honestly say the only part of putting up and taking down the Christmas tree I truly disliked was that darn tinsel. I always wanted to pitch it with the tree but we took every piece we could off before taking the tree to the pond and recycled it the next year. I guess we were green before being green was cool.
After getting married and having kids, my ideas of the family Christmas tree changed. When my kids were little, they started begging the day after Thanksgiving to put a tree up. When I was brave enough to use a real tree, I always made them hold off a couple of weeks but these days, I have embraced the ease of the artificial tree. Ours is several years old so it is not pre-lit which means every year we have to do the tangled lights tango and make sure they all work before stringing them across the tree.
Several years ago, I decided a themed tree would be fun. Instead of garland, we used one of Larry’s lariat ropes. Instead of a typical tree topper, we used a cowboy hat. I dug out the scroll saw and made wooden saddle and boot ornaments for each member of the family and wood burned names into each ornament.
My creative side must have been in overdrive because I even made a horse shaped ornament for each of the horses in the family at that time, complete with their names wood burned into the wood and stained to match their coat color.
The kids thought that was the coolest tree in the world so I was officially proclaimed mother of the year for the weeks leading up to Santa day.
Although we don’t do the whole cowboy theme anymore, I still have all those wooden decorations – all but the one for the mare my great niece has now. When Star went to their pasture, the ornament went along for their tree.
These days I begrudgingly dig out the tree and all the ornaments. With basketball season in full swing, time at home is minimal. I’m usually rushing around trying to wash clothes or do dishes that have stacked up during the many road trips to games. The thought of spending those precious hours putting up a tree, which is one more thing to clean around, makes me a Grinch. Joni usually convinces me that it would be nice to have it up for our family get together and at some point during the next couple of weeks, we will have a family tree night.
Joni and I will make Jake dig the tree and ornaments out of storage. He will grumble as he drags them up the stairs and try to convince us that we really don’t need both the big boxes of “junk” brought up. Larry will strategically position himself in the recliner. He’ll peel his eyes from the TV every once in a while and let us know if we have to many ornaments bunched in one place or if there is a spot on the tree that doesn’t have anything. He will quickly let us know when our decorating activities are blocking his view of whatever show he is watching.
The cats will hide under furniture and plan their attack on the brightly shining lights and ornaments reflecting said lights. Inevitably, the attack will take place at approximately 2 a.m. which will cause insane amounts of yelling and colorful language as everyone runs to figure out what the noise is as ornaments drop, roll and break on the hardwood floors.
I have to admit, once the tree is up and all the lights are working, it is kind of nice to turn all the lights out and stare at it for a little while. The lights and their reflections have a mesmerizing affect.
It takes me back to Christmases past when the squeals of joy rang through the house as the kids saw all the gifts Santa had left.  We had usually just gotten home from my mom and dad’s Christmas gathering. If we had attended midnight mass, it meant all three kids had squeezed in a nap so they were wide-awake. They were not going to give up and get any sleep until every package had been ripped open and each gift properly tested for the proper amount of time.
Maybe I can skip cleaning a room or two just this week in order to make time to assemble the tree. Staring down those lights and traveling to a Christmas past may be just the ticket to getting rid of the Grinch in me and find Cindy Lou.


Coming soon to a theatre near you - Potato Dodgers

original run date December 6, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

Remember when you were a kid and you thought everybody was “old”. Then as you reached your teenage years, you realized those people you thought were “old” were really just in their 30’s and 40’s. Now that I’m in that age range, it certainly doesn’t seem to be that old. That is until I decided to get back in shape.
I had been telling myself for several years now that the extra weight was just post maternity weight and I could hold on to it for a while for the sentimental value. Now that my “baby” is 16, almost 17, I think I’m beyond using that as an excuse. Add to the equation that I watched one of my best friends drop several clothing sizes last winter and I had some motivation. She assured me she would help me do the same so I jumped on the bandwagon with zeal.
I have it in my head that I can do this – well, Cindy has me convinced anyway. I knew where I was starting from and have my goal set on where I want to get. The next morning, bright and early, I rolled out of bed and made it to my first Cindy mandated workout.
Now my family will tell you, I’m not a morning person. I can count on one finger the total days I have gotten out of bed before 7 a.m. and actually had a smile on my face. It just doesn’t happen for me. I have always wanted to be a morning person but that usually doesn’t mix well with being a night owl so after 22 years of marriage, Larry has just accepted the fact that talking to me before 10 a.m. is at your own risk.
I made it through the torture of my first workout on the journey to getting back into shape. I even made it through a second workout the next day that included the high school track - and stairs - without keeling over. So far, so good – I’m still moving on Sunday. Maybe I’m not as out of shape as I thought?
Monday morning rolled around and I rolled out of bed – with a thud. Oh the agony! Larry made the mistake of laughing – out loud – as I made my way around the bed. If I could have reached him, I probably would have smacked him. The comment about how I looked like a frozen toed rooster trying to get away from a fox didn’t help matters one bit.
Thankfully, ibuprofen comes in fairly large bottles because I went through quite a bit that first week. I have stuck with the five-day-a-week regimen of various degrees of working out and have made it past the frozen toed rooster stage for now. I know Cindy will be upping the degree of difficulty soon so I’ll probably be breaking out the ibuprofen again but that’s okay, as long as I get results.
When I started this, I really thought the workout regimen would be the hardest part of the whole ordeal. I have always been a somewhat active person, just not in an athletic sense. I’m more the run after the kids, ride the horse and walk to the pond to go fishing type of personality. That’s active, right?
I have to admit though, I don’t mind getting up early quite so much when it involves working out with a friend and not having to dress beyond sweatpants, a t-shirt and my tennis shoes. I’ve even roped my kids into joining me at the fitness center on occasion to motivate me to keep going.
To my amazement, the workout routines are not what have caused me the most grief and despair. It has been giving up my most beloved comfort food of all time – potatoes. I can eat potatoes in any form and I will go from Cruella DeVille to Snow White in a matter of minutes. They can be mashed, baked, fried or boiled with butter. Throw in plenty of sour cream, some cheese, salt and pepper and my week has been made.
Yes, I know, the calorie count in those last few sentences would be my entire days allotted amount so as you can imagine, it has all been removed from my menu planner. I grew up with a food pyramid that had three levels. Meat on the bottom, potatoes in the middle and garden raised vegetables at the top – my food pyramid now has a giant hole in the middle when meal planning.
A low carbohydrate diet phase several years ago in our household taught me several ways to fill in that hole. Cauliflower can be cooked and made into “potato” salad or mashed much like potatoes. Rice has entered our menu a little more often although you have to be careful with that as well. I liked cheese dumped in my rice in epic proportions so that is a no-no these days also.
Even though there are ways to fill in that huge gap, there is still nothing like a mound of mashed potatoes, loaded with butter and topped with gravy to make a bad mood go away. Comfort food will never be the same.
I’m sure as I weave my way through this whole lifestyle change I’ll manage to rework my menus and meal planning won’t be such a pain in the posterior. Until then I’ll skip around that end of the produce aisle and continue to resist the temptation.
Unless of course, Larry breaks out the frozen toed rooster joke again. Then I might have to buy one more bag of potatoes so I can throw them at him since I won’t be able to catch him. There is still some comfort in that thought.

Music and Memories Make the Days Fly By

original run date November 29, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

Attending the Vesper practice last Monday night and writing about the service sent me into flashbacks. I remember being a part of the Vesper program while a member of the high school choir way back when. I don’t remember the song we sang that year but I remember practicing it over and over and over again during class. I had never attended the service until that year but I was impressed with how everyone came together to present a moving program to start the Christmas season.
Music has always been a part of my life. While attending grade school at Prairie Hill, the Christmas program was a highlight of my grade school years. I’ll never forget how excited I was to receive a lead role in the play my sixth grade year, then how frustrating it was to have to stay in during recess when I didn’t learn all my lines quick enough or have the songs memorized correctly. The program always contained lots of music as every class from kindergarten to the sixth graders performed a number.
The hours spent in a tractor with my oldest brother throughout my childhood was filled with the country music of the 70s and 80s. As I entered junior high and high school, I still loved country music but pop music and the 80s hair bands entered my musical selections as well.  
Friday nights through the winter in Salisbury usually meant there was a teen dance at the Knights of Columbus Hall and I was usually one of the first ones in the hall and last ones to leave. These days, the commercials for the 80s pop music usually brings a burst of laughter as I look back at the musicians and their wild attire and hair. Every once in a while I actually catch the words to some of the songs and bust out laughing even harder. What exactly were they trying to say?
As I grew older and got married, I was once again sucked in by country music as George Strait was making waves. I still have to smile when my kids bust into a George Strait or Randy Travis song. Larry was determined to make sure his kids didn’t listen to anything but country. The day each kid was brought home from the hospital he promptly broke out the cassette player and the George Strait “Unwound” album. He figured he had better start them off right.
By the time Jake was born, the cassette was getting frayed and he was actually worried he couldn’t “imprint” him correctly.
Apparently his plan worked because all three kids have been country music fans since they could talk. Each one of them had a favorite song.
With Joni, we listened to the song “Wink” by Neil McCoy hundreds of times. With Jeana, it was her daddy’s favorite, George Strait, and “Check Yes or No” and with Jake it was “Little Bitty” by Alan Jackson. I’m pretty sure I can still sing every word to all three of those songs to this day as many times as I heard them.
When Tracy Byrd remade the song “Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got”, it caught the attention of all three of the kids. Whenever that song came on the radio in the van, Larry and I either turned it up really loud to drown those three out or plugged our ears immediately. We knew they were going to be singing in unison at the top of their voices – they may have been in unison but they certainly weren’t in tune.
Of the three kids, Jeana was the one that loved music the most.  She was determined to learn to play the guitar and be the next Reba. She certainly had the hair and lungs but the pitch and tone lacked a little to be desired. She had a Reba cassette she would always listen to whenever it was her turn to mow the yard.
One bright summer day as we were all working outside, Jeana jumped on the mower with my old Walkman and happily pulled out of the barn to mow. All was going well – Jake and Joni were helping clean in the barn, the sun was shining and work was getting done without fights or tantrums.
Then we all heard it. Jeana was belting out Reba songs with fervor.
As I said before Jeana had the lungs to rival Reba – we could plainly hear her over the mower. So could the neighbors, the horses and maybe even the citizens of Clifton Hill. Jake was grabbing his ears begging us to make it stop. Joni was mastering the big sister eye roll and look of disgust.
We tried to convince both of them that it really wasn’t that bad but the sight of a 1,500 pound mare cringing then turning tail and heading for the far end of the farm was pretty convincing that it really was that bad. Every horse we had at the time ended up at the far end of the pasture against the north fence. I’m pretty sure they were wishing they could bring their front legs over their heads and plug their ears with their hooves. 
Eventually the yard was finished and the mower put up for another week. We all recuperated from the incident and the bleeding from our ears eventually stopped but to this day I still have to laugh whenever I hear “Fancy” by Reba. It just isn’t the same song.
Music of all genres – be it country, Christian, church hymns, or a well-written top 40 song – has a healing and motivating factor for me. I tend to crank up the radio whenever I need motivation to clean the house or my mood makes me a not so pleasant co-worker. Random songs on the radio bring memories flooding back and soothe a cranky mood quickly when I least expect it.
These days, the convenience of an iPod makes my days go a little smoother. It mixes all the genres from across the decades that I enjoy into a small two by two package that is easy to take with me wherever I go. It motivates me to stay on the treadmill a little longer and work on all those Christmas presents that I thought it would be a good idea to make this year.
Along the way, it also brings a flood of memories that make me laugh out loud. So if you see me walking some morning with my ear buds in and I suddenly bust out laughing, chances are Reba is taking me back in time. It really isn’t a bad way to start the day.                               

Turkey Day Brings a Whole New Meaning to Family Game Night

original run date November 22, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

Holiday traditions are wonderful, aren’t they?
The food is always fantastic and in abundance. The laughter that rolls out of my parent’s house is loud, rambunctious and constant. But by far my favorite holiday tradition has nothing to do with the food on the table. My extended family doesn’t get together until Thursday evening so most of the football games are over. Not that many in the family care about the games past Larry, Jake, my brother and me. So a big part of our family gatherings is games. Card games and board games have provided this family with some of the best and funniest memories ever of the holiday season.
Every year, at some point during the Thanksgiving celebration at my mom and dad’s house, we fit as many people around the big dining room table as we can for a game of some kind. Now, if you know my mom’s dining room table you know that it is huge. It was assembled, stained and varnished in the living room because it won’t fit through any door in the house.
If there is ever a fire in their home, that table will smolder for days because it is built so heavy. It is a good thing though because when you get 10-12 of us around that table – things get brutally ugly.
For years, it was pitch. Every one of us kids learned pretty early on how to play the game. The grandkids were brought into the “pitch playing fools” circle as soon as they could lay the cards out in order. We would have pitch tournaments throughout the night as the losers at one table had to play the winners on the other table. The winners always got to keep their chair. One game would last for hours. The all-time record was over 30 hands in one game because there were so many sets throughout the evening.
Uno was a staple for several years when my kids were little. It always amazes me how a group of adults can turn into barbarians when they have that draw four card in their clutch. It is all supposed to be in fun, but there were those moments when the comments that came with the grand placing of the card on the pile made me wonder about hidden hostilities brewing under that smile.
As more and more grandkids entered the family fold, we decided at some point through the years to add in a game everyone could play. Spoons became a tradition that brought out the competitive spirit in everyone. My husband and nephew tried stock piling spoons in their pockets so not to get injured in the ruckus when that first spoon was snatched from the center of the table. Someone always tried hiding cards and always got caught.
It became evident early on that whoever had grabbed the first spoon had to prove they actually had four cards that matched because some people – who shall remain nameless – would grab a spoon just to watch the fireworks. Can you imagine, grown adults cheating at a game as simple as spoons?
Several years ago when Mom had a new dining room floor installed, she had to call all of us laughing. As dining room furniture was moved around, she decided to clean out all the vents in the room. She found teaspoons that had been sent flying across the room and lost in the vents.
I think that was the year she decided the game was a danger to her youngest grandchildren and should probably not be played in the future. What a spoilsport. I mean, no one was ever seriously injured during the game – only a few scratches here and there. The karate chop to the wrist that caused a hand to go numb and release the last spoon on the table left no marks and therefore does not count.
Other games have come and gone. Pictionary was a favorite for a while but getting stomped by the in-laws every year was pretty embarrassing. The Bixenman side of my family has no artistic genes what so ever.
I still contend there was some table talk going on between team members *cough Doug/Larry cough* because there is no way on earth some of those “drawings” that the guys scratched out on paper resembled anything on those cards. Those points for actually coming up with the right answers are still under review.
I’m pretty sure the makers of Apples to Apples, Outburst, Guesstures and Taboo had no idea what level a family like ours could sink their games to, but we always manage to do it. It seems the harder we laugh at each other, the worse it gets. I’m guessing that is also the reason that every Thanksgiving, someone brings in a new game to try out – just to see where it will end up.
I’m sure this year will be no different. Somebody will show up with a game just to see how creative everyone playing can get with their answers.
If not, break out the spoons Grandma because here we come!


Thankful For Many Blessings in Life

original run date November 15, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

Every time I sit down to write a column, I panic. I never know if what has been rolling around in my head will come out on paper like I want it to. Needless to say, there are a lot of ideas rolling around in my head these days – I wish they were all useable.
I’ve been working on ad layouts all morning while the men in my life are out trying to tag a deer and the thought crossed my mind. “You big dummy – Thanksgiving is in a week. You have so much to be thankful for.”
So here goes my list for this year.
First and foremost, I’m thankful for my faith. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a church, my car, or on horseback; alone or with family and friends– I know somebody has my back that no other person, place or thing can beat.
Everyone is thankful for their family and I am no exception. Without my husband and kids what else would I write about? They are the center of my earthly world and always will be. They make me mad, laugh hysterically, and many times wonder how I got myself into this thing called marriage and parenthood. I can’t imagine not having them add to everyday in my life. I’m thankful for the time I had with Jeana and the influence she has had on us as a family. There isn’t a day I’m not grateful for everyday I was given with her and each and every day I have with Larry, Joni and Jake.
I can’t thank my parents enough for making me the independent woman I am today. They gave me a work ethic that sometimes I think is going to kill me. I have a backbone to stand up for my kids and myself even when others tell me to back down because my parents always did the same for me. It doesn’t matter what I ask of them when I need a helping hand, they are there – even when I know they are thinking I’m a crazy lunatic they should have given up on years ago.
I can’t make a list without including my extended family of brothers, sister, their spouses, my in-laws and all my nieces and nephews. Life would be downright boring without that bunch of crazies in my life. My siblings have always been the first to show up when the times got tough. My nieces and nephews are probably the most amazing individuals any person will ever meet. I’ve spoiled them to the best of my ability and enjoyed watching the older ones grown into a pretty unique group of adults. The youngest of the first generation and all the “greats” are looking to be just as amazing. Trust me, they will be just as loved and spoiled as the older ones.
 My family doesn’t need much of a reason to get together for a meal and game of pitch or spoons. We have been known to turn the blandest event into quite a ruckus. The holidays are always memorable beyond the meal and presents when this bunch gets together and I’m sure this year will be no exception.
We do have to be reminded once in a while that we now have little kids playing spoons again so care must be taken not to injure them or their parents.
My list of friends is pretty impressive if I say so myself. They are all important to me but I have to say thank you to my two closest friends – Cindy and Molly. You two have gotten me through some pretty stressful events in life. Even though you don’t always agree with me – you’ve been there.
I do believe Cindy is out to injure me as we do the Biggest Loser contest together over the holidays but it is great having someone kicking me in the behind when needed. That doesn’t mean I won’t be sending her the doctor bill if she kicks to hard. I’m truly thankful to have her as a friend that makes me laugh until my sides hurt and kicks my posterior if I need it. I know she will be there day in and day out.
Molly has been the friend that has been there since high school. She got me through the worst event in my life with grace, love and understanding. She is one woman I’m thankful to have in my life everyday. Whether we get together to do something as friends or I’m helping her out at a school dance or other event, we always manage to find something to laugh at each other about. Life would be boring without a friendship like Molly’s.
Friendships like these make the world go around. You can always depend on true friends to tell you the truth, defend your decisions even if they don’t always agree, and be the parent to my kids when I’m not around. Both of these women have been a second mom to my kids’ and I love and respect them for playing the role in the manner they have.
I’m truly grateful to Laura for giving me a chance when she hired me for this job. What turned out as a temporary spot is working into one of the greatest challenges I have ever been faced with as well as one of the most fulfilling. My days are always filled with creative challenges and opportunities I dreamed about in high school and never thought would ever be fulfilled. I’m truly enjoying everyday at work and the challenges it presents. I never knew a job could actually stress me every day and I would enjoy it this much.
My co-workers are another blessing in my life these days. Jess is becoming a part of my family as each week the two of us put in the extra hours to put the paper together. We are anxiously awaiting the return of Natalie from maternity leave – we know she is enjoying the time spent bonding with her family but man, we miss her. Bouncing ideas off of each other is always an adventure and those bonding moments bring the “work family” a little closer together.
Please don’t call and have the authorities commit me for this one but I’m thankful for all my past experiences whether good or bad. I don’t always like what has happened in the past – some I just downright loathe – but I know God did everything for a reason and I know I shouldn’t question Him. I’ve been pretty downright mad at him for a few of them but when it comes right down to it - I’m almost scared to know where life would have taken me if I was in control instead of Him. He has challenged me in ways that have made me want to give up but every one of those challenges has directed my life to where it is today and for that I’m grateful and humbled.
I really wish the business world would put more emphasis on Thanksgiving beyond the meal and football. Sitting down and writing out everything I’m thankful is a humbling. Even with the events in my history that have changed my life and inner self, I’m a pretty blessed individual.
I hope all of our readers and patrons have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. Enjoy the day of family, food, football, and friendship but more importantly, count your blessings both big and small. If only everyday could be a holiday like Thanksgiving.

Of Mice, Kids, Cats, and Chaos

original run date November 8, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

I enjoy the social aspect of Facebook. I know that is pretty crazy coming from a person in my generation but I do use Facebook as a social tool and nothing else. I haven’t been on much the last few weeks. In fact, I’m so busy most days that by the time I get home, I have almost forgotten I even have an account. I’m just not on much lately but checking in one night provided me more entertainment than most comedies on TV these days.
A friend’s status started out innocently enough. She had a mouse in her house and she wanted it gone – dead and gone never to return. All sorts of suggestions came pouring in and over the course of the next few evenings I found myself drawn back to her page to read the updates on the great mouse hunt.
I don’t like mice much myself. I don’t hate them but I don’t like them. I’m not the type of person who will make a train of chairs across the room to avoid contact after seeing one scurry through the room but I will set out to kill them quickly. When you live in the country and have a hayfield all around your house and a barn full of horse feed, it becomes quite a task.
Much to my husband’s dismay, many years ago I decided to best way to combat the pesky little rodents was with house cats. My girls were thrilled at the prospect. Larry – not so much. He was outruled 3-2 and house cats became a part of the war on rodents. My intention was to just have one cat but we had two girls. It was much easier to have two cats than listen to the arguments over whose cat it was, who had to feed it and whose turn it was to clean the litter box. Welcome to the family Maggie and Miss Kitty. The girls loved and spoiled them with gusto.
Maybe too much gusto.
The cats turned out to be quite efficient mousers; I was proud. My point had been made. The girls were not quite as thrilled about that aspect of their newfound friends. The cats truly loved the girls and wanted to express their affection. This meant that with each fresh kill, they had a trophy. Maggie and Miss Kitty were more than happy to share said trophy with their best friends; the deposit was always made in the doorway of one of the two girls bedrooms. I was sure that I saw an evil grin on Maggie’s face every time she got a reaction.
Those cats proved to be very entertaining – to me. Maggie didn’t like Larry much for some reason so I secretly chuckled at the war between the two over the years but my favorite memory with those two felines was by far the great piano bar mouse hunt. We had one of those really big, old pianos in our dining room. The kind that stands over five feet tall and takes six football players to get in the house. It was strategically placed in the dining room because the bench could double as one of the miss matched seats around the kitchen table.
It also managed to serve as a safe haven for a mouse that unknowingly wandered into enemy territory one winter afternoon. We heard the commotion start in the utility room and come crashing through the kitchen. First was the mouse, two cats in hot pursuit and Elmer Fudd (Jake) bringing up the end. The mouse quickly sought refuge under the piano.
The scene was made for the movies. Both cats had their heads flat on the floor and their backside stuck in the air as they tried to reach the mouse under the piano. It had found a safe spot just out of reach of the black and white paws swiping ferociously at it. Behind the cats were three kids, all with their heads pressed to the floor, peering under the piano to watch.
I’m not sure how the conversation progressed to the next scene – that is the one part of this story not burned into my brain. Jake had received a bb gun for Christmas that year. One of the kinds that you pump up – the more you pump, the more force the bb has. He was never allowed to pump more than three times unless Larry was with him. Jeana suggested it would be helpful to the cats if Jake were to shoot the mouse for them.
Larry quickly stepped in. Jake never touched the floor as he flew into the utility room to get the prized gun out of the gun cabinet. One pump meant the bb might roll out of the end of the barrel so he was allowed two pumps and had to back up to a safe distance. The only thing Larry wanted a ricochet to touch was the cat. Both girls were shuffled behind Jake.
I’m not sure what was the funniest. The girls screaming so loud when that mouse hit the floor that the neighbors in Randolph County probably heard them, the look of shock on Larry’s face, both cats raising their head and their jaws hitting the floor, or the happy dance my son did when he realized he hit was he was aiming at. Innocent bystanders may have thought Elmer Fudd had finally shot Bugs Bunny.
With one quick swipe of a furry paw, one of the cats had another trophy to present to the girls. Macon County neighbors probably heard that commotion. Jake was disappointed that he was not allowed to hunt in the house anymore – he was sure he was going to be our mouse exterminator from then on out.
When I finally quit laughing, I realized that although I truly hate mice, it might have been worth it for that one to come running through the house. I don’t think Hollywood could have created a funnier scene than what unfolded in my dining room that evening. I’m sure if Facebook had been in existence it would have made my status that evening.

Men aren’t from Mars – they are from Antarctica

original run date November 1, 2011
Chariton Valley News Press

I love fall!
I always have; the mild days and the cool nights. The vivid fall colors. It is always the perfect weather for horseback riding, hunting, and Country Gold Saturday night around the fire pit on the front porch. Fall always means I have the windows wide open even though I live on a gravel road and the dust pours in the windows. I figure the dust will easily wipe off the furniture and sweep off the floor.
The cobwebs next to the ceiling get a really good coating which means they are easier to see and get with a swipe of the broom. My sign above the TV says it all: Don’t mind the dust, it’s part of my country look!
Unfortunately, late fall means really cool evenings and the need to turn the furnace on in order to take the chill out of the air. I mean, who likes to take a shower in the morning when it is 40 degrees in the house? Nobody hates to have to close the windows and turn the furnace on any more than I do but at some point it has to be done. Frost bitten fingers would make it very difficult to type and my job sort of depends on my ability to type.
This drop in temperatures also means the war starts at our house. Mr. Han of Karate Kid fame could use videos from our house as teaching tools. Windows open, windows closed, fan on, fan off, windows open, windows closed – you get the point.
In the heat of summer, I love having a fan going to spread the cool air around. But, in late fall and the dead of winter the fans need to be hidden in the darkest corners of the basement. Ceiling fans should be cleaned since they should not be moving – yes, I leave ceiling fans on as long as possible so you can’t see all the dust on the blades. Around our house, fans cause more fights than money, kids or any other marital discord.
My dear, sweet, loving husband becomes a monster when you mess with any of the fans in the house, especially the minimum of two running in the bedroom at all times or the ceiling fan in the living room he sits almost directly under. It’s craziness.
I’ll be the first to admit that I just tell the kids to wear layers of clothes in the winter so the thermostat can stay at 68 but let’s get real. There is really no need for all those fans sucking the electricity through the meter year round. The point of a furnace is to produce warm air so I don’t have to wear two pairs of sweats, a long sleeve shirt, hoodie, and hunting socks to watch the latest episode of NCIS.
As the days get colder, the war gets worse. I turn the fans off and the thermostat to 68. Since I’m the minority in the house these days, it becomes a full time job making trips past the thermostat every time I see one of the two guys I live with walk past it. I can’t seem to convince either one of them that turning the fans off would help them stay warm and then the thermostat war could cease and our gas bill would surely lower.
As the temperature drops, my means of staying warm gets more creative.  By the middle of January, I’ve resorted to wearing Larry’s clothes over mine as an added layer. I drive home from work slower, not because of road conditions, but because I can control the thermostat in the car and soak up some extra heat for the evening at home.  
I will even resort to actually cooking full meals in the oven just for the blast of warmth the envelopes my body when I open the oven door to check dinner. Anybody that knows me well knows I really don’t like to cook so this is a major expenditure of time and energy for me – all in my ongoing effort to stay warm and avoid the continuous drone of the fans.
I will stay up well past a reasonable hour waiting on my other half to settle in and fall in a deep sleep so I can turn the fans off at night. Of course, this also means I have to find a way to muffle the snoring but some sacrifices are worth making. He always wakes up and turns the blasted things back on before morning though. Added covers, heat pads, and heavy socks are all brought to battle during the dead of winter.
When spring rolls around, the windows once again need their very own electric opener. We go back to the open/close war until temperatures moderate and we can agree to leave them open. It’s no wonder all the windows in my house are worn out!
It really should be easier to moderate the temperature in the house this time of year - if only Mother Nature were the only demon I had to deal with. As it stands, I’m fighting three forces at once: Mother Nature, husband and son. I keep thinking that as dear hubby gets older, his blood will flow slower and he will need the fans less and less. Jake will be moving off to college in a few years so I’ll be down to two forces to contend with.
Until then, the yearly battle will continue. Maybe hubby dearest’s Christmas gift should be a ticket to Antarctica for a week so we can both enjoy the optimum temperature for a few days.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

'Tis the Season

Original publish date, October 25, 2011, Chariton Valley News Press, Salisbury Missouri


The holidays are upon us: for most families that means Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. At my house, a much more important holiday is fast approaching and the male kids in my house are giddy with excitement. No, they don’t dress up and although they both love to eat, it isn’t Thanksgiving or Christmas that has them nervous with anticipation.
It is, of course – deer season.
I will admit I use to share in their excitement. I would always dig out all the coveralls and blaze orange accessories, making sure everything was wearable and replace what wasn’t. I even have my first “wall hanger” proudly displayed in our living room. But for me, for several years, deer season was a chaotic, albeit humorous, event that I anticipated because my kids were always so excited.
Youth season weekend was much like Christmas at our house. All three kids were too excited to go to sleep the night before yet sprung out of bed with enthusiasm the next morning way before the crack of dawn as they dressed in multi layers of clothing, made sure they had plenty of hot chocolate, and piled in the truck - usually laying on the horn until Larry and I drug ourselves out of the house with all the fire power and forgotten deer tags and blaze orange gear. I won’t lie ­– the first year they all three were eligible for youth season, we made a major young parent mistake.
Larry and I both have our hunter’s education certification so we decided we would just take all three kids hunting opening morning ourselves – in the same deer stand. First, the commotion getting from the truck to the deer stand probably left every critter in the woods believing that foreign armies were invading their space. Then when the “I’m cold” whining began, it was three-fold. Then, have mercy on us, a deer appeared.
It was a yearling buck – aka too dumb to know to run. At first sight, we woke all three kids up (yet another rookie mistake – we should have just woke one up at a time). The excitement of seeing a deer quickly escalated into full fledge war. Who got the first shot? Joni felt that since being the oldest she should get first chance. Jeana was thoroughly convinced that since Joni had never shot a deer before that she had to be an awful shot and there was no sense wasting the first shell of the season on someone who was going to miss. Jake wasn’t quite awake at that point and realized he was never going to get a word in edgewise so he just went back to sleep.
Amazingly enough, the louder the war in the deer stand got, the more curious that poor little buck got and the closer he came. I don’t even remember who took the shot at about 20 yards out, but they missed. The deer ran off but stopped at about 50 yards and turned around to listen into the next argument blasting from our stand. Jake rolled over and got more comfortable ­– one of the girls shot again.
Funny thing about that year is, I don’t remember if anybody got that deer. I do still look back and laugh at the mass chaos in the stand though.
Larry and I quickly realized we were going to have to call in the troops to help with deer season from that year forward. He took Joni, I took Jeana, and family members stepped up to accompany Jake. Another deer stand was built and ground blinds were engineered out of whatever we could find so everyone had some sort of cover.
I do have lots of memories from deer season that I will always cherish. Jake’s first deer and his 15-foot jump from the deer stand as he sprinted across the field to get it. Jeana’s first deer was a doe, which she took some ribbing for from the boys in her class. They were quick to point out all the bucks they brought home. She quickly pointed out she made one shot all season at a running deer and brought one home. She was pretty proud of the fact that none of the boys her age could say that. Of course I’ll never forget the bobcat jumping out of the tree we were crawling into or the two-hour argument over the “cat” under the stand that was really a raccoon. Jeana was determined she could catch it and take it home. Not!
Although I no longer hunt – my house and craft room are a lot warmer - I still enjoy watching Larry and Jake gear up for the hunt and enjoy the weekend. This is the first year I have to watch Jake get in a vehicle and drive himself to the stand, which will be a little hard to do, but I’ll chalk it up to another memory. I still have to help clean the nasty critters and get all the meat in the freezer, but as long as the guys fend for themselves for meals all weekend, I’m good with that.
I actually enjoy having the house and TV remote all to myself for the weekend. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the stand or at home, I still get to enjoy the thrill of the hunt stories they bring home and relish in the fact that memories are still being made.
Isn’t that what holidays with family are about anyway – the memories that are made?

Sports mom column....this is where it all began

If I had told my high school English teacher that I would be writing a “sports mom” column in *cough, cough* years, she would have probably choked on the laughter.  I wasn’t the sports type in high school!  For that matter, if any of my high school friends read this, they are probably still in total disbelief.  But, much to my surprise, I have become a sports mom.
I was sure during Joni’s first season of t-ball I was going to be spared of having to coordinate around sports seasons.  I mean, seriously?  Joni was much more interested in the bugs in the outfield grass than she was where the ball was being hit.  My dreams were shattered during her 5th grade year when she was introduced to basketball and fell madly in love. Jeana soon followed on the basketball court, as did Jake.  A year later, Jake did some major sweet-talking and talked me into letting him play flag football. Our lives, and schedules, have since been arranged around practices, games, team dinners, and crazy tournament schedules and the mandatory washing of uniforms or practice gear at 1 a.m.  Over the past 10 years, I have burnt out three crock-pots, two dishwashers and endured the smell of football pads like a trooper. 
I’ve always tried to not be one of “those moms”.  I’ve always tried to be positive and encouraging to all the kids on the team. I’ve pestered Larry or anyone sitting next to me with questions to learn more about the rules of the games my kids played.  My goal was to be loud and proud – not obnoxious and oblivious.
All those years on the sidelines and my love for cameras have given me an opportunity I’m pretty excited – taking sports pictures for the Chariton Valley News Press.  I know my pictures will never match Jessica’s, but I’m learning more with every game and having a blast in the process.  My biggest challenge has been keeping the “sports mom” in check and maintaining the professional demeanor on the sidelines Laura deserves from her employees.  Last week during the football game against Paris, I was challenged to the maximum.
There comes that point when shooting pictures that I realize the action is too far away for good images.  At that point, I usually lower the camera and enjoy the game.  Well, that works in theory anyway.
Last week when I reached that point, it involved a breakaway touchdown by my favorite player – my son.  Most of the time that wouldn’t be a problem – Salisbury’s chain gang knows me.  Unfortunately, the sports photographer I was sharing the sideline with didn’t know I was a “football mom”.  My outburst managed to make him jump about five yards and I’m pretty sure his heart was suffering from an irregular beat.  The look on his face was pretty priceless.  After the obligatory football mom touchdown celebration, I sheepishly apologized for the outburst.  I managed to add to the apology a brief “no. 44 is my son” statement which elicited an eye roll.  I do believe he mumbled something about not being able to tell and his ears ringing but I was back to cheering on the team so I’m not positive.
It came as no surprise to me that soon after the extra point attempt he decided the lighting was more favorable on the other side of the field.
I guess the most important lesson I learned at that game was that during the idle photographer sideline chitchat, it would be courteous to mention that I’m also a football mom.  Jessica has agreed with me that it might be a good idea for me to be back in the stands versus on the sidelines during the Westran game.  I mean, the team appreciates every “loud and proud” football mom, grandma, aunt, cousin, neighbor and casual acquaintance cheering them on during the games right?  That, and the fact that I don’t think pictures of the lights or grass will be useable for the paper anyway.  I’d probably be swinging that poor camera around like a samurai sword all night. 
After that game though, it will be back to the sidelines with camera in hand and my football mom personality brought back under control – at least until the next big touchdown run anyway.  

posting columns from the paper

Wow, been a while since I have been on here.  I posted way back in September about a temporary job I was starting.  That temporary job has led to full-time with a variety of responsibilities.  One of them is writing a weekly column.  By request for some of my out-of-state friends who don't receive our weekly, community paper.  I will be posting them.  They won't all go up today.  I will go in stages.  I have to dig through computer archives and find them but I will start getting them up over the next few days.

Thanks to my friends for believing in me and encouraging me to continue writing.  It is a challenge but oh so fun....until I hit writer's block.