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.