Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Spooky and Sweet

Originally published in the Miami News -Record on October 25, 2015

I passed my love of Halloween on to my daughters. Kady has spent weeks decorating our house and we spent several evenings at Abby’s making her house extra creepy. From the bones in our fire pit to the skeleton sitting nonchalantly on Ab’s porch swing, we have represented the skeletal population well. There’s a 5x8 foot spider web in Abby’s yard which I’m sure the mail carriers will be glad to see come down since they have to walk all the way around it to deliver her mail. Our dining room table is host to a skull, a few “potions”, and some ghosts. Last weekend at Sunday dinner the skull was a nice addition to the bowl of hot rolls.

As a kid, we couldn’t wait to buy the quintessential garb that every other elementary school kid had: the plastic smock/coverall that went over your clothes and the plastic mask with eye holes that were never quite right. By wearing them, you automatically assumed risk of corneal abrasion. Whether you were the Lone Ranger, Red Riding Hood, or Casper the Friendly Ghost, you staggered around not seeing (or breathing) well while you paced single file around the Old Gym to show off your costume. There was a boy and girl winner in each grade and if you didn’t win, you were okay with that because: CANDY. And popcorn balls. And Kool-ade. And those rock hard sugar cookies in the shape of a Jack O’Lantern and covered with ¼” of orange-tinted sugar crystals. Oh my stars, I loved the Halloween parties in grade school. As we got older, the costumes got more creative. Lumberjacks were born when a longsuffering mom would slather a prepubescent face in Vaseline and then toss coffee grounds at the well-jellied mug of her offspring. Mummies came to life when moms sacrificed white bed sheets and wrapped her little darling head to toe. And if you had a mom like mine, she would almost always pull an all-nighter sewing a pilgrim apron and bonnet or maybe a witch’s dress.

I know we live in a different day and age now, but I miss the Halloweens of the 80’s. Back then, no one had ever heard of such a thing as a Trunk or Treat or a Fall Festival. We just  trick-or-treated and enjoyed the heck out of the school party that felt like it lasted eight hours – and it kind of did since we all wore our costumes to school and spent the whole day as our favorite cartoon characters, heroes, and creatures then topped it all off with forty-leven pounds of sugar apiece. (Now that I think about it, I’m sure our teachers drank a lot after school on party day. Or at least wanted to.)

Being country kids, we didn’t trick-or-treat in town, but spent the time between school and bedtime burning up a tank of gas going all over Ottawa County to relatives’ houses. First stop was Papa’s farm where we’d catch him before the evening milking. Then it was off to Nana’s house in Picher where there was a brown paper sack for each grandkid waiting on her kitchen table holding enough candy to make a dentist cry. Then on to Aunt Edie’s and Granny Glenn’s, a few of Mom’s elderly friends, and Mrs. Demo at Nine Tribes Tower where we always got her amazing chocolate chip cookies. We’d finish the night at Uncle Tom and Aunt Shirlye’s and by then we were usually fighting sleep because our sugar high had worn off and Mom had snatched up all the candy when we wouldn’t stop fighting.

The kids plan to hand out candy at Abby’s house this year, although I fear most kids will be getting their candy out of random trunks around town. Oh darn. I guess I’ll take the leftover Reese’s Fast Breaks off her hands and dispose of any Fun Size Snickers as well. You know how we moms sacrifice for our kids. 

Spelunkin' (A continuation)

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on October 18, 2015

Back at camp, Lana praised me for passing my free cardiac stress test, but kept a close eye on me. I know she loves me and all, but really didn’t want to do CPR on her friend. I drank a bottle or seven of water, rested my shaking legs, and was excited to hear Tour-guide Lumberjack Barbie say that the cave entrance was “only a minute” from our camp. I was fairly certain I could handle a minute of walking. As we started for the cave I tried to ignore the nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “This path is preeeeeetty steep which means coming back up later is going to finish you off where the other hike didn’t. You better call your mom and tell her you love her.”

At the entrance, the guide warned us about low hanging ceilings, fluttering bats, and slippery surfaces. He cautioned us to not touch anything with our hands and to stay on the path because some of the critters living in there were so small we could knock out an entire community with the toe of our shoe.  “Horton Hears a Who” flashed in my head. He said if there were hand rails we could touch those, but to be very careful to not bump other surfaces with any body parts. I vowed to lovingly make those hand rails my new best friends.

And thus we began our descent. Our friends’ youngest son had been very nervous and scared to go in the cave and they had been praying God would help him overcome that fear in the weeks prior to the trip. I know in my heart of hearts that God conveniently placed some salamanders in the stairwell as we entered. Ezra was fascinated with those scurrying boogers and we were 20-some feet underground before the little guy knew it. I, on the other hand, didn’t do so well on the trip down. I am terrified of heights and the stairs were steep. In order to keep from breaking my hip, I had to look down at the steps. Looking down made me light-headed and I lost my balance and bumped the wall….and felt something wiggle. I called down the stairs. “Uhm…..Nathan? I’m pretty sure I just killed a salamander with my butt.” Paul whacked me on the shoulder and shushed me. He said didn’t want me banished before we even got in.

We went 170 feet below the ground that afternoon. We saw all the usual cave offerings: stalactites, stalagmites, bats, lizards, frogs, unknown drippy things and wiggly things. I saw this cool looking stuff on the handrail and hollered to the guide to see what it was. “Oh that? It’s a fungus growing in some guano.”  It was then that I shone my flashlight further onto the handrail and realized that the rail that I had been clinging to was pretty much covered in bat poo. So. Much. Bat. Poo.

Sam entertained us all with random Batman quotes and declarations to save Gotham from the Joker. Everyone over 5’ tall whacked their heads. For once Kady and I felt pretty fortunate that we’re short. We saw a pile of guano that had to have been 12-feet tall. I heard the folks at the head of the line say, “We’re almost there!” and I assumed that “there” meant “exit”. No, “there” meant “as far as we can go and now we have to turn around and walk all the way back out.” It was a half mile in and the same half mile out, but it took a quarter of the time to get out than it did to get in.

It was a really cool experience and I’m glad we did it. I’d even do it again someday. But I’m hoping that between now and the next time, that special cave snail pays for a golf cart and paved pathway to and from the cave. Nature schmature. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Great Outdoors

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on October 11, 2015.

Awhile back, Mike and Lana, the friends that came over to sort-of camp in our yard and go four-wheeling back in the summer, asked us if we would be interested in visiting an underground laboratory in a cave in the Ozarks. How does one say no to such a proposition? Kady and Sam are studying earth and space science this year, so I thought caves would go right along with such a trip and you know us homeschoolers and the constant educating of our children and stuff. We were SO in.
We were only going for an overnight stay and would really only spend about 24 hours on the property, but goodness gracious it looked like we were packing to stay a year. We had lawn chairs, flashlights, coolers, bags, sleeping bags, enough bug spray to kill half of Missouri’s insect population, plus hot dogs, sandwiches, and I made enough blueberry muffins for an army. We arrived, grabbed a bite for lunch and finished up just as our tour guide showed up. He looked like a lumberjack. He had a beard and wore a flannel shirt and very serious-looking hiking boots. His name was Nathan, but in my head I referred to him as Tour-guide Lumberjack Barbie. He was adorable.

He took us on a hike through the beautiful wilds of a tiny dot on the map called Protem, Missouri. He explained about the cave and its impact on the environment. He told us about how the owners were working very hard to protect the endangered species that lived in their cave. He said, “The elaborate septic system that keeps the groundwater free of waste was paid for by the snail.” And rather than wonder why or how a snail paid for a septic system, all I could think was, “Where is this snail and will he pay for stuff for me, too?” Turns out, there is a species of cave snail that is only found in this particular cave in the whole wide world. It’s a VIM (Very Important Mollusk). And apparently when you have a VIM on your property you are a VIP and people pay for your toilets.
Not far into our hike we came across a pygmy rattlesnake. But being homeschoolers, we didn’t run screaming; we all gathered around to inspect it. Tour-guide Lumberjack Barbie nearly had a stroke. “Folks, that’s a poisonous snake. Folks? Rattlesnakes are poisonous. PEOPLE! RATTLESNAKES ARE POISONOUS SNAKES.” Poor fella. Apparently he had never led a tour for homeschoolers before. We are a curious lot.
Little did we realize that our hike was taking us downhill. (Or at least, I didn’t – maybe everyone else did.) When I heard, “Okay, let’s head back to camp for a quick rest then we’ll walk down to the cave,” I was thinking, “Oh, it’s been such a lovely trek so far. I can’t wait to see the rest of the trail.” Then about 10 minutes later after a nearly vertical incline that would make a mountain goat faint, I was sucking so much wind I was seriously considering trying Kady’s inhaler even though I’m allergic to albuterol and it causes my throat to swell shut. I was pretty much just thinking it would bring about death quicker than the heart attack I was certain I was going to have. Lana is an RN and Mike is a firefighter. They both looked ready to spring into action if I keeled over – something I think we all felt was fairly imminent. However, I made it. I survived all 4,270 miles of that hike.
I also exaggerated a few times in the previous paragraph.
You’ll have to come back next Sunday to hear the rest of the story. I know, I know… I’m not one for suspense either, but such a tale requires more than my 650-ish word limit. And believe me, you will all want to read about how I’m pretty sure I killed a salamander with my butt.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Flying Checkbook

Originally published in the Miami News-Record, October 4, 2015

I moved out of Mom’s house and straight into Paul’s. That took some getting used to. I had a checking account for awhile prior to getting married, but when your mom buys the groceries and pays the bills, the only money that comes out of your account is gas money and shopping money. Suddenly I was a wife and the adorable checks with Holstein cows on them (we also had matching return address labels!) were being used for things like food, electricity, phone, insurance, and oil for my car that was burning a quart a day. Paul was the only one working and I was having no luck finding a job. Things were tight and kept getting tighter.
One night, I had tried paying the bills and it just wasn’t working. I had always heard the phrase “Robbing Peter to pay Paul," but it finally rang true for me just what that meant and I didn’t see my Paul reaping any benefits of this so-called “pay.” I was frustrated at my inability to find a job to help out, Paul was working long hours to try to help, we were both tired of eating dishes made with canned beef and dehydrated eggs. He walked through the door after a 14-hour day and I unloaded on him. I had been crying and then it turned to flat-out anger. I was complaining and he stood there with this blank look on his face. How dare he?! So I started yelling. Still he stood there looking at me, blinking. Then he shrugged and turned to walk into the living room. And before I knew what came over me, I lobbed the checkbook at him. Now, in my mind, it was going to really make a point. It was going to get his attention and make him see that I was justified in my tirade. Have you ever thrown a checkbook? They just don’t make good missiles. They kind of flutter… and then flop to the ground. I wanted to hit him and hurt him like he had just hurt me by walking away when I needed him to just listen. Instead, the noise of the fluttering checkbook made him turn around. It landed behind him at his heels. He looked at the faux leather case that showcased my neat handwriting and color-coded register entries, looked up at me, looked back down….then yelled, “DID YOU JUST THROW THAT AT ME?”

Oh, it was on, brother and sisters. I stood up prepared to fight. Or run. He threw it back. And even though he threw it much harder and faster than I had, it still only managed a flutter and a flop. And then we both just laughed. What else were we going to do? The bank balance hadn’t changed one penny in all of our screaming and throwing. We were still broke and we were still going to eat canned beef smothered in cheap bottled barbecue sauce for dinner that night.
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (Proverbs 15:1 NLT)
This past week Paul and I commemorated the 23rd anniversary of meeting and our first date. (Commemorated as in “Hey, 23 years ago today you met me and asked me out.” “Oh yeah? Cool. G’nite, dear.”) There have been times when we’ve spoken more harsh words than gentle answers. There were plenty of times when we simply chose to not speak at all because harsh words were all we had for each other. Not every season of a marriage is full of sunshine and roses. Sometimes it’s full of empty bank accounts, sick kids, tired spouses, and other rotten things. But the times where it’s got some “I believe in you” and “I love you madly even though you’re a slob and apparently physically incapable of replacing an empty toilet paper roll” are the times that keep us going.

Happy 23 years of knowing me, babe. And thanks for asking me to go bowling.

We....the people

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...