Do you have kids

A post on Facebook said, “Tell us you have kids without saying ‘I have kids.’”

My granddaughter, Lindsay, wrote, “My coffee is cold, and so is my food, I have little bruises from being jumped on. I have more stretch marks everywhere. I enjoy nap time, laundry never ends. Brushing my hair is as far as it gets. I am a poop sniffer and a lie detector. I can reach around corners and rescue stuffed animals from danger. I am a fixer of boo-boos and a wiper of tears. I am a mother, I have no fears.”

Mothers plow through their fears. One of my earliest “Moms have no fear” incidents involved our eight-year-old. He stared appalled at a creepy crawdad that his dad invited him to see. He backed away. I thought he needed to address his fear, so I addressed mine. For the first time I touched a creepy crawdad. I did not volunteer to touch another. The boy did and grew to be a man who insists on kids trying new, scary, but safe, experiences.

Then there are snakes. I avoid them assiduously. I never touched one until I went on a school trip. The girl with me shrank back from the snake the forest ranger held for the students to touch.

“Look, it’s okay,” I reached out and stroked the snake.

“It won’t hurt you. Be brave.” I faced my own fear, touched it and realized, “Oh, it feels like ribbon!” A few years later, traveling with a grandchild, I astonished my husband when I stroked a long, fat python at the zoo. I only did that to encourage my granddaughter to do the same. Once sufficed for me.

One time, the “no fear Mom” facade came as we stood outside the bedroom where my husband’s mother spent her last few weeks. My daughter, hesitated at the door to the room where her terminal grandmother lay. She felt timid and unsure of what to do in this new experience. I empathized with her, took a deep breath and walked to say a few words. My daughter followed, greeted her grandmother quietly and they spoke for a few minutes.

Moms always have the next generation depending on them to calm their fears or ease them into sleep. Some mothers described their “I have a kid” by simply saying, “I haven’t slept through the night in eight years.” “I have one inch of space on our queen sized bed.” Or “I sleep on the floor although my bed is 20 feet away.”

Some nights a tired mom will do just about anything if their child will just go to sleep. I have laid on the bed to calm a restless child, stretched out on the floor beside them or allowed them to crawl into bed with me. Even with grandchildren I have grabbed a pillow and a book to lay in the hallway and say. “Now be quiet so we all can sleep.”

Our youngest liked to crawl in bed with us. As she grew bigger, I eventually kept an extra blanket and pillow on the floor beside me. If she came into our bedroom, I would pat her back as she laid on the floor. I wanted my bed space. For a long time, she often left her bed to sleep on the floor.

Mostly though, these days my proof that “we have kids,” comes with walls filled with pictures of the same six at different stages of their lives. If they have not called in a while, I wonder if they are okay. And, when I know they are coming, I make a special shopping trip to buy their favorites. That’s how you can know I have kids without my saying it.

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an anniversary with covid

Advice columnists, speakers and movies emphasize romantic anniversaries, birthdays or other special days for couples. They depict flowers, candy, a candlelight dinner in a fine restaurant, sweet nothings whispered or written. Every year my husband aims to have some activities on our anniversary.

He fell flat on everything this year. In fact, he was laid out flat on his back. Well, not exactly flat on his back. Since he has Covid-19 he sat up a lot. This year hubby’s health quarantined us behind closed doors for our anniversary.

Instead of sweet nothings whispered to each other, he sat in his lounge chair on one side of the living room hacking, coughing and moaning his misery. I sat on my side of the room in my lounge chair, blowing my nose. We made quite the duet.

The romantic music of the day faded sporadically into snores when one or the other of us fell asleep. No fine bib and tucker this year. No, this year, I sported a Snuggie with a St. Louis Cardinals’ theme. When I stood up he said I looked like a Cardinal’s player in full baseball uniform without a cap to cover my bed head.

No delectable chocolate cake on the counter this year. This year, our treats came in little bottles of pills: vitamins, antibiotics, decongestants and effervescent Vitamin C tablets, plus all his heart medications, filled hubby’s stomach. I tried to give him a feast. I really did. I offered him chicken noodle soup, dry toast and rice. He took one look and shook his head, “I can’t eat that,” he groaned and slumped into the lounge chair.

So he drank broth, orange juice and water. He nibbled on a few crackers and lost weight. Whether he planned to start the year off with a purge, or not, he did and has lost about 10 pounds. That’s one way to fulfill a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight!

Some years we dress up and go out to a movie for our anniversary. This year, jammies, warm socks and extra t-shirts replaced our finery as we dozed and watched one banal movie or show after another on YouTube. Too tired to reach for the remote, we languidly let it roll from one show to the next as we lay on the couch or chairs. The first day of that, my husband looked at me about 6 or 7 o’clock and said, “We certainly have been lazy today.”

“No, just getting better.”

We don’t usually exchange gifts. Our anniversary is too soon after Christmas. Still, I did go to the store and pick up his prescriptions for Covid. Before our holiday rush, I anticipated one or the other of us having a cold or the flu (as it usually happens), so I bought chicken noodle soup, cough medicine, decongestants and cough drops. He didn’t unwrap presents, he unwrapped cough drops and ripped open envelopes of Vitamin C.

No fancy cake this year. We made do with an instant chocolate pudding pie.

The day of our anniversary in quarantine, a friend called, “are you about ready to kill each other?”

I honestly could say, “No. Not really. He sleeps a lot while I work on writing, sewing or clearing corners of clutter. I needed to be home for a while.”

Two or three days of living in pajamas in front of the TV sufficed for me. I woke up one day and dressed. It took hubby a couple more days to shed his fuzzy pajama bottoms. I understand the lethargy of this sickness lifts slowly. Still, I expect to be healthy enough to celebrate our anniversary by Valentine’s Day.


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Prior to my birthday, my son sent me the following comments:

When I moved to Michigan, I thought I would only be involved with the redemptive work of preaching the good news of Jesus. I soon learned about other opportunities for redemptive work. In Michigan,  most soda and alcoholic beverage containers have a redemption value of ten cents which is more than plastic or aluminum. Many collect bottles and cans to make ends meet. It is against the law to throw away redeemable containers in Michigan.

During the severest part of the Michigan COVID shutdowns, the stores did not allow bottle returns. I found many extra cans and bottles in people’s recycling bins and started to collect them. When stores began accepting the bottles, I redeemed them for over $100. That money bought additional groceries and toilet paper for the folks to whom I was assigned to help by delivering groceries to them on an as-needed basis.

Once at a bus stop, as I pulled cans and bottles out of the trash, a fellow who hangs out there soliciting small donations said, “You should get a real job. Stop begging for money! You are dirty!”

I turned around to him, “I’m not asking anyone for money. I’m on a redemptive mission. These bottles have value. I plan to redeem them. It’s a crime to throw away what can be redeemed. You can be redeemed too, and you wouldn’t want anyone to throw you away. Right?”

He lightened his tone and was more friendly.

Thanksgiving Day while my wife fixed the meal, I wandered over to the nearby university campus. When I collect bottles and cans, I often talk on the phone with my mom. That day I scoured half of the campus and collected bottles and cans worth about $2.50. It’s not often I get paid to talk on the phone!

On New Year’s Day, I went to the campus, again made a call, and while I talked, I picked up two to three dollars worth of redeemables from the other half of campus. No one had gathered trash since Thanksgiving because the University closed after another rise in COVID cases. I decided it was high time somebody rescued what could be redeemed.

A neighbor regularly drinks and discards beer and Coke bottles. I pick up the cans and empty any remaining beer onto the ground. From him I redeem a couple dollars worth of bottles and cans every couple weeks. Sometimes he gives me whole bags of redeemables. One time, he compassionately gave me four dollars in cash as well. All this for simply walking off my regular route, rescuing what otherwise went to the dump.

Locally, cans are such a hot commodity that people in economic trouble post requests on Facebook for permission to pick up cans from others. Usually, several people post that they have cans available. The recipient puts gas in their car, buys groceries, and that is the end of it.

However, recently, a co-worker from the public service agency where I work viciously berated a can-collector for asking for the help. Her comments came to me via the agency’s Facebook page. I suggested she use more discretion with her online interactions. The next day during a webinar on sensitivity towards those who have suffered unjustly, she was visibly shaken.

My mother taught me to redeem the time, to stretch my money and that there are no throw-away people. On this week of her birthday and anniversary, I celebrate by redeeming a large bag of cans and bottles, then I will use the cash to buy toilet paper for the people I serve.

Thanks, Mom, for not letting me waste my life.

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Gladys Aylward, the small woman

A flash from my past came as I sorted through a stack of books which included one inscribed, “Property of the Jr. Missionary Band.” As a child I belonged to a Missionary Band. Our neighbor opened her home to weekly meetings of the Missionary Band. Bit by bit she read us “Gladys Aylward, the Small Woman.”

As a young teenager Aylward worked as a chamber maid in pre-WWI England. That was her life until she attended a mission conference and felt God calling her to China. China Inland Mission placed her in a three month training. Her academic agility in theology or Chinese did not impress the China Inland Mission leaders.

Aylward became a maid again, but this time she had a goal. For the next four years, she saved every penny she could to buy a train ticket to China. If the mission board would not send her, she would go on her own. Finally in 1930, at 28, she boarded a train and traveled for weeks across Asia to help Jeannie Lawson, a 70 year old woman, serving in China.

Lawson taught Aylward her first Chinese – a chant, “We have no bugs, we have no fleas. Good, good, good—come, come, come.” Chanting, Aylward snagged the lead donkey of any passing mule train and pulled it in the barn at their Inn. In the evening, Lawson and Aylward told Bible stories. Memorizing those stories in Chinese furthered Aylward’s language skills. Initially regarded with suspicion, the two gradually earned the respect of the community and leaders.

When Lawson died a year after her arrival, Aylward had learned enough language to manage on her own. She did wonder, “How can I afford to keep the inn? What can I do?”

The local official had a solution. He commanded her, “Go out in the district and check that the families no longer bind their daughters’ feet.” As a woman with “large” unbound feet, Aylward provided an example to the families. She received a fee for the task and daily opportunities to tell Bible stories. Individuals’ belief in Jesus Christ and local churches began to develop.

On one of her trips, Aylward saw a mother with a sickly child. She gave the mother nine pence and took the girl home with her. Nursed to health, she became the first of 100 children who came to live at the Inn of 8 Happinesses.

At one point a murderous prison riot broke out. The local official commanded Aylward, “Go in and get them to calm down.”

“They will kill me,” she protested.

“Your God is inside you. He will protect you,” the official said.

Aylward went. Inside the gate a man rushed her with a sharp knife ready to kill her. She insisted he hand her the knife.

He did.

“Now tell me why you are rioting,” she demanded.

“We don’t have food. We don’t have clothes or a way to keep warm.”

Aylward returned with food, clothes and work projects. She began a prison reform. The community began calling her “The Virtuous One.”

In 1938 the Japanese attacked China. Aylward and the orphans fled to hide in nearby caves to avoid a Japanese massacre. Seeking safety for the 100 children at an orphanage, Aylward trekked with them over the mountains. She and the older children carried the little ones. Random encounters with soldiers and strangers provided food, protection and a ride across the river to safety where they found the orphanage.

She faithfully continued to minister to the Chinese until her death in Taiwan. The little lady who could not pass the entrance class of China Inland Mission obeyed God, earned her own way, rescued children, began prison reform, helped erase foot binding and introduced many to Christ.

Those whom God calls, He enables.


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Covid sent us back to the past

    On the cusp of a new year, we look back on 2020 as the year we went Back to the Past.

    It began with the grocery store ads, “Send us your grocery list and we will walk the aisles filling your order. All you have to do is park at the curb and we will load your groceries.” Or, “for a fee, we will deliver the groceries to your home.”

    Exactly like folks used to do when mom would call the corner grocery store and ask, “Would you please send over a couple quarts of milk, five pounds of sugar and a dozen eggs?” With groceries left on the doorstep this last year, we have almost returned to the era of dairy products left in the aluminum box on the front porch,

    Back in the good ole days, the mailman delivered a fat catalog every fall. I poured over the Wish Book every year choosing Christmas presents. Slowly, Black Friday shopping wiped out mail orders. That came to a screeching halt this year as quarantined folks ordered more of everything online, expecting it to be delivered to their door.

    In the Ralph Moody biographies set before World War I, his widowed mother made a living for the family by cooking up hot meals for other folks. Moody’s teenage sister and younger brother helped him deliver the hot pots of bean soup and brown bread to ladies who did not want to cook in the heat of summer. This year, fast food places joined with delivery services to save us that trip into town so we would not have to fix that food ourselves.

    Folks used to stay at home most nights. Then organized sports expanded to include everyone from toddlers to old geezers. Covid-19 came along and sent us scurrying back home. The sports arenas closed. Suddenly, back yard play sufficed once again. Card games came out of the closets and national sports went silent for weeks.

    In the past, weddings involved the bridal couple, the immediate family and a couple of witnesses. Then wedding planners, bridal magazines, elaborate engagement and shower parties grew exponentially in popularity until Covid-19 brought it all to a screeching halt. I realized how much the wedding extravaganza had stopped when my Facebook friend who loves any party showed pictures of her daughter’s wedding. Only the parents attended.

    Back in the day, home cooked meals dominated the menu. Then after school, work and extra-curricular activities shoved Mom out of the kitchen and into the fast food line. Before last year many moms admitted, “I hardly ever cook. We always go out to eat.”

    Then the quarantine closed restaurants. Folks stuck at home called in grocery orders, gathered in the kitchens and helped clean carrots, peel spuds and make the day’s home-cooked meals. “I thought I had forgotten how to cook,” one said.

    With the stay at home orders, pollution began to dissipate. The air cleared like it used to be. Italy noticed it first as the waterways in Venice cleared and many life forms returned. With greatly decreased demand for gas, the price at the tanks plummeted to long forgotten prices. Families discovered the wonder of walking in fresh air and enjoying the outdoors after a day spent inside doing homework, office work, virtual schooling and zoom meetings. The future begins to look a lot like “back in the day.” Thinking of that, I wonder if today’s kids might remember the good ole’ days of the quarantine when they and their parents stayed home. Covid-19 caused its damage, but it also slowed us down, cleared out our over crammed closets, schedules and lifestyles. It provided time to go back and re-discover activities worth carrying into the future.

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what does Elizabeth have to do with Christmas

The winners of the Christmas alphabet game called out their words for each letter.

“E is for Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth! What does that have to do with Christmas?” Steve sputtered.

“She was the wife of Zechariah. Gabriel the angel told him he would be the father of John. That promise came before Gabriel visited Mary,” I said.

Steve looked at me dumbfounded. “How do you know all that?

“Because I tell the Christmas story to kids every year. Read it. It’s in Luke 1.”

A couple days later, I saw Steve and asked, “Did you read Luke 1?”

He hadn’t. So, just for Steve, I am writing a short version of the role Elizabeth, Zechariah and John play in the full Christmas story.

The story begins as Zechariah offers up sacrifices in the temple. The angel Gabriel suddenly appears, startling him. Gabriel says, “Don’t be afraid. Your prayers are going to be answered. You will have a son. Call him John.”

Zechariah scoffs, “Me? Have a son? I am old. And Elizabeth is way too old to have a baby.”

Gabriel put Zechariah in his place, “I stand before God. Because you do not believe, you won’t be able to speak until he is born.” Well, that shut up old Zechariah for a long nine months.

He went home. Elizabeth became pregnant.

Six months later, in Nazareth, Gabriel appears to Mary, “Don’t be afraid! I come with good news. You are going to be the mother of the promised, eternal King.”

Mary, she believes him, but she wonders, “How can that be? I am a virgin.”

Gabriel tells her that God will make it happen and then to prove it, he says, “your cousin Elizabeth, the one who is old and never had a baby? After all these years, she is having a son. See, with God nothing is impossible.”

Gabriel did not say, “Go check her out! See for yourself!” But Mary did.

As soon as Mary walks into the house, the baby inside Elizabeth jumps with joy. Unborn baby John recognizes that Jesus has entered the room.

Elizabeth excitedly says, “You are so blessed. You are the one! And my baby knows it, too.”

John’s job was to announce, “God With Us has arrived!” He began doing that even before his birth.

Mary spends a couple months visiting Elizabeth – two mothers who are miraculously expecting special sons. Mary goes home. Elizabeth has her son.

A week later, the neighbors all come over for a circumcision ceremony and the naming of the baby.

The neighbors all insist, “of course, his name will be Zechariah.”

“No, no, no,” Elizabeth says over and over, “His name is John.”

“No one in the family has that name,” they argue.

She insists. Exasperated they turned to old Zechariah who could not speak his opinion. He motions for a writing tablet. They grab one. Zechariah writes, “His name is John.” Suddenly he can talk, and he can not stop praising God. He lets everyone know it all was exactly as the angel Gabriel had said. As promised, the baby boy was born to old folks. That’s the last we hear of Zechariah or Elizabeth.

The next chapter begins with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. They stay in the stable because there is no room at the inn. The Shepherds hear about his birth from angels. Thirty years pass. And John, now called John the Baptist, announces, “One is coming; I am not even worthy of bending down and tying up His sandals.”

In John chapter one, John first appears as “the man sent by God whose name was John.” Later he baptizes Jesus. So yes, Steve, all three, Elizabeth, Zechariah and John, definitely belong in the story of the Christ of Christmas.


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Growing up to help

I blinked and did a double take last fall when I saw Elijah, then 13. In the few weeks since our previous visit, our chubby grandson had stretched up into a tall, thin teenager. I barely recognized him with his new haircut and body.

“Wow! have you measured yourself lately? You have shot up!” I said. We looked at the hash marks on the door frame. He was definitely inches above the last one. In the year since then, he has continued to grow. I watched this child enter the world 14 years ago; now I see him entering adulthood.

“Eli, come here and help. You need to grab hold of that side and lift,” his mom said pointing to the end of a heavy couch. The lanky teenager ambled over and lifted. No sweat, not even a grunt from the former “little boy,” reaching his arms up for comfort when he fell down.

The toddler who wanted to ‘help’ now does so easily: whether he is watching his little sister, doing the heavy lifting or doing the laundry.

One of his not-so-little sisters, Daisy, also switched this year. As a toddler, she stuck her foot out and said, “tie my shoes, please.” I bent down, tied and double knotted. She ran off to play. This year, after a partial hip replacement, the instructions included, “do not bend to tie your shoes.” Turn-about is fair play. During a visit, I motioned Daisy over to me one morning, “Come, tie my sneakers, please.” She came over, bent down and proceeded to tighten the strings, tie a bow and double knot.

“Oh that’s okay, I don’t need a double knot. Thank you.” I won’t be running anywhere.

Having the younger generation insures plenty of helpers during busy times. My son Nate moved his family this summer. We arrived in time to help them move out of the apartment into the new house. Looking at his 80 year old father, Nate refused to let him carry boxes on the stairs. Instead, he turned around to his 12 year-old daughter Sophie and said, “Grab that end and help.”

She grinned and grabbed hold.

Where did the once-helpless infant go? No squabbling, no huffing and puffing. She enjoyed being treated as one of the adults, capable of pitching in and doing her part in the “adults only” moving event. I watched amazed. She had become strong enough to lift and move the furniture and carry the heavy boxes.

I should have known the transition time had come. During Cousin Camp at Grandma’s in June, she and the other granddaughters closed the door to my sewing room and took over. After the one time I showed them how to thread the machine, they proceeded to do it themselves the rest of the time. For two days they chopped fabric, mixed up thread and emerged with machine-stitched creations – with no help from me.

Even the youngest, little Katie, surprised me last week. She sat in my lap to use a real sewing machine. I stopped to re-thread the machine with a different color. I showed her where to put the thread through the tension, the uptake bar and thread guides down to the needle. I tried and tried to thread the needle. “It’s hard sometimes,” I said.

She looked at the needle and turned to me, “let me.”

She astonished me and quickly threaded the needle a couple times.

“I need to take you to thread my needles,” I said.

I once helped them, now they help me and their parents as our roles reverse. And that is just how it should be.


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To Mask or Not to Mask

This pandemic has my mind in a whirl. Before school started, my daughter posted pictures of her children wearing the newest addition to their wardrobe – face masks. “Wear a mask. Go to school. Study there.”

Inconvenient. Yes. Mandatory, Yes. Well, except for Katie, who is only 4. She does not have to wear a mask unless she wants. Mostly the child does not want a mask. Not until the day she pulled one over her entire face covering her eyes. Her mother and sisters lead her through the store with her face totally covered. She found it funny that day and never wanted to wear any other time, not in any way, shape or form.

She is quite unlike Famous Wood, 10, who decided to wear a mask all the time in school to protect himself and other students. Such a noble idea. An idea that the staff at his school in Smethwick in Great Britain did not honor. So every day, since school reopened, he has been turned away at the door for – get this – wearing a mask. according to BPM Media. The school insists he can’t come into the school with a mask. “They say he can’t wear it because the Government guidelines say kids under 11 don’t need to wear one and they just made it a rule.” his father said.

To mask or not to mask, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the human mind to suffer the discomforts of the disease or to take arms against the pandemic and wear a mask. The resolution to that question confuses me when I consider the football players. Sitting quietly in a classroom, the players must wear masks. Put them on the football field, have them run like crazy, pant in each others’ faces as they huddle over the next play and no one wears a mask.

For me the issue comes every time I approach a store. I have heard more people remind me to put on a mask than tell me I don’t need to wear one.

This year, we have gone to stores with and without our face masks. Sometimes it takes seeing the sign on the door “Must have mask” for us to remember. We turn around and go back to the car for the neglected mask. I have seen stores with roped off doors mandating one door for entrance and the other for exit. Monitors made sure we walked as instructed. A couple weeks later the ropes disappeared and a box of masks might sit on a window ledge for anyone who wanted one. No one monitored entrances or exits.

Recently we traveled to Detroit, Michigan and ate in several restaurants. Of the four we visited in Michigan, three treated our visit as if there were no pandemic except having fewer tables. The fourth insisted on masks, had roped off benches and asked that we leave our names, phone numbers and time of entering the dining room to assist contact tracing if a customer developed Covid.

Consistency might help. In April, South Korea introduced what was considered one of the largest and best organized epidemic control programs in the world, along with Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. They used masks and contact tracing. In 2003 while in Taiwan, I saw the epidemic control program at work during the SARS epidemic. We had checks before boarding public transportation, face masks at the airports and temperature readings. Evidently it worked. With all the consistency I knew what to expect every time. My mind did not whirl in confusion and we arrived home healthy. Something we definitely need to consider in this country.


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New puppy fever

    A flood of Facebook pictures announced the newest pet in the family: a French beagle puppy. (Okay, it has a fancy name, but that will do for now.) Long soft ears, big paws and an eager spirit to explore the house and meet the family.

    “Someone is about to get her dreams. That someone is me,” my daughter-in-love Joy announced. She had watched the animal rescue group looking for a smallish dog with a cute face. She expected to get a two-year old dog when she applied. To the delight of our three grandchildren, the animal shelter offered her a puppy with all its shots and treatments.

    “What shall we call her?” she asked. After a flurry of names from Facebook followers and her children, they settled on Nutmeg.

    “They warned us that having come from a puppy mill, she might not like toys or playing,” Joy said as we watched the reddish-brown puppy dash around the house with the children. Nutmeg licked hands, picked up a ball, snuggled up against the teddy bear that Henry given her from his collection of “stuffies” and inspected everything, including the cat’s food.

    “No, that’s the cat’s food,” Joy reached down and removed the bowl She pointed the little dog to the bowl in her cage.

    Nutmeg arrived during one of the two days that our grandchildren actually went to school building that week. By the time the oldest arrived home, the puppy napped in its cage. “Ohhh, a puppy,” Sophie dropped her books beside the cage and cooed, “Are you sleeping in your beddy bye?”

    She persisted talking baby to the puppy for the next several hours, “Me go outside and play. Me like to sniff shoes.” What is it about puppies that triggers the baby talk in otherwise, perfectly normal people?

    Sophie’s and Joy’s initial excitement and pleasure had barely settled enough to let the puppy rest when Henry and Sam arrived. “A puppy! We have a puppy!” A grin stretched from ear to ear on Sam’s face. “That smile says it all,” Joy wrote on Facebook.

    That smile remained intact the rest of our visit. The excitement slowed only when Nutmeg walked into the cage and laid down. Joy stopped the children from pulling her out, “Let her rest. She is a baby. She needs to sleep.”

    Sam sat on the floor a foot away from her cage, smiling and staring at her. Henry jiggled the latches hoping she would wake up and want out. Sophie sat at the table, watching and celebrating, “We have a puppy!”

    Not that the children lacked pets. Two cats reigned in the house until Nutmeg arrived. The oldest, Pickles, asserted her authority with a hiss and a swipe of open claws at the little dog.

    “No Pickles.” Joy reached out to stop the cat. The much younger cat Chewie stuck her paws between the cage wires and snagged kibble from the puppy’s dish.

    When Nutmeg walked outside the cage, Chewie and Pickles reminded one pup that they owned this house. My son pulled them back. “The puppy just wants to play.”

    The cats ignored the dog or stuck out their paws from beneath the couch by the time we left. Two days later, Joy posted, “They are friends,” and showed Chewie playing, “Catch me if you can.” They circled the table with Nutmeg stopping frequently to tease Chewie to keep going.

    The jury is still out on Pickles, the older, more dignified cat. We will give him a bit more time to adjust to this new invader who just wants a snack from the cat’s bowl and a game of chase.


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Going back home

Our recent journey along the Interstate back to my husband’s home state refreshed our memory of cold and barren holiday months in the windy north. We traverse frigid states to re-kindle warm feelings among kin who live too far away for frequent visits.

Unlike previous trips taken over this highway, this time we have long stretches of road to ourselves. No convoys of trucks compete with us for the asphalt. It is not the breeze from passing trucks bouncing our car today. No, today it is the fierce wind. My husband grips the steering wheel to hold the van steady as gusts of wind push us along or slam against the side of the car.

At a rest stop, the wind leans against my door as I open it. I inch it open and the wind swoops around, slamming the door wide. I slide out and fight the wind to shove the door shut.

Having lost the battle of the door, the wind nudges and pushes me hard as I walk toward the plaza. I grab a post to steady myself. This spot is a few miles outside Chicago – also known as the “Windy City.”

I shiver and pull my jacket around me and whisper, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” Thankfully, I listened when my daughter insisted I add a jacket to my wardrobe. I have worn it most of the time inside the car. I also added a pillow on my lap to warm my legs. Gotta love this van, it has seat warmers. At home in southern Arkansas I rarely think about the buttons to heat my seat. Today, I quickly remember the luxury.

It’s a windy day, and yet we pass field after field of frozen modern windmills surrounded by harvested fields.

“Look, they are not moving,” my husband muses repeatedly.

Then far off to the right, I spot five windmills in a row performing a perfectly synchronized spin. All the blades in matching positions twirl up and down. And then they are gone.

I spy a long-neglected building. The small, weathered barn has lost enough boards to see through to the other side. It once sheltered animals and hay. Now it cannot even keep its inside dry.

Lonely farmlands accentuate our solitary expedition. An old towering brick house stands high above the dried corn stubble of the Illinois farm field. It soars three and a half stories above the harvested fields and trees barren of leaves. The house reflected a more prosperous time and full household.

Today it looks lonely and neglected. The windows appear devoid of curtains. No smoke curls from the chimney on this cold day. No cars, trucks or toys litter the yard. Silently staring out the window, I wonder what happened to the family whose finances once flourished enough to build such an impressive home. Its many windowed rooms overlook a yard with trees planted to provide shade in the summer. The only remaining sign of life is a pick-up truck parked near a small, solitary metal building. We will never know the answer to, “What happened?”

“That’s a perfect place to hold a haunted house,” my husband said as our view of the one time status of success faded to be replaced with modern ranch houses with tight siding and central heat. No one in those houses crawled out of bed on a cold wintry day to stoke the fire in a coal furnace.

Time wreaks havoc with everything left untended, which is precisely why we make the long drive north and back home. We need to re-connect with folks and stoke the flames of friendships one more time.


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