Moving Rocks in the Hot Sun…

The sun wasn’t actually hot today. It was around 50 degrees F out this afternoon. And the rocks were actually chunks of concrete. Remember those front stairs I posted about early last year? If anyone thought that story was done, they were wrong.

The stairs are still fabulous. The contractor did a great job. But we foolishly paid him before he finished hauling away all the rubble from the old stairs. He promised he’d be back in about a week to take it all away. That was the last we ever saw of him.

I am using PTO from my day job this week for a staycation / catch up at home week. Yesterday, I cleaned out my clothes closet and dresser. I also finally took down our outdoor Christmas lights, which explains why I felt the need for a catch up week. I wanted to pat myself on the back, but I guess putting away your Christmas decor three months late isn’t really that admirable.

Today, I spent the morning on a creative writing project. Then I went to the hardware store to buy several necessary items, including vanity lights for our upstairs bathroom. Of the four bulbs in there, two have been burned out for…I forget. I kept not replacing them because we didn’t have the correct ones on hand. Well, that’s checked off the list now.

Later in the day a roll-off construction dumpster we arranged to rent was delivered. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realized my husband would still be recovering from a case of COVID (no longer contagious, just still weak and tired.) So it’s up to my son and me to move all this:

Big pile of concrete chunks, with a foot in a black tennis shoe.

The strapping young man can’t help until tomorrow. But I got to work today loading the pieces I could lift on my own. We have four days to finish.

Phew! I’m tired. I will be extremely happy to have this rubble gone from beside our house, though. I assume the next-door neighbors will be, too.

Wish us good weather!


New Experience: Clydesdales!

Two large red barn-like structures in background. Horse corral with two clydesdale horses in foreground. Large puffy clouds in sky.
Warm Springs Ranch, Boonville, MO. Home of the Budweiser Clydesdales

Today is my birthday. Thanks in advance for the well wishes. It feels like a good day to get back into the swing of posting to my blog.

So in my quest for new experiences, I planned an outing I’ve wanted to do for a while. I live only about a 20-minute drive away from Warm Springs Ranch, home of the Budweiser Clydesdales. I’m not much into beer, but I was intensely into the idea of seeing the magnificent horses up close and learning more about them. Unfortunately, my hubs was under the weather. But my son-in-residence went with me to take a tour.

Other than being a bit chilly, it was an excellent morning for it. I’d never seen a Clydesdale except from a distance. These are BIG animals — 1,800 to 2,200 pounds fully grown. They weigh around 150 pounds at birth!

Here’s the most surprising thing I learned. New drivers start training by working with bicyclists harnessed something like the horses are. Sorry for the blurriness in the photo.

A set of six bicycles, paired two-by-two and harnessed together. Red pickup truck and red building behind.
I never would have guessed this is how they train Clydesdale drivers.

And here’s the best birthday surprise:

Shoulder and head of grown clydesdale horse on left. Infant foal lying down in lower center. Inside a stall.
Mama horse and new foal, 36 hours old.
Sign on outside of horse stall with text: Mare: Gemma, Foal: ?, DOB 3-24-2023
Too new for a name. Welcome to the world!

This brand new baby came into the world only 36 hours before our tour. How often do you get a chance to see such a recent arrival? It’s too new for a name, even. Welcome, baby!

The whole time we were there, I couldn’t help thinking of the Jethro Tull song “Heavy Horses.” So I’ll end this post with a link to it.

Heavy Horses, Jethro Tull

Christmas Ornaments

I know folks who do a knock-out job decorating their Christmas trees. They have sets of ornaments, bows, garlands, and lights that are coordinated, all fit a color theme, are placed perfectly, and result in spectacular displays. I admire those works of art, and am a little in awe. But it’s not something I would try to replicate because it’s simply not me. The decorating aesthetic in our household is more one of eclectic, happy chaos.

Our ornament collection has grown through the years with pieces that came to us through happenstance — inherited from my parents, gifts from friends, etc — or selected one at a time for personal meaning. Here are a few of my favorites:

Two that remind me of my mother. The one on the left was one of her favorite Christmas ornaments, and is also a bell, something she collected. The Rosie the Riveter I bought because my mom *was* a Rosie, working at age 18-19 as a welder on battle ships during World War II.

Kansas City Royals ball ornament
Celebrating my baseball team! I am no fair-weather fan. I love them all the time.

These two are meaningful because they were gifts of creativity from friends. The child with tree was hand-painted by a former coworker who has since passed away. I have fond memories of her when I see it. The bead creation was crafted by a friend who is still in my life and whom I appreciate a great deal.

Speaking of handcrafted, my younger son made this book ornament with the help of an art teacher when he was about seven years old. Notice that it’s a real book, with content you can read.

Glinda and Dorothy grace our tree thanks to my other son, who had more than a slight obsession with The Wizard of Oz. I had no intention of purchasing it and couldn’t *really* afford it. But he saw it in a store when he was four years old and fell in love with it. He promised to be good and help me with house cleaning and give me all his dimes and quarters to help pay for it. I think he had about about 60 cents worth of dimes and quarters at the time. I don’t know if I’ve ever made anyone happier in my life than I made that child when I agreed to buy this ornament.

Glinda the good witch and Dorothy tree ornament

Here’s one related to my profession, which is work I love.

Library due date tree ornament

And finally, our tree topper, purchased at a time when the entire family was really into Doctor Who. My oldest kid was still living at home when we got it. After I undecorated the tree that year, I stealthily placed the weeping angel in his bed while he was asleep, along with a note that said, “You blinked.” Fans of the show will get it. Gee, I’m not sure why he ever wanted to move out with a mom like me at home.

Weeping angel tree topper


My Fraught Relationship With Gratitude

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

Thanksgiving is upon us, and I find myself pondering the potential risks of being *too* grateful. Don’t worry. This isn’t heading into any kind of preachy sanctimony about how you have to do even gratitude in the exact right way or it’s wrong.

I do find a lot of value in gratitude, and have even written on this blog before about some of my practices. But like many other things in my life, it’s a subject about which I can overthink and also be irrational. See, I have a superstition my logical mind can’t seem to shake, and that is the law of non-mentionables. It goes like this. As soon as you mention something, if it’s bad it happens, and if it’s good it goes away. Everyone knows you don’t talk about it when your baseball team’s pitcher has thrown seven no-hit innings. Say the fact out loud and you’ve guaranteed it won’t last through nine. That jinx is on you. Likewise, don’t dare to utter hopes for an injury-free season for the best players. You might as well just summon the injury demon already.

This law was reinforced in my mind by a cursed Buick Skylark I owned in my young adult years. I had driven it for about six months with nary a problem until the day I told a friend, as I was getting into the driver’s seat, “This has been a really good car for me.” Then it wouldn’t start when I turned the key. On a road trip a couple of years after this incident, I made the mistake of saying out loud, “The Skylark’s done really well on this trip.” I kid you not, only two minutes later a loud thump sounded under the hood and the headlights started to dim. It was a broken belt, of course. It was as if that car was sent into my life to teach me a very specific lesson about keeping my yap shut and not looking good fortune directly in the face.

Anyway, I try not to be ungrateful. But I stop to consider exactly what it’s safe to express thanks for. Am I okay with the object of my gratitude disappearing in the immediate future? I’m (deep breath) thankful for my house because I’ve already gotten so many years out of it. Even if it’s destroyed tomorrow, it’s deposited enough in the blessing bank for me to cover the loss. That’s an example of how I try to safeguard myself.

I try not to let my superstition overpower me because I don’t want to be a sour, dour ingrate who can’t appreciate stuff. I suppose, according to my magical beliefs, never giving thanks would keep me safe-ish. But safe in an unpleasant and sparse spiritual bunker kind of way.

So I’m trying to be brave enough to notice the good. One practice I’ve implemented over the past year is to consciously increase the number of times I verbally express my appreciation of other people. I don’t fake it, ever. I only say it when I really mean it, but I’m making more of an effort to make sure folks know I don’t take them or their deeds for granted. It helps me, too, keep my perspective when it might be someone who perhaps occasionally grates on my nerves or pisses me off in some way. The fact that I’ve thanked them out loud on other occasions has given their good deeds a more firm anchor in my psyche, and thus provides some balance.

I know the real key to gratitude, what I might always be working to master, is in acceptance of impermanence. The fact is that my Skylark had been a good car for those first six months. The betrayal of my faith — er, um, I mean the coincidental timing of it’s first mechanical problem under my ownership didn’t cancel out those six months. And no car lasts forever with no problems. Maybe for me to make an effective spiritual practice of gratitude without tying myself up in knots, I need to learn to ground myself more in the moment and avoid, to echo Wendell Berry, “taxing my life with forethought of grief.” Be grateful in the moment for the moment no matter what the next one might bring.

I’m not going to express confidence that I can learn to do so, because that would be a sure jinx on myself. But perhaps, occasionally, out of the corner of my eye, I can notice I’m doing it.

Thoughts on Dependence and Independence

Before I get into my actual post, I feel compelled to say I almost gave up on WordPress because of frustrating formatting problems every time I tried to create a post. But after walking away for a while and cooling down, I bothered to do some research. I learned the new issues have to do with WordPress and Safari not playing nicely together. So here I am, giving it another try, via Firefox for now.


Photo by Pixabay on

On this July 4, I’m having a lot of thoughts and even feelings — those things I sometimes prefer to avoid — about dependence and independence.

My 26-year-old son has been living half a continent away from us for over a year now, while the 23-year-old has remained hunkered down in our home during the pandemic. Health issues, both personal and public, have made launching a challenge for him. But he’s taking some steps toward adulting and attaining life skills. Today, he’s leaving on an airplane to visit his older sibling for a week, his first adventure in traveling alone. Other than a couple of small road trips with friends, he’s never before traveled without at least one parent.

I think it’ll be a great experience for both of my kids. The older one will get to play host, and also finally see a family member in person. The younger one will get to gain some independent maneuvering-through-the-world competencies without a lot of risk. Considering that sibling relationships are typically the longest ones we have in life, I’m happy they get along and want to spend time with each other.

So why am I wracked with anxiety? I will blame it on the pandemic. I have become used to the idea that leaving home is dangerous. I am unused to my (7 inches taller than I am) baby being so far away. I have to remind myself that I was already married, for crying out loud, when I was that age. I also experienced anxiety recently when my husband drove to a city two hours away and back in a single day, so maybe I’m just having issues in general.

My happiness about the offspring’s steps toward independence are winning the war against my fears for the moment. My kid is going to have to learn how to be out in the world without out us eventually, one way or another. It’s nice he can do something enjoyable while learning.

At the same time I’m celebrating his growing, if slightly delayed, independence, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that aging is going to mean more dependence for me. I like to do things for myself and hate asking for help. But I’m just arriving at the point in life where I see the first glimpses of needing more assistance as time rolls on. My energy levels aren’t what they used to be. Both my husband and I are growing weary of heavy-lifting type home repairs and improvements. We had a discussion and conceded that we might need to hire younger, stronger backs for some projects.

As heartily as I endorse the philosophy that we’re all walking each other home, and as often as I ask, what are we here for if not to help each other, you’d think I’d have an easier time with accepting assistance. But apparently, I’m only comfortable on the giving end of it. Humanity doesn’t really function that way, though. You have to be willing both to give and receive aid.

Week before last, I was initiated into the kidney stone club, a real rite of passage, if you will. I spent 24 hours in the hospital. If you haven’t had a stone, let me tell you that the pain lives up to all the hype. I could barely walk, and definitely couldn’t drive myself to the ER. I had to depend on my husband to get me there. Then I had to depend on medical professionals to help me with pain relief, diagnosis, and general functioning for several hours. Almost worse than the physical pain was the feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t take care of this problem on my own.

I had to be wheeled places under someone else’s power. I ended up with all the drugs (at least it felt that way), which meant that even after the pain was manageable, my brain wasn’t functioning well and I was unsteady on my feet. I asked the same questions repeatedly and had to try with all my might to process what anyone else said to me. I needed to be walked to and from the bathroom, a nurse holding me steady.

It rained 5 1/2 inches the night I was in the hospital. Many streets were underwater and closed. When I was ready to be discharged the next morning, I had to wait a while for my husband to pick me up because he was dealing with a flooded basement. Poor guy had to run to the hardware store, buy a new sump pump, and install it all before he could come get me. So dependence means learning patience, something that is always a challenge for me. Independence means I’m more likely to get what I want or need without waiting. It spoils me.

Then there’s the guilt. I felt I should have been helping my husband, rather than being one more task he had to take care of. I guess that’s another issue for me to work on. I recognize as well, that doing the things myself gives me a feeling of control. If I do it, I have power over keeping things from going wrong, or at least over fixing what went wrong. As if we aren’t all at the mercy of chance all the time. It turns out that I have many, many issues here and should probably work on getting a grip. Great — another damn opportunity for personal growth. Who asked for that?

Welp, I should wrap this up. Son two is leaving soon and I need to focus all of my concentration on his flight. I’m pretty sure the pilot will be depending on my telekinetic powers to keep the plane aloft while my loved one is on board.


Thinking About the Economy on Mother’s Day

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My Mother’s Day post will be brief (update: I lied.) This year, my thoughts keep coming back to the economy and how it has affected mothers throughout the years, at least in the U.S.

I feel like I was raised with a message from society that hard work was the key to getting ahead economically. And I have also heard a lot of platitudes about the value of mothers. But I have to say, if mothers were truly valued and hard work really was the key to financial success, my own mom would have been one of the richest people in the world. I don’t know anyone who worked harder. Yet the last few years of her life, she depended on her children and one of her brothers for support as we scrambled to make sure she had the care she needed in a for-profit system.

My mother first raised several younger siblings (literally, her mom and step-dad moved away looking for work and left her, at age 17, with the younger kids for several months until they could send for them.) Then she raised her own kids, while often helping out with her nieces and nephews. She was the primary care giver for my father for a while, even while battling her own health issues. A lifetime of care for others with no monetary compensation or safety net to speak of. Yet when she needed care, there at the end, you bet it was expected to be paid for. All of that social praise of mothers was just people moving the air with their vocal cords.

Women are much more likely to experience poverty post-retirement than men are. If you don’t want to take my word for that, here’s an article from Financial Advisor. There’s plenty of documentation of this in plenty of places.

I often wonder what life would be like in this country if women had been equally represented in government from the beginning. I’m pretty sure if half our representatives had been women all along, child care would be widely available and affordable. It would have been considered a priority, recognized by those in power as a foundational need of life. There would be an adequate retirement plan in place for those who keep the country going with their unpaid labor.

Breakfast in bed is nice. Flowers are beautiful. But let’s not stop there. This year for Mother’s Day, lets work to give Mom what she really needs – quality, affordable child care, a social safety net, equal representation in government.


Merry Crisis and a Happy New Improvisation

Christmas decorations
Our dinner venue for Christmas Eve

Considering who raised them, my kids couldn’t help growing up with a dark sense of humor. It helps get us through hard times, minor and major. They’re both in their early twenties now, long past the age where I could shield them from the troubles of the world. Past the age where I even want to. It’s a relief in a lot of ways, being able to speak openly with your kids about big issues.

It’s been a year of living since last Christmas, which means a year with a few problems mixed in with our joys. Car repairs. My younger son, the 20-year-old, has been dealing with annoying health issues off and on for several months. Our washing machine is about to give up the ghost — in a shuddering exorcism, by the looks of things. My firstborn has roommate issues. Deep cuts in benefits at my workplace. Some deaths of loved ones. I hurt my back a couple of weeks ago, and could barely move for about three days. Which meant Christmas prep was rushed and last minute. Then there are the things happening on the world stage — refugees needing asylum, climate change, markets crashing.

But in the middle of all of that, we’ve been able to foment a spirit of celebration within the family around Christmas. Granted, the celebratory spirit has an edge to it. “Merry Crisis!” read the text from my oldest a few days ago. It quickly became our unified holiday greeting. With every newly developing issue — Merry Crisis! Yeah, the world’s going to hell, but we’ve got each other and we’re going to make what joy we can.

I ordered some gifts to be shipped to Kid One, thinking we wouldn’t be seeing them for Christmas. They live four hours away, too far for a day trip. Parties on neither end could do an overnight, for various reasons. I thought I was okay with being apart, since we message all the time.

But I got sad as the day approached, and sadness is sometimes the mother of invention. At nearly the last minute, I pitched a Christmas Eve plan to meet halfway. I looked at maps, researched restaurants that might be open, and found the perfect spot to meet, a two-hour drive from each end. That perfect spot was an IHOP in Quincy, Illinois.

It worked out. It wasn’t the Christmas get together of days gone by, but it was a new innovation that turned out nicely. Kid One brought along their significant other and we had a great visit, filled with our usual brand of humor, leading to lots of laughter. In case anyone wonders, we left a sizable tip for the wait staff working on the holiday. Without them, I wouldn’t have gotten to visit with my (23-year-old) baby.

If there’s a lesson for me, it’s to let go of what I think a Christmas celebration should be or what it has been, and to improvise as need to make it what it can be.

Merry Crisis and a Happy New Improvisation!

Always Zebras


I’ve heard medical students are told “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Meaning whatever symptoms they see are more likely to be explained by something common than by something exotic.

I’m here to tell you that with my son, a medical appointment often turns into a safari. It’s always zebras.

It started with his teeth, which came in early. We saw the first pearly buds when he was four months old and we had our first visit to a pediatric dentist five months later, since some of his teeth erupted with visible holes in them. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s baby bottle mouth (which can also be seen in breastfed babies, so what the heck is with the name?) He was breastfed and no, the holes were not from any substance – formula or mother’s milk – eating away at the teeth. The dentist found no signs of decay. The enamel simply wasn’t there. Ever. His teeth came without all of the advertised features. While the dentist was probing with his little prober tool, a chip of tooth went flying across the room. They were that fragile.

“What would cause it? What would make his teeth be all wrong?” I asked. Among the possible answers, one stood out. If a pregnant mother runs a fever during the stage of fetal development when the tooth buds grow, it can cause dental problems, including incompletely formed enamel. Ah, yes, I spent a large part of the pregnancy ill. Two different intestinal viruses, a series of head colds and a nasty, lingering sinus infection. Zebras prenatally. We opted for baby oral surgery to cap the teeth a few months later.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks before my boy’s tenth birthday. It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for planting flowers, riding bicycles, enjoying the glory of life. I decided to plant flowers and enjoy the glory of life. My husband and son decided to take a bike ride together.

Picture: Mother with her garden trowel, adorning the family yard with festive petunias, waving happily, heart swelling at the joyful sight of her husband and their child bonding in a healthy activity. And know that in a horror movie, this is when the ominous music begins to play, warning viewers that things look a little too perfect now, don’t they? Within ten minutes the father-son duo arrived back home, excursion truncated as the son was experiencing too much pain from his helmet pushing against the bump on his head.

“Bump on your head? Where?” he pointed to a spot just behind the hairline and above his right eye. I felt it with my fingers. Yep, big old goose egg.

“Did you hit your head on something?”

“Not that I can remember?”

“How long has this been here?”

“I don’t know. Two or three weeks.” (As an aside, my son had a very poor grasp on time for a very long time.)

“Why didn’t you say something?”


What’s the opposite of hypochondria? That’s what my second-born has. Tumor on the head? No biggie. Why raise a fuss?

And, oh yeah, it was a bone tumor. We became well-acquainted with the town’s only pediatric neurosurgeon, who eventually took charge of his treatment. After many tests and appointments and scans and x-rays and more scans, it was determined that he had only the one tumor, but it had already eaten away a spot in his skull right down to the meninges of the brain.

One neurosurgery, a bone graft and a biopsy later, we had a diagnosis. The good news: it wasn’t cancer. The weird news: it was caused by an extremely rare auto-immune disorder that can mimic cancer – Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. This is a disease so rare that the biggest risk factor is being a fictional character on a TV medical drama. In fact, it was the disease of the week once on “House.” LCH affects four or five people out of one million. My son’s doctor might never see another case in her entire career. My son might never have another tumor or symptom from it. Or he might. It’s so weird and rare it’s impossible to say. He’s had no more problems from it so far.

But there was another thing with his teeth after that. What to say about his teeth? I could fill a book with details of his dental woes. When his permanent teeth began showing up, his baby teeth were reluctant to leave. He kept getting more teeth but not losing many, so they came in wicky-wacky. We had some baby teeth removed by his dentist. I honestly think she could have lost every patient but him and still made a pretty good living.

I was overjoyed though, when I saw his top front permanent teeth were strong and complete, even if a little crooked. That lasted a few weeks, until he chipped both when he fell off the jungle gym on the school playground. We would discover many years later that one of the teeth sustained severe permanent damage. This came to light when he got braces at age twelve.

One of the aims of the orthodontia was to bring that front tooth down in line with the others. It had been riding high, never descending completely after getting whacked on the monkey bars. But the tooth didn’t move down. Instead, all of his other teeth started moving up to meet it. Wait, what? I know! That’s exactly what we said, too.

A super-duper futuristic 3-D x-ray revealed the root of the problem. The tooth was ankylosed. This is an uncommon but not unheard of complication that can happen with injured teeth, especially in a human whose bones are still growing. The tooth had fused to the bone up above. It wasn’t going anywhere. Well, not until an oral surgeon cut it out and the orthodontist built a fake tooth-on-a-retainer (like pizza-on-a-stick except a tooth on a retainer) to take its place. The hope is to get an implant if the kid ever stops growing. We’re on hold with that issue for now, but sometimes…

I can’t keep my mind from leaping to TUMOR. For instance when my son and I are sitting in the living room, both reading, as we were a couple of weeks ago, and he says “I hate it when that happens.” And I say “What?” and he says “When I can’t read because the center point of my vision disappears.”


“Has this happened before?”

“Only a few times.”

“How often?”

“Not very often. It’ll be, like, a few weeks sometimes between one time and the next. And my vision always comes back before too long.”

And he hadn’t thought to mention it. What is the opposite of hypochondria?

The good news this time: still not cancer. Not even a tumor. The weird news this time: it turns out you can have migraines without the headache part. Ocular migraine – that’s what he’s experiencing.

It’s like the Serengeti around here. Always zebras.


A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found


My son is 17 1/2. He’s had a driving permit for quite some time and we completed his required practice hours weeks ago. But every time I looked at the calendar and found a time when he and I were both available to go to the DMV for the driving test, something interfered. Once he came down with a bad cold. Another time there was a thunderstorm.

I’m in a launch frenzy with my two young adult kids, frantic to get them through a check-list of steps to competent adult life. I’m pretty sure the driver’s license is more important to me than to my son. Continue reading “A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found”

Pneumonia Falls

Pneumonia Falls — it’s the dystopian anti-vacation destination my mom has been visiting for the past several days. First she spiked a fever, then she got weak and dizzy, then she fell. Nothing broken, so I guess that means her osteoporosis medicine is working.

After a series of tests, it was determined she had a mild case of pneumonia. Antibiotics have taken down the fever and cleared up congestion. But neither her strength nor balance has returned. She’s fallen two more times and is now under injunction not to walk anywhere without the accompaniment of an aide.

Yesterday she told me she has to stop and rest on her way to the dining room and asked me to bring her wheelchair the next time I come. This feels like a big step down to me, as she’s been adamantly anti-wheelchair up until now. But she’s looked a lot closer to the edge of death than this in the past and then bounced back.

I guess we’ll go on the way life has to go on anyway. One day and then another day and then another until eventually there isn’t one more.