Saturday, October 31, 2009

happy halloween

working on the little weenies

ready to go

a cute little pumpkin

first halloween

Halloween was as hyper and giddy as ever. My parents host a costume party, and that was last night, very fun. The kids were way into it. I’m responsible for treat bags, games, crafts. I just use the same box of collected crap over and over, same general idea for the last 7 years now.

my cute mother

They were all charged up for the mummy wrap game—wrapping each other in toilet paper, and the Pin-the-Tail-On-the-Cat game. I think they like the predictability… and yet it’s all new to TC. Woo Hoo. Put a bandana on me and twirl me in circles, aim me at the cat with the glitter eyes.

My folks decorate their basement with the craziest Halloween decorations, make sloppy joes and so forth, deviled eggs and cookies that look like eyeballs, big bowl of punch with frozen hands floating in it. (One year a roll of toilet paper went INTO the punch. Whoops. Sorry, Grandma.)

We bring the little weenies wrapped in crescent dough. They ate FIVE—five packages of weenies, five tubes of crescent dough. I stop at five. They’d eat ten if there were ten.
We’ve even brought these to somewhat dignified adult parties where we were supposed to bring an appetizer and people are like, “Dude! Little weenies! Where’s the ketchup?” They’re strangely addictive. I ate four cold with the raw dough before I kicked myself out of the kitchen.

Now they're asleep and I should go check their bags for mini Mounds, and any stray Almond Joy bars. You know how kids hate coconut. love, Val

a little cat

trick or treaters

a princess and a leprechaun

Thursday, October 29, 2009

a birthday party

a real plumber

Just before everyone came for supper, the washer flooded and we realized the drain line was clogged, had to call the drain cleaner out. But it was quite a sight, hot sudsy water flowing all across the kitchen floor.

The kids hollered, “We need a plumber! Call a plumber!”

Jay was crawling around on his hands and knees with towels wiping up the floor. I said, “Dad’s a plumber. Look. There’s your plumber right there.”

Tim jumped up and down and hollered, “We need a REAL plumber!”

love, Val

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the short story of homeschool

We started out in 1989 with me making them do all this STUFF. I had schedules and lists and way too much fear and too many ideas.

I felt so weighed down by the responsibility. We started homeschooling due to dyslexia, so between that issue and my own insecurity, it was an ordeal for them and for me.

I also took on the judgements of every person who had an opinion, and they were legion. I constantly was seeking the "right" materials, worrying all the while, trying to socialize them at homeschool groups. (Are you feeling tired yet?)

Then....then I gave birth to a baby boy, a fifth child. And I couldn't do it anymore. I had this huge, demanding baby, and these big foolish boys (11 and 12), and no time and even less energy. I had to let go of the big agenda simply because I could not go on.

I also found John Holt about then and it was like stepping through a doorway into another way to be. While I nursed my baby and read John Holt, the boys spent hours reading about the weaponry of WWI and WWII, depth charges, battles at sea. (I couldn't care less about this.)

I noticed how they concentrated and studied for hours---all without me! That's when I realized I could trust them to learn, could trust their ideas better than my own, and our homeschool started to feel....well, like home, like us.

When my brother in law was planning a trip to Las Vegas, he spent whole afternoons playing Blackjack with the kids, and we counted it for math. Monopoly--count it. Tadpole kit? Sure. All at once life seemed full of fun, and academics became something we chose, not something we had to do. Twenty years later, it's still evolving and still real. love, Val

Monday, October 26, 2009

for real

An actual email from Heidi, received at 11:20 this morning:

"I think Sam could use a buddy : ) LOL... they are so cute though. Heidi"

My response:

"O. M. G. Heidi Jo. Sam does not need a buddy! I’m not having a puppy. Love you, but good LOR-ED. love, Mom"

(It also weirds me out a little that they evidently can't re-set the date on their camera.)

Her response:


Girls, I'm sticking to what I said. That dog, no matter how adorable, is not coming in this house. love, Val

Saturday, October 24, 2009

searching for sweet potatoes

Today we stopped by Kirsten’s house. She and Heidi and Joe live there together.

Kirsten told me Joe has informed her the sweet potatoes are ready. (My dad gave them these plants last spring, I guess.) Joe has a degree in conservation, so anything he tells us about plants, animals, water, weather, bugs, we believe him.

Kirsten and I went to have a look. She dabbed the shovel at the base of the plant and said, “Dig here?” Sure. She turned over a few little shovels full of dirt and we didn’t see anything that looked like sweet potatoes. It was just these dark yellow big root things. Were those the potatoes? That didn't look right.

Her dad took the shovel and dug it in deeper and turned the plant over. He poked at the clump with the shovel, just more big yellow root things. Nothing looked like a potato of any he did that—the little plastic tag from the nursery fell out of the chunk—RHUBARB. Whoops. We all started laughing and he flipped it back into the hole and stepped the dirt down around it.

Then we said we should just have left it turned over, roots up and told Joe, “We didn’t see any potatoes…” just to see the look on his face and hear his disgusted snorting.

When Jay came around the corner to the front yard, we teased him, “ Will you flip this plant over for us? We want to look at the roots.” Yah, you people. Forget it.

Happy birthday, Sweetheart. Love, Mom

Thursday, October 22, 2009


James and Sam, June 2009

My doggie Spooner died just about two years ago. He and I started out his life with very much a love-hate relationship. My other dogs had died tragically in a fire at the boarding kennel where we’d left them, and so I took on Spooner at a bad time. I really wasn’t up for him. I was pregnant, in the throes of morning sickness and sorrow besides.

He was a brat, overgrown, obnoxious, a mutt expected to be about 50 pounds… well at 90 pounds, we knew we didn’t have what we supposedly had, but it was all water under the bridge by then. His mind was perpetually caught in his zipper, and if he wasn’t chasing girl dogs, his thoughts were on food. My husband is not a dog person; he always has the vague feeling dogs are out to get him. But Spooner could make even a dog lover think this.

As he grew old though, he mellowed, and though I never embraced his frightful shedding (God bless the inventor of the shop-vac), I did come to adore him, the energy of him, the luxurious, plush feeling of him in my arms, his patience, his sense of humor. He was a first rate guy.

On his last trip to the vet, they wanted to draw blood, and I told the technician, “He’s blind. You’ll have to help him.” She said sure, and headed out through the door, and ran my boy into the wall next to it. I never took him back. His rashes were the least of his problems. We had to link our arms under his belly and haul him to his feet, so arthritic was he. What he suffered most, it seemed, was profound vertigo, so intense he’d crap on the patio (simply not done) and vomit, always circling to the left.

He’d get lost in the yard and we’d have to help him, and I swear it, when we’d fetch him from the lilac bushes, he seemed grateful, licking my chin, the kids’ hands, tail wagging. We bought Sidney, anticipating his death and the hole it would leave, and he snubbed her for months, turning his head to her exuberance. In the end, he seemed grateful for her good eyesight to lead him back to the house.

When the whole thing was obvious, I called the vet and asked him: His tail still wags. He still seems to find happiness in his life. Terry told me the truth: “Val. If you are waiting for the day his tail stops wagging, that day will not come. You tell me if it’s time.”

We had him come to the house and it was done. No trip to the nerve wracking clinic where they ran him into the walls, just an old friend who came to his bed so he didn’t even have to get up.

Afterward I fetched an old silky 101 Dalmatians sleeping bag and Jay and Terry zipped him into it and each took an end and carried him out to the trailer. The next day we took his body to Wisconsin, and in a small clearing in the woods that my dad had chosen, the men dug a deep hole and gently put his body into a safe place in the ground. While they did this, my mom took the kids to cut flowers from her garden, and they piled them on top. It was the end of our buddy Spooner, and the end of an era.

After Christmas last year, the oldest girls, 21 and 19 then, set up a lobby for another dog. Because Sidney had been a 9th birthday gift for Maria, James should also have a dog for his 9th birthday. Okeee. They kept it up, begged, cajoled, and tormented me.


I said I’ve done a big dog. I’m not doing it again. But Mom you looooved Spooner! I know it. I did love him very much. And then they got James crying about the injustice of it all, and what I have never been able to stand, since he was born, is James’ tears. I am the same way about Dan. He’s 26 now, but his crying has always broken my heart too. I think it’s the lip, the tragic lip. Sigh.

Last January I caved, and I knew I was caving and would regret it, and Heidi and I went and picked up a Newfoundland puppy, a 20 pound teddy bear, flat face, fuzzy, funny, fat. We asked James her name and he told us, “Samantha.” And so I began doing the big dog thing all over again.
James and Sam

This weekend in Wisconsin, I sat on the steps, and dark comes early now in October. The kids had eaten their fill of hot dogs and little fruit pies cooked in the fire, and were playing Ghost in the Graveyard, starry night overhead, autumn wind whipping in the trees.

Sammy, our new dog, was beside me in all her obnoxious, what? Glory? I love her and I hate her.

She’s too big. She sheds too much. Her huge fanning tail spans a swath 6 feet wide, knocking things to the floor left and right. And I pry her jaws open and shove pills deep into her enormous mouth (she has rashes, just as Spooner did) and I chase her from the wastebasket, and yet she’s never cross with me, only bemused and patient.

I know someday she’ll be calm and she already has the happy energy of Spooner’s that I missed. In spite of her soft, spitty mouth and the way she steps on everyone’s feet, she’s an angel.

James, always airborne

This weekend the younger kids discovered the joy of the old TV show, Full House. Season Two was a birthday gift to Maria, who turned 12. This was a favorite show of those college girls who got me involved with Sam.

This weekend was a marathon of Full House episodes, the 90s fashion and hair, the goofy plots, the sweet faces of those children… and images of my grown girls as children kept finding me… while my little girls enjoyed those corny stories all over again. Uncle Jesse, Michelle, Stephanie and DJ, the theme music, “Aaah, Aaah, Aaah, Aaah, Every where you go…” I was tugged back and forth between then and now.

But I sat on the steps that night, watching them run in the dark, shrieking as they reached the home-free tree, and could see clearly once again that we change and we grow.

One stage leads to another, and it’s all good. I’m here now, with other children, who are just as sweet as their older siblings, and they’re going to pass through my arms in a flash too.

Of course, him again

(No wonder this bedframe is cracked)

Whenever I’ve been giving birth to a baby, that’s all I can see: the baby. But those babies were babies only the fleetingest of seconds, and toddlers for only a year, preschoolers for the blink of an eye, and shortly they were relatives, family, friends.

A dog’s age played out, and I still am a momma to those daughters, though they’re in their 20s now and women, they’re still my girls. I suppose I am still my own mama’s girl, and I know how her grandmas doted on her, and my grandmas love me. It all just rolls on, and I’m beginning to see that I ought to let it.

Not just let it, but enjoy it—appreciate it, embrace and love it.

And so here we are again, another October, three years after I wrote this, still with all our families creating and becoming and love drawing us all forward. –love, Val

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That little honey, El Charro

Kari says when she’s a grown up woman someday, she’s going to name her child (boy or girl) El Charro. We snicker about this and rib her a little, but mostly ignore. Well, just now at supper she said to me, “Mom. When I’m grown up do you care, if every time El Charro gets a wood tick, if I drive over to your house so you can take it off?” Awww, man, I can’t quit laughing. Someday will I really be plucking ticks off a grandchild named El Charro?
love, Val

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

a story from summer

Since it's dark and raining today, a story from summer instead:

Tonight they told me they wanted to have a “hot dog stand.” They were doing things with the couch in the family room, pillows, etc. I asked if this going to be with pretend hot dogs or real. He said real. I didn’t know what they were doing and asked how they’d keep the dogs Sam and possibly Sidney from invading the stand? He said they had built a wall of pillows. I said, “Hmm. I don’t know if that will work.” Then I went back to what I was doing.

About half an hour later, I looked out the kitchen window and there in the middle of the yard, Tim and Julia were with a cardboard box upside down, ketchup, mustard, buns, cans of pop, a chair, all set up. The hot dogs were cooking in the microwave. My mouth hung open and I went to the back door and he ordered me, “Don’t think you’re getting a hot dog without money! Bring your money!” Good Lord. I had to go get Jay where he was washing the van because who else is game to eat a hot dog for no reason? We went out there and he served Jay several hot dogs. I paid Tim a dollar. James and Kari brought coins and we sat in the grass while they all ate.

Earlier he was in a Cat in the Hat striped hat, wearing a cape with a purple bat on it and a red Power Ranger glove… and get this: carrying a babydoll. We laughed when he went past, no idea what the meaning of it could be. He went into the dollhouse in the back yard and neither Kari or Julia seemed the least bit surprised by how he was dressed.

Last night right before supper Julia came in the kitchen with no pants—bare old butt. I said, “What’s going on? Where are your pants?” She said they had sand in them and itched, so she’d taken them off. I told her she had to get some new ones and bring the others in to the laundry. It’s true they make me laugh. love, Val

toothpick and tetanus shot

Yesterday Little Jay was walking through the house, and apparently a toothpick was stuck in a fluffy throw rug and jabbed into his foot. It went in about an inch and he pulled it out--life goes on. Well today it's really sore and the whole side of his foot is swollen, so I sent him to the doctor, probably should have some attention earlier rather than later.

I told him to go to a Minute Clinic, gave him the insurance card and a blank check for the copay. A bit later he called: They don't treat puncture wounds. I told him go over to urgent care then and have them deal with it. I told him where an urgent care is. He called an hour later: He's not 18 until April, so they can't see him without a parent, and they don't open till 5:00. So he came home and I wrote a note so they'd look at his damned foot, and he went back. Tetanus shot and augmentin, all for blundering into a toothpick.

When he finally got home he said, "That took THREE hours to accomplish." It always does. But he's expected to live, so this is good.

What's funny about this is that "Little" Jay has size 15 feet, long and narrow. He has toes bigger than my pinky finger. It's weird.

But we get what we get.

When he came home with this exhausted story of obtaining attention for his fairly simple medical problem I was heartless enough to say, "See why I didn't want to come with you? It's always like this."

The kid has a heart of gold...always has. His leg was broken at baseball practice when he was 14 and he was THE most patient and gracious incapacitated person that very long summer. All the waiting on him I had to do, from start to finish, wrapping a trash bag around his cast so he could shower, limping him out to the patio and back, fetching him food... he was patient and undemanding, grateful. I don't deserve him, spaz that I am. He's got one of those like.....really good hearts. love, Val

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekend in Wisconsin

The road and the lakeshore



That character

Cutting wood

Carrying out the dock

My friend Ann's kid.

All connected

Maria, fending off the beggars.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We had inches of SNOW, ish. It was very beautiful this morning, but completely unwelcome still. When I was carrying in the stuff from the milk man, I noticed how Currier and Ives the trees looked and that post-snow muffled sound in the air. But let’s talk in DECEMBER, not NOW. It’s supposed to be warmer toward the weekend.

Lorene Laubach, a friend of ours, --her daughter was moving and getting rid of a couch. It’s microfiber suede, kind of a brick color. Did we want it? $150. Yeah, sure! Well, it’s actually a beautiful sectional. Huge! We're trying to adapt the room so it will fit. Right now, the kids are way into this gi-normous couch in the family room. I can hear the rowdies now, after I said they should get pajamas on. How about let’s ignore Mom and go kick around on the Super Couch?

Oh, and get this: The kids had a caterpillar in a cup with some lettuce on the cupboard and I forgot and loaded the cup in the dishwasher! They asked me about the cup, I said I hadn’t seen it. (Dumb me.) They found the cup in the dishwasher and I could hear their upset little voices in the next room. They found the caterpillar, unharmed, in the bottom of the dishwasher. (I hadn’t run it yet.) Yah, thank goodness I’m on the job. love, Val