Happy Birthday, Nutmeg!

Our last surviving pet is 19 years old today. People’s eyes get a little bulgy when I tell them we have a cat who is 19. That’s outside the range of normal for most people.

Once we learned the world’s oldest cat lived to be 38 years old, Nutmeg seems like a mere kitten to us.

She’s a little thinner, a little slower. She has grown snugglier and more talkative over the years. She’s gotten a little eccentric, and has a few health issues, but she’s been a splendid companion for us.

With Brother Chance

With Brother Chance

Looking through the screen a the Delaware condo.

Looking through the screen a the Delaware condo.

As a youngster

As a youngster

_DSC0844

DSCF1250

Snuggled in

Snuggled in

IMAG0925

2013-10-24 18.41.18

A warm, cozy place

A warm, cozy place

DSCN3292

Our State Fair Is A Great State Fair…

The Iowa State Fair was a constant in my childhood. My dad and I would go nearly every day. My parents camped at the fairgrounds for three weeks every summer for years and years.

The fair was one of the first places I got to experience total freedom. Dad would give me some money, we’d agree to meet at the Pepsi Clock at a certain time to have lunch together, and off we’d go our separate ways. He’d go look at farm equipment or find some farmer to talk to in the animal barns, I’d go walk through the buildings, see the butter cow, have a glass of lemonade, and just wander around watching people and drinking in the wonder of so much humanity.

When Buds and I moved back to Iowa to start a family, I picked up with the state fair where I left off. Buds, however, hated it. Did I mention all the humanity? Too much humanity! He could give me about 3 hours there, then he was done.

But, once we had Monkey, who so kindly coordinated her birth with the state fair, we discovered how much fun it is to take a child to the state fair.

Several years we would celebrate her birthday at the fair. We’d take party hats and hand them out to anyone we saw. We packed a full sheet cake, and plates, silverware, and napkins, and took it all to the horse show with us, and shared the cake with anyone willing to eat cake from a stranger. (In Iowa, everyone was.)

Getting sunscreened for her first fair.

Getting sunscreened for her first fair.

Ready for her first fair.

Ready for her first fair.

This is how Monkey spent much of her first time at the fair.

This is how Monkey spent much of her first time at the fair.

Buds and Aunt B enjoying the spin art booth...a Lion's Club Tradition.

Buds and Aunt B enjoying the spin art booth…a Lion’s Club Tradition.

Monkey's 2nd fair, with a very little brother along.

Monkey’s 2nd fair, with a very little brother along.

The horse shows became part of the tradition.

The horse shows became part of the tradition.

She loved watching the horses back then, too.

She loved watching the horses back then, too.

The year with party hats and cake. Dad had just had cataract surgery, hence the fashion shades.

The year with party hats and cake. Dad had just had cataract surgery, hence the fashion shades.

3rd fair, another horse show

3rd fair, another horse show

The Buster can walk at the fair this year.

The Buster can walk at the fair this year.

Best babysitter Jessica going down the slide with Monkey.

Best babysitter Jessica going down the slide with Monkey.

Monkey chose Jessica over her dad for riding the slide.

Monkey chose Jessica over her dad for riding the slide.

This year we took Great Aunt Kathy and her crew with us. This is Mike or Nick as cone face, can't tell which.

This year we took Great Aunt Kathy and her crew with us. This is Mike or Nick as cone face, can’t tell which.

Another turn on the slide. Monkey's old enough for her own burlap sack.

Another turn on the slide. Monkey’s old enough for her own burlap sack.

It's going relatively well.

It’s going relatively well.

Holding on to Dad for dear Life.

Holding on to Dad for dear Life.

Glad to be at the bottom.

Glad to be at the bottom.

This year our trip to the state fair was also great fun. We went to a horse show, rode the trams in the rain, spent time with my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Charles, and had a relaxed, busy visit. And no pictures of it, but the girls and I did ride the Giant Slide. Buds was much missed the whole week, but especially when we road the Giant Slide.

The trams to go to the campgrounds.

The trams to go to the campgrounds.

Aunt Kathy and Uncle Charles camp at the fair every year, too, and The Buster was absolutely enamored of their gorgeous RV. He told Uncle Charles he wanted to live in it when he grew up, and he had many questions about what it was like for them to live in it. Uncle Charles loved it.

My niece, Teresa, and her boyfriend, Jeremy, were in town, and we got to have lunch with them. It was so good to see them, and meet Jeremy.

The Dining Tent was crowded, so we had to sit in a long row.

The Dining Tent was crowded, so we had to sit in a long row.

It made conversation a little difficult, but I did get a few minutes to chat with Kathy, T, and J.

It made conversation a little difficult, but I did get a few minutes to chat with Kathy, T, and J.

A few other shots of our time this year:

It was very rainy on one day.

It was very rainy on one day.

Waiting for the tram.

Waiting for the tram.

More of the great art at the fair

More of the great art at the fair

The spin art tradition continues, but now with  cowgirl hats.

The spin art tradition continues, but now with cowgirl hats.

IMAG1697

IMAG1698

IMAG1700

IMAG1699

IMAG1692

IMAG1694

Ice cream from the Dairy Barn, another tradition

Ice cream from the Dairy Barn, another tradition

IMAG1679

IMAG1681

We thought of Chloe when we saw the baby chicks.

We thought of Chloe when we saw the baby chicks.

One of the new sculptures at the fair

One of the new sculptures at the fair

Giant Watermelon winner

Giant Watermelon winner

IMAG1674

Watermelon and a cowgirl hat...perfect.

Watermelon and a cowgirl hat…perfect.

The whole row of us.

The whole row of us.

And we found weapons to replace the lost Ireland ones...all is well in the world.

And we found weapons to replace the lost Ireland ones…all is well in the world.

A Very Monkey Birthday

The Monkey turned 12 this year, and I believe this will be the birthday that never ends.

She only wanted a couple things:

1) A trip to Florida to visit our best buddies down there.

2) Going back to the State Fair in Iowa, as we used to do when she was little.

Florida is still in the works, but we did make it to the state fair.

On with the saga:

We had a pretty quiet day on the birthday itself. Monkey had her vision for her cake for quite awhile. It only required me to drive her to Publix to buy all the parts.

I think these two are helping with cake decorating?

I think these two are helping with cake decorating?

If this is what helping looks like.

If this is what helping looks like.

Putting on the decorations

Putting on the decorations

Not sure he cares for blue gel frosting

Not sure he cares for blue gel frosting

The finished product

The finished product

The birthday meal.

The birthday meal.

She wanted three things for the birthday meal:

Pizza

Pizza

Tortellini, and watermelon.

Tortellini, and watermelon.

Aunt A, Uncle Z, and Cousins came over to eat cake and celebrate with us.

We're fans of letting each person choose the piece she wants.

We’re fans of letting each person choose the piece she wants.

Monkey received books, doll items, and after we got to Iowa, she and Grandma Iowa got pedicures.

Those foot baths were cool!

Those foot baths were cool!

Sparkly toes all around

Sparkly toes all around

More to come about the rest of her birthday adventures.

More Massadoah Time

We’re dropping back to the past for a few posts.

In July the kiddos and I headed up to VA to spend a week at Massadoah, beginning with a tubing weekend attended by lots of friends from our former church. A grand time was had by all, and getting time with lots of Massadoahans is always a bonus.

We love the Tastee Freeze in Woodstock.

We love the Tastee Freeze in Woodstock.

Hot day

Hot day

Ice cream...

Ice cream…

H brought his new sling shot.

H brought his new sling shot.

Slinged...

Slinged…

Headed off for a tubing adventure.

Headed off for a tubing adventure.

Visiting w/ Ms. Amanda.

Visiting w/ Ms. Amanda.

Laughter w/ M and C.

Laughter w/ M and C.

So glad to see these two.

So glad to see these two.

The tubes always need more air

The tubes always need more air

Board games

Board games

Lots of Board Games

Lots of Board Games

Sun and fun means a rest is needed.

Sun and fun means a rest is needed.

After everyone else left from the Tubing Weekend, the children and I made our plans for the week. I insisted on another visit to Shenandoah Caverns, which I love, and they indulged me. No pictures necessary.

We were very excited to check out the new Shenandoah Discovery Museum. We’d been to the old location multiple times, and loved it, and now in the new space, it had to be better. (You know where this is headed, right?)

Cogs...

Cogs…

On the roof

On the roof

Our son, the mop

Our son, the mop

Heart Facts

Heart Facts

Heart Beat Drum

Heart Beat Drum

Stringless instrument

Stringless instrument

In the long house

In the long house

Under construction

Under construction

Step 1

Step 1

Higher

Higher

Building

Building

Almost complete

Almost complete

All done

All done

As you guessed, the children were un-enamored with the new space. The Buster wandered all four floors, looking for two specific exhibits he was so hopeful they had moved over from the old space. Tiny heartbreak for him when he realized they had not been moved over. The girls found a couple things to like, but they, too, missed the cramped coziness of the old space. They were also frustrated at the stupidity of adults that someone had tied a knot in the rope for the apple pulley system, rendering it unusable for actual work.

Thanks to our Science Center membership from Nonni and Poppi, the museum was free, and after the children’s reaction, I was extra grateful for that.

All was not a total loss, though, because I had noticed a shoe store advertisement and when it turned out it was only a couple blocks away, the children and I headed down there. After at least a year of living with slippers that threatened to pour me out at any moment, I was able to replace these adored things.

Out with the old...

Out with the old…

In with the new...

In with the new…

Chris and Becky, two partners the children haven’t gotten to spend much time with, came to spend some time in The Valley, and Buster and Yessa took to them like bees to honey. It was really gratifying to me to see how open they were to the kids, and how much fun the kids had visiting with them. Friendship across all ages…

Chatting with Ms. Becky.

Chatting with Ms. Becky.

The week also held the treat of time with J and Crew, the whole story told here: An UnRulli Visit.

A few extra photos of that visit:

Let the laughter begin

Let the laughter begin

Birds of a feather

Birds of a feather

Jenny cleaned up a huge bug for me...I love her.

Jenny cleaned up a huge bug for me…I love her.

Outside another set of caverns.

Outside another set of caverns.

Fairy Kingdom Underground

Fairy Kingdom Underground

Space for A.J. He wanted no part of the picture.

Space for A.J. He wanted no part of the picture.

The long-hair twins

The long-hair twins

We seemed to be looking directly into the sun.

We seemed to be looking directly into the sun.

Finally, at the end of the week, we dyed Yessa’s hair in preparation for SUUSI.

IMAG1552

IMAG1558

It was a great week. Massadoah always revives me.

Butterflies

The crew and I counted 15 or 20 butterflies flittering around in the butterfly garden.

All the gardens are overgrown with weeds, and I need to mulch, and prune, but instead I’m just enjoying seeing the beauty of the wings of the flutteries. Picking the sun-warmed tiny tomatoes that pop in my mouth, waving as Buds leaves for work with two pints of them for his lunch each day, watering, feeling the fine dirt between my fingers, and smiling at it under my toenails later in the day.

IMAG1634

IMAG1635

IMAG1631

IMAG1632

An Easy Life Vs. An Enriched One

I sent Buds this article to get his insight: Why Great Husbands Are Being Abandoned.

In case you don’t want to take time to read the article, which is a fine decision, I will tell you we both disliked the article, but it did lead to an interesting discussion.

(Huge caveat: For my loved ones who read this blog who are single, do not believe that I think your lives have less value or meaning than mine. You, too, have chosen lives of growth and outreach. I am referring to the simple-minded belief of the author in the article that seems to indicate people are leaving solid relationships for no good reason.)

For us, it came down to this: Without question, if you want a simpler or easier life, then not being married, and certainly not having children, is the choice you make. (I’m speaking of people with similar socio-economic choices to ours. If you are in a lower socio-economic setting, having shared finances will probably make life easier.)

If you want a better life, then your choice is entirely different. The joy and purpose and strength that I have found from having a life partner and in our case, children, has changed everything. My life was ever so much easier before, and impoverished in comparison to what it is now. Learning and growing with Buds has expanded my world in unimaginable ways. Having children has caused growth that at times has been painful and challenging, and I would not trade a mili-second of the time with them.

The girls and I have been discussing the pain of growth lately. Monkey’s back pain has been distressing on so many levels, yet she has the depth of character, and the broken arm experience, to give her some distance to help her see that good will come even from this difficult time.

Yessa also has dealt with this, just last night, in fact. She had Friend Julia stay overnight, and after the family movie, when it was time to head to bed, Julia decided she wanted to go home. She was in tears, and Yessa ran to find me. We assured her that we understood and going home was totally fine. Yessa was herself in tears as she told Julia about the time she was trying to stay overnight with a friend, and when she decided she wanted to go home, the friend tried to guilt-trip her into staying. Yessa still feels the pain and embarrassment of having to push through that friend’s disregard of her feelings.

Hence, last night, she was able to give Julia loving support, despite her disappointment that they wouldn’t wake up in the same room the next morning, ready to play. Yessa’s painful experience gave her the gift of empathy.

That’s one of the largest insights of parenting for me: staying out of the way and allowing our children the opportunity for growth and failure and difficulty…that’s hard. But without those opportunities, their growth would be stunted.

The goal isn’t an easy life, the goal is a life filled with growth and love and strength. That sort of life can happen if you are single, partnered, rich or poor, but it is a choice. A better life, not an easy one.

An UnRulli Trip to Massadoah

Jenny just sent me her pictures from our time together at Massadoah, so it seems like an ideal time to scribe that story into the written family history.

When J and I found their arrival in Northern Virginia–after recuperating in Jersey from the trip from Hong Kong–coincided with the time our crew and I would be at Massadoah, we knew we had a Love Connection!

We planned to surprise all the children, but on the morning they were to arrive, I told my crew they were coming for two reasons:

1) Goodness knows I’ve surprised them enough times over the years.

2) I was feeling so excited to see Jenny and the kids after sooo long, I wanted to share that anticipation with them.

Jenny did not tell her crew, so when LuLu awakened in the car, it was to a scary monster face peering in the window that looked an awful lot like her friend Monkey. (Jenny had told them they were going hiking.)

The children were enamored of The Apartment at Massadoah, and had a great time playing house out there. The girls set up a tea for all of us.

DSC_0015

DSC_0017

DSC_0014

We had great weather for spending time in the river. You can’t see J and me in our lawn chairs laughing and chatting, but it was glorious!

DSC_0018

DSC_0019

DSC_0021

DSC_0022

DSC_0025

DSC_0029

DSC_0034

DSC_0035

DSC_0036

DSC_0037

When it was time for J and crew to head out, we made a stop at Skyline Caverns. (You know how I love caves.)

DSC_0041

DSC_0042

DSC_0046

DSC_0053

DSC_0061

DSC_0062

DSC_0063

DSC_0065

DSC_0066

Just being together in this glorious place was so splendid.

DSC_0007

DSC_0039

Here’s a toast to having friends back in the states! More shared adventures ahead.

Skink, Skink, Severus Skink

We all love this video highlighting Snape, Snape, Severus Snape. And I couldn’t help but have the ticky, tocky song running through my head the week before we left for the Midwest. We had four skinks in the house over the course of a couple days, and we finally figured out how they were getting in…the fireplace.

It all began with the big and little skinks. Actually, it all began right after we moved into the house and we had two skinks within a short amount of time after having lived in houses with no skinks for the last twenty years. We thought it was an odd coincidence.

Then, two weeks ago, I saw a small skink skitter across the floor by the french doors, obviously looking for an exit. Nutmeg hadn’t yet spotted him, so I tried to get ahead of him to open an exit door, but only managed to scare him under the dishwasher.

After Buds got home that night, there was a rustling sound by the fireplace.

“Oh,” I said, “It’s the skink. Can you help me get rid of it?”

By help, I meant, “Could you get rid of it?”

Buds is no great lover of small, skittery things either, but he got a box, I got a broom, and we prepared to do battle, in a loving, friendly, UU way.

Then I saw the size of the skink and realized, this was not the little skink I had seen earlier. This was another, significantly larger skink. It was clinging to the wall of the fireplace, and we expected to scoop it up when it attempted to exit out the front.

It didn’t exit out the front, it went back up the fireplace.

Then it all became clear:

The skink we found under the coffee table when we got home from Ireland.
The skinks that were found in the bathroom and a bedroom.
Two skinks in one day…

We managed to save a recent one and deposit it outdoors. I hope it stayed out there.

Is it in there?!

Is it in there?!

Nutmeg was ready to help.

Nutmeg was ready to help.

Skinkball...coming to a home near you.

Skinkball…coming to a home near you.

They apparently had some sort of Skink Hell’s Angels’ Club where you had to go down our fireplace and survive to be initiated in.

The next morning we found the smaller skink dead with a few puncture wounds. I saw the tail first, then saw the small object I had assumed to be one of our rubber lizard toys. (In reading this blog post, Monkey is just now learning that she pushed a dead skink off the couch with several other toys…SURPRISE!)

Did you know skinks ditch their tales when petrified, or preparing for battle, or preparing to die? Whichever.

No new skinks since we’ve returned home. Buds had one or two while we were away.

I like skinks. I just wish they would choose a different death wish.

Shuffle

The children have all heard that I learned to shuffle when I was nine years old and missed a couple weeks of school due to pneumonia and subsequent hospitalization. I had many hours in bed, so I taught myself to shuffle cards.

Friend Julia has been down to play cards with us the last couple nights. She’s eight, and she knows how to shuffle cards.

After Julia left, I found Yessa on the couch. She’s listening to a book Buster recommended to her. It’s tough to see in the photo but she’s got her tongue out, caught between her teeth, which is a habit my maternal grandmother and I both share.

Practice...

Practice…

She’s teaching herself to shuffle.

It touched somewhere in my heart to see her like this.

So Much To Share!

I’m dying to write up our visit with Jenny and Crew at Massadoah, and our time in Kansas City and Iowa, and the State Fair, seeing Teresa and Kathy, and meeting Jeremy, hanging with the ChanChan Clan, and so many other great people we saw, and what the kids have been up to…but work of all sorts keeps getting in the way. (As my brother always says, “When is Buds going to get rich and let us all retire?!”)

Two things I am sharing now:

1) Fantastic, amazing, blessed, miracle news: I’ve shared about my friend Schmilly’s battle with cancer. We had the chance to visit with her and her family on our drive to Iowa, and it was wonderful. The years dropped away as we laughed about our crazy year in Centennial Hall in college. She had been on hospice care for over a month.

Long story short, and you can read the actual story here: She’s OFF hospice care. It’s a blessing and a miracle and Christmas all rolled into one.

Feel free to include Schmill and her family in your thoughts and prayers. The world needs all the good people.

2) Less fun news, but thoughts and prayers also needed.

Monkey has been having back pain for awhile now. It has gotten significantly worse since we returned from Iowa. She’s an amazing stoic, but she’s feeling very frustrated and tired of it. We’re seeking medical help in various forms, and hopefully there are simple, direct answers, but I’d love to know that people who love her are sending healing thoughts out for her, too.

That’s all I got. Time to go be with the people that share my world in this little Shoebox of a home.

Family...it's what matters.

Family…it’s what matters.