An Over The Hill Lady Tackles That Deck Maintenance

“We should re-stain the deck,” comments my hubby while gazing out the large bay window at the birdfeed cluttered deck. It has been a few years and the green-treated boards are becoming dark and mildew coated.

Staining the deck is not a job I have ever desired to do. In the past, I have always hired someone for deck maintenance, but it cost us $800 to $1000 each time. Now I do not have that kind of money. Being retired has its perks but having lots of money is not one of them. As I think about this prospect, I begin to relent. Maybe I could do the job. I could rent a high-pressure washer to clean and prepare the wood and buy a paint sprayer to stain it. That doesn’t seem so difficult. I begin to search on-line researching the products needed to clean the wood, exploring the various stains available, and investigating the many different choices in paint sprayers. I decide on a specific sprayer and order it.

On a beautiful summer day in July, I motor over to the local hardware store to rent the high-pressure gas-powered washer. The temperature is predicted to be in the mid-80s with fairly low humidity. It should be a great day for this job. I am hoping I can fit the piece of equipment into my Subaru SUV.

“How do you start this?” I ask the store employee who is helping me with the rental.

“Well here is the throttle. Here is the choke. And here is the on/off button,” she reiterates and instructs me. “And then of course, you pull the start cord.”

 No problem. I get it. I have started many a gas engine before. I am sure I can do this. We do struggle to get the washer to fit into the back of my vehicle. It is just a few inches too tall. Laying it down would result in all the gas leaking out so we prop it up tentatively on the wheel well projection – maybe it will stay there for six miles.

I arrive home with only one stop to re-prop my unsteady piece of equipment. Once home, I check the gas tank. Looks good. Then I hook up the water hose. The water seems to run all over out another hose that extends from the side, so I shut off the spigot again – just until I can get it started. Now to pull the rope. At first, it sticks, and the wheel doesn’t want to spin the engine. But then, it lets loose, and I pull the rope over and over and over. The heat begins to rise up the back of my neck and I begin to sweat. I fiddle with the throttle. I fiddle with the choke. I turn the on/off button the opposite way until I no longer know which way is on and which way is off. I will be exhausted before I even get this started.

“Where are you working today,” I finally text Hubby. I don’t want to bother him, but I am at my wits end.

 “Elgin,” he answers, “I can come.”

 “I just can’t start this stupid thing,” I text emphatically if that is possible. “Doesn’t even sputter.”

 “Be there soon.”

I sit down to wait and collect my wits. Why did I think this project was a good do it yourself one? Ten minutes roll by before that familiar white pickup comes roaring up the drive with Alex, our employee at the wheel.

Gordon and Alex walk with me around to the back of the house while I expound on my situation. Hubby looks at all the start mechanisms with me while Alex observes from the other side.

“What’s this on/off switch over here?” questions Alex. He is looking at the opposite side of the motor at a small round red knob that is labeled with those words of on and off. He reaches down and turns the knob to on and then grabs the pull rope and gives it a tug. Putt, Putt, Putt goes the engine – just like that.

Now I feel really stupid. And to top it off, I remember that I have forgotten to buy the deck wash when I picked up the washer. That is what that hose is for that is leaking water all over the lawn. It is supposed to go into the cleaning solution. Uggh! Well, time to make a trip back to town. Not only will I be exhausted, but my day will be half gone before I even get started.

A half hour later, I am back with the solution. I decide to start on the outside deck railing. Our deck is twelve to fifteen feet in the air. This means I need to climb a step ladder to direct the high-powered flow of water onto the weathered wood on the outside of the railing. A pull of the trigger and I am jerked backwards by the force of 3000 pounds per square inch of pressure. The water stream splatters specks of dirt in all directions, but this works like a charm. I can see the mildew and dirt peeling off, leaving a bright looking new wood surface.

I move the ladder a few feet each time as I progress around the deck. My knees begin to protest the repetitive bending and my leg muscles tremble with fatigue as I traverse up and down the ladder over and over. It is also a continual balancing act to counteract the force of the water gun. Balance is not something I have a lot of anyway. During one move, I catch my feet on each other and tumble off the second rung of my structure into the mud I have created. I land with a thud on my left hip and left hand. Great! I have added to the already present wrist sprain from two earlier falls this summer but nothing else other than my pride seems injured.

Once I move to the upper level of the deck, the challenges become less, and I soon have a sparkling clean platform ready to stain once it is dry. I am ready to return my borrowed piece of equipment. I look at myself. For just a second, I contemplate taking a selfie, then reject that idea. I have dirt and mud in my hair and all over my clothes. I look like I rolled in the mud – well technically I did. Even if I have to pay more for the use of the washer because of the extra time, I have to take a shower and change clothes before I make my trip to town.

My plan is to allow the wood to dry for three or four days until next week before doing the staining. I have asked my hubby to accompany me to Menards to buy the stain needed on Saturday. But while waiting for the weekend, I get an e-mail notice, “We’re writing to inform you that your order … has been canceled because the item you purchased is out of stock.” The paint sprayer I have so carefully researched and ordered is not coming. Now what am I going to do? There is not enough time to order another one or from a different company. I add “buy a paint sprayer” to the list of items needed from Menards.

Our shopping trip on Saturday reveals limited choices of paint sprayers at Menards. One type of sprayer includes a long wand. That would work great for what I am trying to do but the price is high considering this may never be used again. We finally settle on a middle-of-the-road cost sprayer. It is small and light but will need to be filled frequently. We also acquire three gallons of new-cedar colored stain, a 100-foot roll of plastic sheeting, and a full jump suit to keep me from becoming a brown mummy. Now I am ready.

The next week is predicted to be a sunny beautiful week with no rain and temperatures in the low 80s. This should be perfect. Tuesday is the day set aside to tackle the task. Saturday afternoon, we string several ten-foot-wide strips of plastic sheeting down the side of the house under the deck and over the patio floor. Monday evening, we finish our protective measures by covering the house siding above the deck with the same sheeting. Afterall, we have no idea how wild I will be with a paint sprayer. I have never tried this before.

Imagine my sinking heart when I hear rain pouring on the house roof at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. Noooo! Wednesday it will have to be as I am starting a new job on Thursday.

“Could I have one of your taller ladders,” I question Gordon on Tuesday evening. I think that if I can climb a little higher without running out of ladder, I will be able to more safely reach the outside deck railings.

“I need to go downtown and get you one of my old ones,” He consents, “I need the ones on the truck tomorrow and I don’t want brown stain all over my good ones.”

“Good Grief. OK, whatever works for you.”

Wednesday morning dawns pleasant and warm but not too hot. I am glad I asked for that taller ladder. I gather all my paint supplies together – more plastic sheeting for the garage floor where I plan to do all my reloading, the paint, the sprayer, a paint brush, a mixing stick, and protective gear. First, I need to read the directions on the paint sprayer. It has a very flexible holding container and the most important requirement for the sprayer to work apparently is to get all the air out of that holding tank by squishing the air to the top port hole.

I pry off the paint can lid and stir the stain. I am ready to pour. But pouring paint is not the simple process I envision it to be. The stain runs down the side of the can and splashes in a spreading pool on the plastic before I can get it aimed into the sprayer receptacle. Oh dear! This is distressing. Finally, the sprayer cup is full and I have a stain covered container to screw onto the sprayer. I have more paint on me and the floor, I think, than in the sprayer. I have purposely waited to don my clothing protector gear until I had the sprayer ready to go. As I step into the coverall, I realize this is not a simple paper coverup but more of a rubberized hazmat suit. Next comes the N95 mask to keep me from breathing in the paint mist and some old safety prescription glasses I have found to protect my eyes. It even has a hood to protect one’s hair. Now I am sufficiently encased and protected from all hazards.

I expel the air, prime the pump, and turn the nozzle to spray. I am pleased that when I press the trigger, the stain ejects in a wide spray. With the taller ladder and a little coordinated reaching, I am able to nicely distribute the stain onto the railings. However, within three minutes, my paint gun container is empty, I am feeling smothered, and my glasses are steamed up. Down the ladder I go to fill up again. By the third fill-up in less than fifteen minutes, I am sweating profusely, my mask is wet inside, and I can no longer see out of my fogged glasses. My hearing aid begins its high-pitched squeal indicating it is shorted out from being too damp. Off comes the hearing aid and the glasses. I will just have to do this without being able to hear and see. I do realize that I need to drink if I am not going to faint before this is done – something I don’t normally do much of. Therefore, I make frequent stops at the refrigerator for glass after glass of ice water.

By the time I reach the last section of railing on the outside, my moving has slowed down to a crawl. Each trip up the ladder takes another ounce of strength out of me until I am gasping for air, feeling lightheaded, weak and with trembling knees. I have to get out of this getup. I cannot stand this any longer. A massive heat wave emanates from me as I unzip the coverall. I pour water out of the sleeves as I slide my arms out and my clothes look like someone poured a bucket of water on me. I am on the verge of a heat stroke and the day is not even particularly hot. My regular clothes are just going to have to get stained if need be. Ah, it feels so good to not be encased in plastic.

A little chocolate and a few cups of milk restore my energy and I am able to slowly complete the upper deck. I see that it pretty much got a first coat from all the spray shooting through the spindle slats. Now I just need to give it one finishing coat. I survey my work as I make the last spray strokes. It looks really good – just like a new deck. But next time, it is going to be a hired job. I’m not doing that again no matter how much the cost savings.

Birthday Waterfall Trip 2020

July 8, 2020 marks my hubby’s 65th birthday. In the midst of a year of the Covid 19 corona virus pandemic, the challenge has become what can we do to honor and celebrate this unique milestone. Many institutions are closed and those that aren’t have limits on occupancy – even the state parks and outdoor recreational areas. I have come up with a set of four waterfalls within driving distance that we can visit in one day.

We leave at 7:15 a.m. on a hot muggy morning. The weatherman is predicting temperatures hitting ninety degrees today with heat indices near 100 degrees. We drop Claire, the golden doodle, off at the doggy daycare in Elgin, MN and then head northwest on Hwy 42 towards Wabasha. We have skipped breakfast at home and hope to find the little café, The Eagle, open for dine-in eating. One never knows these days as many restaurants are still not fully open due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We have brought face masks along in case we are required to wear them as is mandated in many bigger cities. But this is Wabasha, MN and not only is The Eagle Café open but no one is wearing a mask – not even the wait staff. One table is taped off to comply with the six-foot distancing requirement of the health department. We choose a table in the far corner all by ourselves. There are only two other gentlemen patrons and they are seated at what I would call “the bar.” We enjoy a country breakfast of hash browns, sausages for Gordon, and an omelet for me. This is the first we have eaten out at a dine-in eatery in over three months. Our appetite is satisfied, and we are ready to start our journey.

Crossing the bridge over the Mississippi River places us in Wisconsin. We turn north and follow Hwy 35 toward Hudson. A few miles into our scenic trek, I plug the address for Willow River State Park into the GPS. I expect that it will lead us north on Hwy 35 for most of the trip and then guide us to the state park when we get closer. Therefore, it surprises us when the mechanical lady tells us to turn right on County D. We make several turns and maneuvers before we finally come out again at – you guessed it – Hwy 35. Now what was the purpose of that jaunt?

We do arrive at the state park around 10:30 a.m. Prior to arrival, we drove under a very dark cloud that looked like it might dump buckets of precipitation on us. Instead it produced only a brief shower. The temperature is just a hair over 80 degrees and with the lingering clouds, the atmosphere, though muggy, is actually quite tolerable. We head towards the path that the few others that are here are headed for. We expected an overpacked parking lot but surprisingly, there are still empty patches of ground not being utilized for parking.

The path leads steeply downhill after a short stretch of level terrain. Ten minutes into this downhill coast, we look at each other. We are both thinking the same thing. “Are we going to make it back up this mountain?” After about twenty minutes of moving sharply downhill, the path levels into a more gradual descent.

The Path

“I hear the roar of water,” announces Gordon. There is hope then. We traverse the last few steps and there it is. The water thunders over a series of three or four drops as it cascades towards the lower river. Overall, the total drop of the various falls is about forty-five feet. The river is about one hundred feet wide as it flows through the gorge of rock and trees that border both sides. Various people in swimsuits attempt to wade in the rushing water. One young man tiptoes his way across the tumbling whitewater over and over. There always has to be one with a death wish.

Willow River Falls

At this fall, there is a special little platform on the bridge upon which to place your cell phone and take that unique photo of you and the falls together. I have never been much into selfies, but what the heck, I am open to trying something at least once. First, I have to figure out how to set up the phone camera on the timer. I notice some young amused teenagers eyeing us intently while we oldies fumble about on this fan-dangled device. We do finally get it set up and manage to snap two shots of ourselves with the falls in the background. Gordon spends a fair amount of time shooting scenes with a real camera before it is time to go.

Neither of us look forward to the return trek to the parking lot. At least it is not as hot as the weatherman predicted and the trail is shadowed by a canopy of trees. With regular rest breaks on the climb back up, it does not seem as far as feared and we soon emerge from the woods into the brilliant hot sunshine.

Our next stop is to be St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, MN. I type the address into our “trusty” GPS. Soon we are sailing westward on I94. The device somehow knows that there is road work being done and a detour. It recalculates a different route but then seems confused by its recalculations. We are instructed to exit at Exit 234B. It then instructs us to turn right at the first intersection onto Hiawatha Drive. But the first intersection is Snelling Ave, not Hiawatha Drive.

“Keep going,” I instruct Gordon, “There, the next intersection is Hiawatha.” We cruise just a couple of blocks and I see a sign for Mill Ruins Park.

“It has to be around here somewhere. There’s a parking lot.” I direct him to a lot with several openings. Here in the cities, they seem to have automated parking fees machines. We struggle to figure out the directions for using this one. Our fumbling around ends up with us paying twice for what we planned as a two-hour time allotment. Well, now we have four hours to wander around.

Stone Arch Bridge

How are we going to find a waterfall in this inner-city bustle? Is the question. We are beside the Mississippi, so it has to be here somewhere. We begin our stroll alongside an enormous curving stone arch bridge that winds gently southward and across the river. Its surface has been converted into a bike path in the middle flanked by walking paths on each outer edge.

“Let’s go down the steps and under the bridge. Maybe we can find the falls by walking along the river.”

The sun beats down on us as we stroll along but there is a stiff breeze that reduces the blistering heat to a tolerable level. Off to our right is an ancient stone opening to the old flour mill ruins. The water in the aqueduct is green with thick algae. Ducks with goslings paddle lazily around the pool while a putrid odor wafts up at us from the dead animal floating on its surface. As we move on downriver, we pass the lock and dam operated by the Army Corp of Engineers. Tours of the facility are canceled, and the gates are locked tight due to the pandemic. Along with all these closures goes the access to any bathroom facilities. There are no boats going through the locks either- all is quiet. Once we get past the lock and dam and turn to look upriver, I spot the waterfall. Actually, there are several smaller falls to the sides of the river and a larger one situated across the full length of the river. It almost looks manmade but according to the literature and posted signage, it is a natural occurring phenomenon. Our view from this angle is partially blocked by the lock and dam.

“I bet if we go up on top of the stone arch bridge and walk out over the river, we will have an unobstructed view,” suggests my hubby.

We retrace our steps under the arch and up the stairs.

“Why don’t we eat something before we go for our walk?” I suggest. There is a food truck (Green plus the Grain says the sign on its side) parked along the edge of the parking lot. It seems like an easy and healthy way to fill our bellies without a lot of driving around. They are offering various salads and wraps and drinks and frozen yogurt. That frozen yogurt looks really tantalizing on this hot day and I order one with strawberries. I also order a Classic Caesar salad with ranch dressing while Gordon orders a Cowboy Salad with jalapeno dressing. It all seems relatively benign as menu choices go.

“I bet getting that salad dressing was a mistake,” mentions Gordon as we walk away to the only picnic table which is situated in the sun.

“You can eat mine if you don’t like yours. I have way too much,” I offer.

One bite of his salad and he is finished. I reach out and take a forkful to taste. Whoa! That is hot in a way different from the sunshine that blazes down on us. Guess neither one of us is eating that. There goes eleven dollars into the garbage. My lips and tongue burn even with frozen yogurt to cool the flame. My Caesar salad is edible but even that is spicier than we would normally consume. We eat it together. It is part of our adventure.

St Anthony Falls

We finish our visit to St. Anthony with a slow trolling meander along the top of the stone arch bridge. Midway along, the angle allows for photographing the full length and beauty of St. Anthony Fall. It is now close to two in the afternoon and time to move on to the next falls on our list, Minnehaha, just a few miles away. The GPS makes the same mistake on the way out as it did on the way in but this time we are prepared. Don’t turn where it says – just keep driving.

After a short drive, we arrive at the 170-acre Minnehaha Park located in the midst of the city of Minneapolis. We are in need of a bathroom. We are so hoping that the park restrooms will be open. But there are those familiar signs on the door, “Restrooms closed.” Ugh! Now what do we do? Off in the distance we notice a line of porta-potties. I guess that works. But I’m confused by this system. How is having to use a porta-potty more sanitary and less likely to spread the corona virus than just cleaning a regular bathroom properly? I just don’t get it.

Next, we wander back across the park wondering which way to go to find the fall. People seem to be going through an opening in the shrubs. We follow them. Concrete steps lead downward and make a few turns. At least it is semi-shaded as rivers of perspiration have begun to pour off of us with even the smallest activity. We can hear the rushing water and soon the falls comes into view. Minnehaha Fall spills fifty three feet over a ledge and under a stone bridge to the river below. It is flanked by green foliage on all sides. The beauty of this place is striking – a hidden gem in the middle of a major metropolis. The water of the Minnehaha River eventually spills into the Mississippi. We make our climb out of the gouge up some steps on the opposing side. A short walk through the opposite side of the park brings us back to the car. We are hit by a blast of oven air as we open the car door.

Minnehaha Falls

“I want a milkshake,” I declare.

“I don’t know where to find a Dairy Queen,” responds my driver.

“Not a problem,” I say as we start out towards our next destination. Right around the round-about at the end of Minnehaha Drive is a Dairy Queen. Gordon waits in the car while I go in to purchase the ice cream as only five people are allowed in at a time and everyone has to stay six feet apart. Here our masks are needed too. When I finally come back out fifteen minutes later, Gordon points to the thermometer on the car dashboard – one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. It’s time for a cool ride to our last waterfall in Nerstrand, Minnesota.

We are soon headed south on Hwy 55. I think this part of our trip should be a cinch as this is a familiar route for us. I have again plugged the address for Hidden Falls State Park into the GPS and faithfully follow its directions. We do fine until we need to exit the expressway. The “lady” tells us to go right at the end of the exit ramp, so we make a right turn. As we travel west, the device tells us to turn right and then right again. This makes no sense. We have just gone around in a circle. We pause at the stop sign. We are both confused.

“Just turn right and keep going on this road that we were on,” I instruct overriding the machine. As we travel a few more miles west, the GPS again instructs us to turn right. “Alright, just do what is says once and see what happens.” Two turns later, we emerge onto the expressway again north of the exit we got off at.

“OK. Let’s try this again,” I exclaim, “I think we need to follow Hwy 56 and we weren’t doing that.”

As we approach the end of the exit ramp this time, the machine again tells us to go right.

“No. Hwy 56 is straight ahead. Go straight,” I instruct. A few hundred feet later, we realize that now we need to veer off to the right. Now it makes sense what the GPS has been trying to tell us. It just forgot to instruct us with what to do at the stop sign. I don’t think we have had this many blunders from the artificial intelligence before. No wonder people end up driving down railroad tracks and doing stupid things while following its instructions.

We arrive at Hidden Falls State Park around 4:45 p.m. We need to head for home no later than six so that leaves us just an hour to find the falls. The sauna like atmosphere hits us as we step out of the car. I am glad it was not like this all day. Here there is a bathroom that is actually open. Such joy over small things. After a stop at the restroom, we start our slow trek down the angled trail. This path is not as steep as the one at Hudson, Wisconsin but losing altitude none-the-less. After all, I guess one does need to go down if he is going to come out at the bottom of a waterfall. I keep glancing at my watch, thinking that this might be a mistake in this heat. Thirty minutes later, the trail finally ends with a boardwalk and some wooden steps designed to protect a sensitive area where the endangered Minnesota dwarf trout lily grows. And there is the falls. It is not especially dramatic as it is only twenty foot tall but is still gorgeous. The water slowly trickles over the edge like water running off a table displaying a sparkling reflection in the afternoon sun. Several people frolic in the water below the falls. A father and young son stand beneath the falls holding out their arms and allowing the water to tumble over them. This calls for a few photographs before it is time to head back. A sign along the path indicates it is about a half mile back to the parking lot. That is not so bad if we could ignore the fact that it is all uphill and heatstroke weather. Gordon and I pace ourselves and step off to the side for frequent rests. Rivulets of sweat run down our brows and into our eyes. One step at a time. Ah we are back to the parking lot. It is time to head home. Happy 65th Birthday to my Hubby.

Hidden Falls

Golden . . . Or not?

“Goldendoodles AKC Registered Parents w/Champion Bloodlines, Microchipped, Shots, Potty Trained, and Some Obedience Training, $500, Call, Will Send Pictures,” so reads the ad in the “Dog” section of the Post-Bulletin. I am intrigued. I have been reading the dog ads for several months off and on since our beloved Bella died four years ago. I am looking for just the right dog to fill that empty spot in our hearts while at the same time hoping to delay getting one until I retire in a couple of years.

Claire fluff ball

 I decided a long time ago that I do not want a puppy. A puppy is exhauting during that first year while he/she grows into a lovable tolerable dog. I also do not want a dog that sheds all over my house. That means whatever dog we get needs to have poodle or one of the other small non-shedding dogs mixed into its heritage. Our first two dogs while Erin was small were non-shedding. One was a mutt consisting of American Eskimo, Pomeranian, and Toy Poodle. The second was a Bichon/Shih Tzu mixture. Then came Bella, a much begged for German Shepherd mix. Although the most lovable dog of the three, piles of hair covering all my furniture was the trademark.

The problem with my two criteria is that it is very difficult to find an older shelter dog where it is known that they have some Poodle mixed in. So this ad excites me and seems to offer a compromise. It says the puppies are “potty trained” and that they have “some obedience training.” To top off the positives as I see it, the price is right. Five hundred dollars for a golden doodle is cheap. I mull over the ad for a week before I call the number listed. And when I call, I find out that they are about five months old. They should be past the very early puppy stage as well.

“Can you come today?” questions the lady, “I have three people coming this morning to look at the females. There are four females and two males.”

I hesitate. I had not planned on making a fifty-mile trip on this Saturday. “How about if we come tomorrow afternoon?”

If I have done my math correctly, this information she has given me means there will be one female and two males left. I really do want a female. She also proceeds to tell me that this was their first time breeding dogs and they didn’t realize that having the puppies in the fall would result in not being able to get rid of them. There were eleven puppies originally and they were able to get rid of five in the fall, leaving six to winter over.

The following day, Sunday, Gordon and I make the trip to see our potential acquisition. We arrive early and the couple is waiting for us. The two males are locked up and they bring out the female. She is a beautiful puppy with a cream-colored curly coat of hair.

“She was the smallest one of the litter and always the shy one. She is really shy around new people,” the man informs us, “but she does well with us.” The puppy whom they are calling “Baby Girl” because they have not named her shrinks away from us and cowers behind the gentleman. He finally picks her up and strokes her sad droopy ears.

“Oh yes,” the lady adds, “and she piddles on the floor when a stranger comes, and she is excited.”

I am beginning to have serious doubts about taking this puppy. I have read that shy dogs often become aggressive. But we are here and I feel like we can’t just walk away.

“Can we bring her back if this doesn’t work out?” I question.

“Oh, yes. We would want you to do that.”

Shoving all the screaming doubts into the back of my head, we gather up the shaking puppy in our arms and deposit her into the kennel we have brought along in the back of the car. She is panting as fast as she can and shaking like a leaf. She is terrified. All the way home over the next hour, her rapid breathing generates torrents of water off her little pink tongue.

From the moment we arrive home, grave doubts crisscross through my mind about our decision. Clair, as we have decided to call her on the way home, refuses to get out of the kennel and then makes no effort to pee when taken outside on a leash. Snowflake, the cat, takes one look at this strange creature we have brought home, hisses with humped back at her, and whacks Claire with her paw. Clair tucks tail and scurries away in the other direction as fast as she can go. Oh, this is working out great. The puppy is now terrified of the cat and takes every opportunity to hide by the front door. By the time we head for bed, Claire has piddled pretty much everywhere on the carpeted floor upstairs but doesn’t even think about doing the same thing outdoors. Well, we were told she pees when she is frightened and being terrified of everything results in pee unbridled. So much for my expectation that this new dog has already been housetrained.

I get up a ½ hour early the next morning to take Claire outdoors. In spite of being in her kennel all night, she makes no effort to relieve herself outdoors and I can tell the kennel floor is wet. I am exhausted from lack of sleep and feeling overwhelmed by this whole situation. Why did I ever think that this was a good idea? Unable to get her to eat any breakfast or to follow me upstairs, I pick her up and carry her up with me. I set up a baby gate to keep her from running back downstairs to hide from the cat and so I can keep her in my sights. She huddles terrified by the gate while the cat nonchalantly addles by. I have no more started to wash up for the day then I hear a terrified yelp from the sitting area. I step out of the bathroom to see little brown rolls of poop tumbling out of the dog as she streaks down the hallway. This is not even half funny. I rush her outside, but of course, it is already too late. All that is left to do is clean up the mess.

After her first hair trim

I have prior obligations in town for the morning, so I place her back in her kennel for a few hours. There has still been no elimination in the great outdoors, but the kennel is again wet when I come home. I am exasperated. It is time to go back to square one with the housetraining. Apparently, the only one housetrained was the caretaker. When I think back to the situation Claire came from, I realize why there might be a problem. The puppies were only allowed access to a very small kitchen area. The rest of the house was baby-gated off. Claire has no experience with carpet or roaming free. Each puppy had their own kennel in a mudroom area, but the outdoor area used for potty training was approximately a ten by ten area cordoned off by more child fencing. The bottom of the area was covered with outdoor grass matting. I am puzzled why one would choose to use something for training that seems an awful lot like carpet. I guess it does keep the feet clean. Clair has no experience on a leash and no real experience in an actual yard either. I trudge down to the basement and retrieve the smaller kennel we used for our first two dogs. It is much more cramped but gives her less room to use for relieving herself. I put the bigger one away temporarily until I can trust her.

I have also made a decision to “enroll” our new puppy in puppy daycare at a facility along my route to work. If someone had ever told me when I was growing up on the farm that someday I would use puppy daycare, I would have laughed their head off. How silly! But here I am doing the unthinkable. It will keep Claire from being locked up for over ten hours per day and force her to interact with other people and dogs. Maybe she will grow out of this frickin cowardly behavior.

But of course, now I have to get her to the daycare each morning on my way to work. I again get up a ½ hour early on my second day of being a new puppy owner. I have made a plan so that this morning ends differently than our first – or so I think. My plan is to take her out in my pajamas and then eat breakfast while she eats hers. That way I can keep an eye on her and get her outdoors if she shows signs of relieving herself. She loves the snow, so she is delighted with our early morning escapade into the dark front yard. But that is as far as it goes. Frustrated, I give up. I need to get ready for work. I set her water and food bowls right next to the table and dole out the specified amount of food. I prepare my own breakfast and sit down to eat. I think Claire will want to be next to me and will eat while I eat, but there is another problem. Snowflake sprawls in the middle of the kitchen floor as is her usual behavior. Claire, as a result, scurries into the entryway and hides by the door. Oh, this is working so well. Having a dog who is terrified of the cat is never going to work.

My stomach is curled into a tight knot and the tension is mounting. I am feeling overwhelmed by this uncharacteristically non-puppy like animal. I again carry Claire upstairs and put up the baby gate while I go about getting ready for work. She cowers by the gate and I ignore her for now.

“What’s this?” questions my husband as he walks into the living area to turn on the TV. There on the floor again are the brown rolls. “N..o..o..o..o..o!!!!”

“This is never going to work. I think we should just take her back,” I blurt out in defeat.

“Let’s just give her a couple of weeks and then decide,” Gordon encourages.

It’s time to get started to work since I have to make that extra stop to let the puppy off. Claire, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to fight the leash much and for that I am thankful. But she has no interest in crossing the threshold into the garage. That is terrifying. With some treats and a little encouragement, we finally get that accomplished but getting into the car is a definite hardstop. Finally, I pick her up and drop her into the front seat. She sits there trembling then tries to climb over onto me. I push her back to the passenger side. She continues to try to push her quaking body over to my side on the five-mile ride to town. She refuses to even consider my treats. I don’t even try to coax her out of the car and into the dog kennel. I simply pick her up and haul her into the building. Several large dogs bark loudly and crash into the door dividing the kennel from the reception area. This has the makings of more terrorizing rather than calming. I turn and walk out. I have had all the chaos I can handle for one morning. It is Gordon’s responsibility to pick her up.

Gordon reports later that she refused to come to him when he stopped to pick her up.

“She did just fine with all the other dogs,” is the report of the kennel attendant.

Gordon carries her out to his truck and deposits her on the passenger side. Claire instantly scrambles over the two-foot-high homemade center console towards the driver’s side scattering work papers in all directions.

“I don’t think this is working at all,” is his comment later that evening. “I think we should consider taking her back.”

“Well, let’s give her a couple of weeks,” I reply. “She has only been with us a couple of days.” Gordon and I go back and forth over the course of the first week, continually switching roles in our emotions and convictions as to whether we should send her back.

By the third day, a small miracle does occur. Claire pees outside – always in the snow but outside. This could be a problem when the snow melts. And I have figured out that if I walk her down the drive before going back inside in the morning, she poops. And then Gordon starts to fall in love with her. I scour the internet looking for solutions to the cat terror issue.

“You need to take her upstairs with you in the evening and pen her up there with you,” I instruct Gordon, “She can’t just sit hiding by the front door.”

And then we hit on another solution. “Feed the dog high-desire treats while in the presence of the cat,” says one internet site. I guess it is worth a try except Claire doesn’t really care for her dog food as a treat. Not much entices her. Then we discover that people food, chicken, she is crazy over. This is a no-no (according to pet experts) but we are a couple of desperados. A couple of sessions of feeding chicken to a begging dog and cat just a few inches from each other starts an astonishing transformation. The fear is forgotten in the pursuit of the tasty morsels. Soon both cat and dog are tentatively sniffing each other and then running away. One day I hear a bark from Claire. She has gotten up the courage to bark at the cat instead of fleeing. A few more days and Claire is tormenting the cat trying to get her to run. At least, normal cat/dog behavior is appearing. Finally, the being on the lookout and running away to hide disappears. One problem solved.

The next problem we need to tackle is getting in and out of the car. We practice getting in and out with more treats. Still she shakes like a leaf and whines. I finally take her along for the three-hour ride to Ames to see Erin. She trembles most of the way down. But after a busy few hours playing with Erin’s big dogs, Claire keels over on the way home and sleeps. We have cured the overwhelming anxiety of riding in a car.

As the next weeks flow by, Claire becomes a mischievous puppy. She bounces around the house undaunted by the cat. She tears around the yard like a banshee chasing a stick. She eats every piece of garbage she finds. She jumps into the car for a ride without a second thought. What a total turnaround. She does still hit the house with her pee and poop once in a while. After all, she still is a puppy and only we are fully trained. But we both now say, “I think we’ll keep her.”

Whoopie Pie for Santa Claus

“Should I make whoopie pies for you for Christmas?” questioned my husband.

            My mouth began to water before I could even answer. “I would love that.” My mother made these special treats for us at Christmas time while growing up in Pennsylvania. Here in Minnesota if one mentions Whoopie pies, he is met with quizzical looks. So, what is a whoopie pie? It is two round mound-shaped pieces of cake with a sweet cream filling sandwiched between them. According to “What’s Cooking America?”, they have their origins with the Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This dessert springs from my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.

            Hubby was trying to explain this foreign delight to his employee, Alex, just a few days before Christmas. But an explanation of its goodness does not begin to compare with the actual taste of the completed dessert. “Can you spare a whoopie pie to give to Alex?” he questioned.

            “Of course!” I packaged one up to be delivered to him on Christmas Eve.

            Alex decided that he would save the scrumptious sweet to share with his wife at home. However, his just-turned-three-year-old son and six-year-old daughter needed to be picked up from Grandma and Grandpas before heading for home. And then the questions began, “Dad, what’s that?”, “Can we eat it?

            Alex scrambled to come up with a plan that would leave the whoopie pie for him and his wife to enjoy. A brilliant idea occurred to him. It was Christmas Eve after all.

            “How about we save the whoopie pie to put out for Santa Claus tonight?” He encouraged the young ones with a laugh.

            As bedtime approached, Son and Daughter excitedly helped carry the whoopie pie, some other cookies, and a glass of milk to the coffee table by the Christmas tree.

            “Time for bed. Santa can’t come until you are asleep.”

            Both excited children were soon tucked in bed and the adults sat talking in the kitchen. As the minutes ticked by, Alex realized that his young son had not appeared in the doorway as was the ritual that occurred on other nights. That’s strange. I better go check on him.

            The room was quiet as he approached it. Peeking into the dimly lit room, he noticed Son perched in the corner of the room with his feet tucked under him. Brown crumbs stuck to his cheeks and littered the floor around him.

            “Did you eat the Whoopie pie?”

            A vigorous shaking of the head back and forth followed the question. “No, I didn’t eat it.”

            But the evidence said it all and Alex knew he needed to have a discussion with the child about not telling the truth. A smile was poking at the corner of his lips, though, and he needed to escape the room.  His wife would have to have this discussion. He had an overwhelming desire to laugh. How his son had gotten the goodie, he did not know. What he did know was his well laid plans for Santa and a taste of the whoopie pie had been derailed by a small child.

How About Some Leaf Guards?

Rumble… Rumble… Roar… Crash… is accompanied by noticeable shaking of the house.

Hubby appears in the bathroom door, “Did you hear that noise? I wonder what that was?”

            It is dark outside, so it is hard to see anything. Hubby dons his shoes and disappears out into the blackness. I am wondering if there has been an explosion or fire at one of the neighbors. He soon comes back in to report that it is much simpler than that. The temperature has been above freezing for the last few days and there has been a huge snow slide off of our new steel roof on the back side of the house.

            The next morning, I am awakened around 6 a.m. to the same deafening noise again. My heart is pounding at breakneck speed as it attempts to prepare me to flee this terrifying event. Sleep has also fled away. As I peer out into the filtering light of day, there is a huge pile of snow on the deck and on the ground behind the house but nothing serious seems to be wrong – just another snow slide. Then I notice a strange sight. Small pieces of grated metal stick out of the snow at various angles. I soon identify them as the leaf guard sections that we had installed last fall on our eves during the installation of the roof. Well that lasted all of two months.

            We have had eves on the house for most of the 23 years we have lived here. As the trees have matured around the house, plugged eves has become more of a problem. Last year, some well-developed trees sprouted high in the sky. The eves on the back side of the house are about 30 feet above the ground so cleaning them is a bit of a challenge. Standing on a ladder on the deck and shoving a garden hose down the length of the eves seemed to provide the most efficient means of cleaning. But there is always a hang up at the downspout. Of course, we had heard of leaf guards and decided that maybe this would be the perfect solutions to our problem. And why not have them installed while having a new roof put on. Problem solved, right?

            Our winter came early this year. By early November, zero temperatures and a five-inch snow fall had arrived. A few weeks later, we had a weekend where it alternated between rain and snow for several days. It was just warm enough to produce rain intermingled with the snow. I noticed while looking out our large back window that the snow was melting into the eves just enough to freeze at night intertwined with the grating on the leaf guards. Then one day, I notice that the eve had stretched outward so that it was no longer U shaped but more of an L. Finally, the snow load must have provided enough pressure that it came crashing down, tearing off most of the entrapped leaf guards. I pick up the pieces and slam them on the stone walk to loosen all the ice pieces. With sadness, I dropped them into a garbage bag. I would say this experiment was a failure.

            “I hope they didn’t cost very much,” remarks Hubby.

            I don’t know and I don’t think I want to know. In the spring, I think the next project is to take the eves off completely and let the water run.

Challenges of Country Living – Thanksgiving Week

“Major snowstorm coming in for the holiday week with 5-9” of snow possible from Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday followed by 35-45 mile per hour winds,” emphasizes the meteorologist during the Monday evening weather forecast. I groan. I must work two days this week and one of them is to be Wednesday. I am not looking forward to trying to traverse a blizzard whipped road to meet my work obligation. I just hope that Thanksgiving is nice as I am looking forward to having our daughter and her husband join us for the holiday. They have a four-hour drive from Ames, Iowa.

            Tuesday dawns with a dark curtain hanging low over the land. However, the temperature is mild, rising into the forties and the wind is calm. This depressing atmosphere pervades throughout the day, but no raindrops or snowflakes fall from the pregnant clouds. Only a few snowflakes have fallen by the time the earth circles into the darker darkness of night. Maybe the weatherman will be wrong.

            “I’m going to go take my shower,” I inform my husband around 9:15 Tuesday evening. Soon I am basking in the warm pleasant water of the shower, scrubbing the suds of the soap bar into all the cracks and crevices. Without warning, I am thrown into complete darkness. Great! Just great! Maybe it will come back on again.

            “You are going to run out of water if you keep letting it run,” comes a voice from the doorway.

            “Well, yeah! But I am not going to stand here with soap all over me.” I turn off the water and stumble out of the shower groping for a towel in the blackness.

            “I didn’t think it was that bad outside that the power should go out.” I comment to my husband, “Could you start the generator for a while?”

            “I’m going as soon as I can find a flashlight,” his voice recedes into the murky hole of the stairwell.

            Soon there is a roar from the garage and a flood of bright light from the kitchen indicates we are generating limited electricity. At least, the water pump will run and I can finish my shower. But now what do we do? It’s too early to go to bed. A few extension cords are pulled from the drawer and strung so we can view the weather on TV. Still, the power has not been restored.

            “Should we leave the generator run and go to bed,” questions my hubby. “I really don’t like to leave the generator run while we are sleeping.”

            “Let’s just turn it off. It’s not that cold out and we can snuggle together in bed.”

            But I am reminded as we settle into bed that my bed warmer needs electricity, our Sleep Number bed is hard too. It can’t adjust without power, and Hubby’s CPAP mask doesn’t operate on air either. Ughhhh… I lay there listening to the snores beside me with eyes wide open. There is not going to be any sleep for me tonight. I have just started to doze off when I am startled awake by the overhead bedroom light glaring in our face. The power is back on.

            The next day, we learn that the power outage was the result of a local crop farmer who was headed home from last minute corn harvesting. The steep hill a mile from our house had become layered with fresh ice and snow causing his large John Deere combine to slide off the road and snap a power pole in two.

            I am feeling exhausted when I climb out of bed the next morning from the events of the previous night. About 8” of new snow greets me when I peek out the front door. To top off the situation, the wind is howling. Hubby heads out to clear the driveway. The biggest problem for plowing is that the ground is not yet frozen, and the snow is wet and heavy.  This results in rolls and rolls of driveway gravel ending up in the ditch- a distressing result to me this early in the season.

For the last three weeks, I have been driving a new 2019 Subaru Crosstrek as a loaner car while mine is in the shop. I can see myself smashing this one in a winter storm before I am able to return it. But it is a Subaru and it is an all-wheel drive so what could possibly go wrong. I leave a ½ hour early in order to be able to drive carefully. The roadway is plowed but patches of drifts have developed where the snow has been driven by the westerly wind across the road. I find myself following a van whose driver thinks 30 miles per hour is an exceedingly high speed. Every few minutes, she (I am presuming it is a she) finds herself “flying” down the road at 32 or 33 mph and the brake lights come on. Over and over, this happens. I take a deep breath and bite my lip. I might actually make it to work. Thank goodness, I left early. It seems a little icy to try and pass especially with a car I do not know well so I patiently follow. I soon park safely in the parking ramp. I have promised my hubby that I will text him when I get to work to let him know I have arrived safely. I type the text in the car and hit “send.” “No service,” pops up along with a question, “Do you want to send when service is restored?” I hit the “yes” button and head into the hospital. I check my sent messages a couple of times to make sure my text went. Satisfied, I turn off my phone.

Not only is this a snowy wintery day, it is the day before Thanksgiving, and we are busy in surgery. I find myself running an hour overtime and it is 8 p.m. before I am ready to head for home. I turn the phone back on and see I have a frantic message from the morning from my hubby, “I haven’t heard from you. Are you OK? Are you in the ditch? Should I come look for you?” Now I am flustered. Did my text not ever get to him? I quickly dial his number.

“I just got your text from this morning,” he informs me. “I have been worrying all day that something happened to you.”

“I’m sorry. I sent you a text. I guess you can figure that if no one from work has called looking for me, that all is well,” is the only response I have for him.

I am frustrated that my well-laid intentions did not work out and Hubby has been anxious all day. There is not much I can do about it now, but I guess I have learned not to trust text messaging.

It is no longer snowing as I head for home and the state road heading north seems clear. It isn’t until I turn onto a county east-west road, that I see the first pickup in the ditch. As I scan the road about another mile ahead, numerous red brake lights shine back at me. A glaze on the blacktop reflects back from where the snow has been skittering across the road all day. There is an obvious problem ahead as well. Sure enough, another pickup is in the ditch. I crawl around the disaster to avoid the same fate myself. I come up behind a car that is crawling along with hazard lights flashing. Seriously! That’s annoying to have intermittent orange bouncing off my retinas. I think I can tell we need to go slow.

By 9 p.m., I am safely in the garage, only to be confronted by another problem. The internet is not working. I can only guess the dish is snow and ice covered. That problem will have to wait until morning.

After a good night’s sleep in a warm, snuggly, electrically-operating-properly bed, we decide to solve our outdoor issues while waiting for the young folks to show up for Thanksgiving. The satellite dish is covered with snow, so a ladder and a broom are obtained to wipe off the offending material. A coating of ice remains after the snow is removed. The connection is trying to work now but ever so slowly. It is brainstorming time. How do we get the ice off the dish? Hubby produces a tree trimming pole and I dig through the drawer for a hair dryer. Electrical tape them together and we have a useful tool for thawing ice high up on the side of the house. Ten minutes of hair drying, and we have an internet connection.

Our daughter and son-in-law along with two large dogs soon sweep in with a flurry and we have a Thanksgiving feast together. Well timed by the Lord above, it is the only day of the week with quiet weather and a smooth-running day. Our bellies are laden with turkey, stuffing, squash, and pumpkin pie and our hearts are gladdened with family fellowship.

Friday morning after climbing out of bed, I turn on the water at the sink in the bathroom. Hmmm? Nothing is coming out of the faucet.

I return to the bedroom to my sleeping husband. “I think we have a water problem.”

He sleepily crawls out of bed and dresses. “It has been almost 25 years. One of these times, we are going to end up pulling the pump.”

I sure hope it is not the pump. Pulling it now would be a huge headache. Our yard already has a four-foot drift in it and getting a well truck backed up to the garden would take some doing. Well, I can’t wash up, but I can comb my hair and get dressed while Hubby disappears to the basement with his electrical meter to do some checking and diagnosing. A few minutes go by before the bathroom is thrown into darkness. A resetting of the breaker has caused a bang as the breaker kicks out again. “There is a dead short,” is the response I get when I go to check on progress. Soon he is kneeling in the snow in the garden by the well attempting to make a final determination of the problem. “I think it is the underground and that I can fix. I just hope I am right,” he concludes.

A trip to town is next to get a roll of wire which we string across the yard to the house. A hole is drilled in the garage/house wall to gain access to the basement and then my resident electrician re-wires the well. A flip of the breaker results in rising water pressure and a stream from the faucet. Hurrah! So why has the underground decided to go bad now after twenty-three years? We can only speculate. This fall, we added a porch to the front of the house. One of the posts was extremely close to the buried well wire. The builders did not think they hit it but maybe, they nicked it and now it has burned off or maybe, the concrete poured into the hole for the foundation has shifted enough to put tension on a previous splice. We will be waiting until spring now to run another permanent underground wire.

But we do have electricity and water again just in time for the next winter weather system to move through dropping rain, freezing rain, and snow over the next three days – days that I thankfully do not have to venture out to work. We are more than ready for the bright sunshine that appears on the Monday morning that next week. It heralds the beginning of December and the start of the Christmas season.

Sedona, AZ: ATV Riding, the Pink Jeep, and Travel Home

            Friday, September 20, 2019  

            Hubby gets up at 5 a.m. and leaves the hotel. I am awake anyway so I might as well get up. I wander over to the conference early and eat my breakfast alone outside on the patio. Our scheduled adventure for today is an ATV ride at 1 p.m. I had a little panic attack this morning while looking at one of the maps. I see an Arizona Off-Road Adventure company located close to Camp Verde. My ticket has an address in West Sedona. Did I make a mistake? If we show up at the wrong place, we have thrown away a bunch of money.

            I head back to the hotel room after the next to last lecture and meet Hubby in the hallway on his way back to the room as well. We hurriedly throw together a lunch as the GPS says it will take us a ½ hour to our destination. “The traffic is terrible this morning,” is Hubby’s report for the morning.

            We arrive with time to spare and my anxiety about showing up at the wrong place is not justified. We sign the usual, “This is a dangerous activity and we are not responsible if you die” paper before being fitted with a kerchief to cover our mouth and nose, a helmet to protect our brains, and googles to protect our eyes. Now we look like bandits. We settle down to wait for other people to arrive before being taken to a small track outback to practice driving. “For how many people is this the first time they have driven an ATV?” asks our instructor. All four hands in our group go up. Well at least we are not alone in needing to look like beginners.

            “Who wants to go first?”

            “I will.”

            After some instruction on how to push the throttle and how to apply the brakes, I am off. Slowly I crawl around the track. They purposely made it with deep holes and rocks and short turns. Turning the machine seems to be my biggest problem but I make it around without any significant problem. Hmmm! Maybe I can drive this thing. Everyone else takes a turn before we are ready to leave. Hubby does his trial run without any problem either so soon we are piling into a van to be hauled to the Coconino National Forest. Contrary to my preconceived notion, national forests in Arizona do not necessarily contain trees. This one has short scrubs, mostly dirt, cacti, and stones.

Me and my machine

I am a little apprehensive but also a little excited. This has the potential to be smashing fun. We are soon lined up behind our guide. We will be riding 25 miles of dirt trails covered with rock and holes and twists and turns. It takes a little getting used to the throttle which needs to be operated with one’s right thumb. The temperature is only about 80 degrees but the helmet with the face kerchief makes for a smothering sensation. I soon ditch the kerchief over my face. It doesn’t seem that dusty. As I get more used to the machine, accelerating in short burst is a thrill. We travel down a forest road first and then turn onto a path through the “forest.” It is more like a cow path through a dry and barren land. We eventually climb higher on the Sawtooth Ridge and stop for a break. We gaze out over a vast valley below to the red rock formations miles away. Then we begin our ascent back down and back to our starting point. The last few miles takes us on the gravel forest road, and we step up our pace. With the wind in our face, we throttle the machines and sail towards the drop off spot. Whee! A little taste of risk-taking enhances the thrill. Our ride takes about three hours and before we know it, we are back to the truck and heading back to Sedona.

Sedona area landscape

Our plan for the evening is to watch the sunset from the airport above Sedona so we pick up some Subway sandwiches to picnic there. The person working in Subway is sullen and inattentive. I think she would just as soon have not been there. This is our second attempt at buying Subway in Sedona and neither one has turned out particularly well. The last time, the bread on the sandwiches was hard and the cookies stale. This time the sandwiches were good, but the cookies were still stale. Time to give up on Subway here.

The drive up airport road is one of twists and turns. It cost $3 to park in the parking lot there but the view is awesome. We wander down a trail along the ridge and settle ourselves on a bench there. Hubby sets up the camera to get some pictures. The wind is getting cool as the sun goes down. We keep expecting the rocks to turn red with the sun sliding below the horizon but the color changes little. Hubby is somewhat disappointed as the hype has been great that it is such a spectacular view at sunset. It is still a great view. It just doesn’t meet what we have been told to believe. Oh well, time to get back to the hotel.

Sunset over western Sedona from airport

                         Saturday, September 21, 2019

Today is my last day of the anesthesia conference and our last day in Sedona before we fly back tomorrow. Hubby left early to explore so I thought I would get up and visit the Pink Jeep concierge desk at the hotel before the conference starts. We made a last-minute decision last evening to see if we could get reservations for the Pink Jeep trip to the Honanki Indian ruins in Boyton Canyon. I walk up to the concierge desk, but no one is staffing it.

“When does the concierge desk open,” I ask the hotel desk attendant.

“They don’t start until 8 a.m. on the weekends.”

Well that’s weird. Why would one have less coverage on the weekend when it is busier than during the week? Oh well, I guess I will have to come back between conference sessions.

When I return at 8:30, a gentleman is available to help me. And I am in luck. They have a 2 p.m. time slot for the venture we are looking at. That should be perfect. I can attend the whole conference on the last day, maybe get in a nap, and still make it to uptown Sedona by 1:30 p.m.

            I arrive back to an empty hotel room as Hubby has not yet returned. I spend a few minutes gathering our things together for travel home tomorrow before he appears.

            “We have to go right now,” he announces.

            “Why?” I ask. I was planning on a nice little nap. “Don’t we at least have time to eat?”

            “There are thousands of cars today with a two- mile backup on route 179. I don’t know why it is so busy, but it took me ½ hour to travel just a few miles.”

            “Well, let’s at least try to eat first. We still have an hour and ¾,” I implore.

            We hurriedly eat our usual cold cut tortilla lunch in the hotel room and set off on this beautiful day. Traffic is slow but there are no extended periods of traffic stoppage. I try to relax. We will be just fine. The sun is shining brightly with no clouds in the sky. The temperature is about 80 degrees. We have had no cloudy or rainy days since we arrived here.

            We reach Uptown Sedona where the Pink Jeep headquarters is located with time to spare. The next order of business is finding a parking spot. The town is flooded with people. I don’t know if this is business as usual for Sedona or if this is extra ordinary. We decide to try out some back streets and do find one parking spot in front of some mailboxes in Lot B. Is this a legal parking spot, we ask? We look high and low for any signs indicating our car will be towed if we park here. There are none. Next we need to figure out how to get across the street. The one thing the designers of round-abouts forgot to address was pedestrian crossing. When there is wall to wall traffic with no breaks in the continuous flow of speeding vehicles, how does one get across? Soon I notice that some traffic control people have been called into service on this busy Saturday. One activates a traffic signal that was dark and dormant and another stands at the next round about up the street and stops traffic periodically to allow safe crossing.

Us in front of the pink jeep

            We have arrived with an hour and a half to spare. We do some shop browsing before settling down in the waiting area of the jeep company. At 1:45, we are given some basic instructions on our trip. The most humorous one is the instruction on how to fasten a seat belt. Then we are assigned to our driver. There are six of us in the open-air pink jeep with overhead roll bars. And yes, the jeeps are pink. The first part of our journey is on a hard-top road. It then turns into dirt as we again enter the Coconino National Forest. The roads are of the same status as the ones we traveled on the ATVs. They are strange uneven rock underlay and are full of potholes. We bounce around as we wind through more red rock country with tall mesas off in the distance. After about an hour ride, we arrive at the Indian ruins. The sun is hot as it beats down on us. We have a fairly short walk through the “forest” to the ruins. A slight breeze blows and we get intermittent shade from the scrubby trees. One lady in our group is almost 80 years old resulting in a rather slow walk for the rest of us not-quite-as-old folks. There are some rocks and tree roots to stumble over and a short section of natural stone steps to traverse.

            We are told the walls built of stones mortared together with mud that connect directly to the cliff wall are left over homes or community buildings from a people that lived there in the 1400s. On the cliff walls, in some places barely visible, are various sketches and drawings made by these people. It looks like a rather unique place to live – hidden up against the 1000-foot-high cliff walls.

Indian ruins

            A lady in our group is unable to take the pictures she wants as her batteries have reached their useful life expectancy. Noticing her predicament, my always generous husband offers her his backup batteries. She graciously accepts. Hopefully, his will last until we get home as they are rechargeable.

            We soon return to our pink jeep. There are two elevated seats along each side and one in the back. Hubby and I squeeze into the back seat for the ride back. It is a little like riding in the back of a school bus, but we enjoy the cool breezes as we head back to town. There, we decide to eat in a restaurant along Sedona’s Uptown streets. There are many to choose from. First, I remind Hubby that we were going to stop at the chocolate shop. I saw a tasty looking bar there earlier that reminded me of the peanut butter bars I used to love. They have a peanut butter core covered by chocolate. My mouth has been watering all afternoon. The chocolate covered orange sticks are attracting my hubby. As we check out, the smiling young lady with flowing long pigtails greets us cheerfully, “Thank you for coming back. I gave you a 20% discount for stopping again.” She remembered us from earlier even with the multitude of people flowing through the shop.

            Hubby’s mouth is watering for a hamburger, so we pick a restaurant called the Cowboy Café. The waiters are dressed like cowboys with one even having a gun on his hip. I am not sure if that is just for looks or if it is actually loaded. Afterall, Arizona is an open carry state. I about fall over after previewing the menu. I was hoping for a reasonably priced meal, but this is anything but that. It looks more high class. We finally decide to order a plate of appetizer for us both. It includes rattlesnake sausage, buffalo skewers, breaded fried cactus, and some type of spicy “bread.” Each item comes with a sauce. I keep forgetting that we are close to Mexico and finding food that is not spiced up is a challenge. We will need to get out the Gaviscon tonight.

            By the time we finish eating, it is time to head for the Red Rock Rangers station where they are holding a View The Stars Party. The hour-long astronomy presentation is following by star viewing through several different telescopes outside in the dark. The sky is cloudless and the stars shine brightly. The air is cool enough to require the addition of a sweater. All the rocks and things to trip over are lined with red lights which supposedly does not affect one’s night vision. I soon realize that I will have trouble navigating in the dark as my balance since my stroke in February seems to be dependent on having visual orientation. Hubby’s primary interest is photographing the stars and the milky way. By 8:30, we are both tired and head back to the hotel.

The night sky from the Ranger Station

            Our last evening is spent packing up and getting ready for a quick departure in the morning. Our flight is not until 12:15 (noon) but we have a two-hour drive, a need to return the rental car, then catch the rental car shuttle to the airport and get ourselves through security. We get all this accomplished with two hours to spare to eat a leisurely breakfast. “Traveling would be so much fun,” I comment to Hubby,  “if there just weren’t any people.” Take a deep breath, I tell myself, and take it one step at a time. Maybe by the time we are too old to travel, we will have this travel thing figured out.

            The first segment of our journey to Chicago from Phoenix goes quite smoothly. There are some thunderstorms in the Chicago area with rain pouring down on arrival. This leads to some turbulence and rather panicked instructions to stay in our seats and buckle up, but we arrive a ½ hour ahead of schedule. We have a three-hour layover here so there is no need to hurry. Our text message from American Airlines gives up a gate number of L1A. We settle in to wait. I spend the time catching up on my writing and do some reading.

            At 5:58 p.m., our cell phones ding to tell us that our flight has been moved to gate L3. We gather up our luggage and move a few gates down. The board still says this flight is on time for takeoff at 8:45 p.m. At about the time the electronic board indicates we should be boarding the plane, the cell phone asks for our attention again. Time for takeoff has changed to 9 p.m. Five minutes later, the next message says the gate has changed to H3A with the takeoff time still being 9 p.m. We get up and begin our walk across the airport this time to a different wing. We have no more started our walk than the next message informs us the gate has been changed to H1B. Seriously people! Is it that hard to figure out what you are doing? And now departure time has been changed to 9:30 p.m.

            My head is spinning, and I am beginning to doubt that we will be arriving home tonight. Finally at 9 p.m., another arriving load of travelers deplane and we almost immediately begin boarding. Maybe there is still hope. Once everyone is comfortably seated, the captain announces, “We will be pushing away from the jet bridge in just a few minutes but expect a 40-minute wait for takeoff.” I groan. But as promised, by 10 p.m., we are airborne and headed for Rochester.

            We walk into the house at midnight. “Kitty Kitty Where are you?” Several times while in Sedona, I wondered if I had put her food out and I couldn’t remember but I convinced myself that I couldn’t have possibly forgotten something so important. I look up at the shelf where I put her food so that I could just set it down before we left. OH NO! The bowl of food still sits high up on the shelf. I never gave her the food on the way out the door six days ago. Poor Snowflake. She greets us with her usual “Meow Meow Meow Meow!” She does not seem any the worse for the situation. I am not sure if she is protesting that we left her alone or that she is starving. I quickly feed her, but she doesn’t seem particularly over hungry. She is just happy we are home and wants us to know it.

Sedona, AZ Days Two and Three

                                         Wednesday, September 18, 2019

            This morning was my first day of the anesthesia conference. My night last night was not restful. I woke up several times with the feeling of sour food pushing against my throat. The shrimp scampi I ate for supper must not have set well. Finally, I take a Gaviscon and am able to drift off. But I wake up every hour or so and check the clock. And so the night drags on.

            I walk back to our room from the seminar about noon. Hubby has gone shopping for lunch staples, so we have tortillas and chips before heading out. We start out going north on Hwy 179 through Sedona. We make several stops at scenic views. The Chapel of the Cross on the top of a high red rock is the highlight. We drive as high up as we can and then decide the last option is to walk the rest of the way up.

            “Do you want a ride?” inquires a voice from a golf cart just as we are starting our climb. This is too good to be true.

            “Sure,” I respond as I make a dive for the back seat of his vehicle. I do notice the tip box prominently displayed upfront. Oh well, it was worth not having to walk up the steep hill.

Chapel of the Cross

In Sedona, we go around the umpteenth round-about and head south on 89A. I thought Minnesotans were in love with round-abouts but here, there are almost no traffic lights and a round-about every time one blinks their eyes. Nobody seems to care much about being polite either. They would just as soon run over you as not.

            One of my goals for this day is to find the Verde Valley Railroad while sightseeing which we have a reservation for at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Then I will know how early to leave the seminar. As we drive along viewing the countryside, I develop my plan of attack. I surmise that if we turn right at the upcoming Catholic church, we should be able to wind our way up to the Railroad Terminal in Clarksdale. What I have not accounted for is that the map I am following is a rough estimation and not to scale. I think the Catholic church is located at the light by Mingus Avenue. It is not. But there is a sign just before the church pointing to Old 89A and mentioning the towns that we are searching for. Oh well, we have missed that, so we turn right on Mingus Avenue at the light. This should still lead us to our destination. After a few minutes of tentatively driving onward and intuitively turning where is seems the map would direct us, we spot the road to the train depot. Now, we just have to come back out and turn right on 89A again and I conclude that it should bring us back around by the Catholic church. Imagine my surprise when we see a sign pointing to Jerome ahead. Jerome ahead?

            “We don’t want to go to Jerome,” I exclaim. “I don’t understand what just happened. Don’t we want to go south?”

            “No, we want to go north,” counters my hubby emphatically, “We need to turn around.”

            “Then just follow 89A south,” I instruct him, “and hopefully we will come back around.”

            The town we enter as we drive is totally unfamiliar. “We can’t be going the right way. I don’t remember any of this,” insists Hubby over and over.

            “You don’t remember it because we didn’t come this way,” I respond several times. Now I am becoming frustrated by his insistence that we are going the wrong way simply because he doesn’t recognize anything we are driving by. I am pretty sure this will work out though not absolutely certain. Soon I spot the road I was hoping to find.

            “There it is. Turn right there,” I direct.

            “I have no idea what you are doing. I am totally lost. You are going to have to drive back here yourself tomorrow as none of this makes any sense,” is his final declaration before lapsing into silence.

I eye the Garman GPS sitting on the dashboard that we stowed into our suitcase so tenderly. Maybe we really should plan ahead to use that little thing. But then, we are still old-fashioned enough to think that we can navigate by a map- even a map that is missing most of its landmarks and highways. The rest of our drive back to the hotel is uneventful. We decide to call it a night as Hubby is not feeling up to par physically.

Sedona

      Thursday, September 19, 2019

            Hubby got up at 5:30 a.m. this morning after his phone rang – must be 7:30 a.m. back home. I lay in bed another hour before time to get dressed for the conference.

We have a 1 p.m. reservation for the train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad so I leave the conference a little early. By 11 a.m. we are on the same road again that we traveled yesterday. Today’s ride goes smoothly, and we know exactly where we are going. It is a sunny, pleasantly warm day as all the days here have been. The train depot is bustling with activity and people milling around.

“You look like you need tickets,” a gentleman greets us. “Head right over there.” He motions to the right.

As we exchange my receipt for actual tickets, I address the ticket agent. “Where do I get our lunch?” I have already paid for a lunch to go with our ride.

“You can either get your lunch at the restaurant or choose to eat outdoors. We are having a German-mashed-potatoes with sauerkraut lunch and brats special today.”

Hmmm! That sounds like a nice change of pace. I haven’t had mashed potatoes and sauerkraut since my mother used to make it for my birthday years ago. We enjoy our lunch in the semi-shade of a tree while we wait to board the train.

Verde Valley Train

We are assigned to the car dubbed “Tucson.” It is air-conditioned, clean, and well cared for. The seats are bench seats like a school bus but can be flopped over when the direction of the train is changed since they can’t turn around. Between each of two cars is a train car that is open and available for outdoor riding. Our car attendant is a man in his late fifties or early sixties who is extremely jovial. He welcomes us to our car and takes the tickets when it is time to board.

            I urge Hubby to join me on the outdoors car for the first hour of the trip. It is hot, probably in the upper 80s but it is breezy and there is a small shade canopy. The land we travel through is, to my eyes, a land of desolation but also of great beauty. We clickity clack along the rail laid along the side of the mountain on the left while a canyon falls away on the right. Deep in the canyon flows a small river or what we Midwesterners would call a creek. The river is lined with lush green trees. The walls of the canyon beyond the river rise magnificently to meet the sky. They are a beautiful red color. Scattered over the steep boulders are blooming cacti and small scrubby trees. We descend a twisting turning path of switchbacks over the next 38 miles to Prescott, now a ghost town. Then, the engines are brought around to the back of the train and reattached. And the climb back through Verde canyon begins.

            We spend part of our time in the air-conditioned coach car and enjoy the scenery out the window. I even fall asleep for a 10-minute nap. Ice cream sandwiches appear, and our host makes an offer, “I have ice cream sandwiches on special. $1 for one, $2 for two.” This is followed by laughter. Just the kind of afternoon to enjoy ice cream. Soon, we venture back outside to enjoy the last hour back to Clarksdale in the great outdoors.

            Since we are so close to Jerome, AZ, the town with the reputation of being the wildest town in the west, we decide to travel there before heading back to the hotel. The road winds with tight curves up the side of the mountain. As we climb higher, a fantastic view appears. The valley below falls away with an awe-inspiring view. The town of Jerome, itself, gives the impression of the houses clinging to the hillside. The streets are narrow and close to the side of the cliff as well. The back doors or maybe the front doors too of the houses overlook the cliff. It is a beautiful scene and provides some photographic opportunities.

Jerome, AZ

            Then it is time to head for the hotel. We decide to make our own supper when we get there. The route we planned to take back to Oak Center is closed because of an accident. “Take alternative route,” says the sign. Great! The only alternative route we know is a little further but probably just as fast. We settle in for an evening at the hotel.

Travel to Sedona, AZ 2019

Bell Rock close to our hotel

Tuesday, September 17.

“Let’s go to bed an hour early tonight,” I implore my husband on Monday evening. We need to get up at 2:45 a.m. if we are going to make our 5:45 a.m. flight. As is usually the case, I find that I can’t fall asleep. I am afraid that I won’t wake up in time. I set my regular alarm clock, my travel alarm, and Hubby sets his phone alarm. That should be enough to get us awake on time.

            “Bling, Bling, Bling!” over and over assaults my ears. I roll over and peer at the clock. It is 1:45. I groan. Why is the phone going off at this time?

“Your phone is an hour early,” I grumpily mumble to my spouse.

“It’s not my alarm,” is the response. “It’s the airline texting to say our flight is on time.”

“Seriously? You have got to be kidding me.” Now I am awake and irritated. I could have slept another hour. I roll over and snuggle back in. Maybe I can fall back to sleep. A few minutes later I hear Hubby get up and go downstairs. Then. . . brring, brring, bring! Now my travel alarm is going off. It is now 2 a.m. I had set it for 2:45 but it is going off at 2 am. Is someone trying to tell us something? Any hope of sleep is now gone.

Our trip to the airport goes without incident though I am anxious and wishing I had not turned down Hubby’s offer for me to drive. When did we turn into the old couple cautiously peering out the window and approaching every obstacle with trepidation? The traffic lights in downtown are all green because it is still the middle of the night, but my dear spouse slows down as he approaches each one. Doesn’t green mean go, not slow down? We creep along ten miles under the speed limit on the deserted streets. I bite my lip to keep from being the dreaded back seat driver. We do arrive just as the airport is coming to life.

We sail through security without any issues and settle down to wait for our flight which is still on time. I have not bought an upgrade for this “short” 1 ½ hour flight to Chicago so Hubby tucks his lanky frame into the standard issue seat. His legs have begun to numb even before takeoff. But before we know it, we are safely on the ground in Chicago. A fairly long walk to concourse K is the next order of business. I am learning not to schedule tight connections for our flights because we are way too old for this running business. We have quite a leisurely morning stroll and even some time for breakfast before it is time to board our flight to Phoenix, AZ. This time we have hit pay dirt with our seat choice. Not only does Hubby get an exit seat but he gets one right where the plane narrows leaving his window seat with no seat in front of him – all the leg room he could ever want is within his reach.

Out of the airplane

Another beautiful touchdown in Phoenix ends the air flight part of our journey. Then it is on to boarding a bus to take us to the rental car terminal. I reflect on the fact that it is only 11 a.m.  here in Phoenix but we have been up for ten hours already. My head hurts and I need a nap.

This time when I rent a car, I decline all upgrades even though we are told that means we will have to ride in a VW bug. When we pick up the car though, it is not a VW bug but a Ford Fiesta. Our butts are almost sitting on the ground and we need Hoyer lifts to get ourselves up out of the car every time we stop but it does successfully perform the task of transporting us around. We soon discover that the left blinker doesn’t work, and the tires are bald. It does have 43000 miles on it, so I think it needs some loving attention. Hubby just cannot live with a car that lacks a working signaling system, so he buys a bulb the first day in Sedona and replaces it.

Driving in Phoenix is like driving in any big city. The speed limit says 55 but it is like we are a beetle crawling up the road while everyone else catapults by. Phoenix is a dry and barren landscape with some beautiful cactuses scattered here and there. What do these people do here for a living? We wonder. As we get north of the city and the elevation begins to increase, the landscape begins to change. It now looks more like the grasslands of Africa. The grass is brown and dry, but it was once grass. Short stubby trees are struggling to grow and the tall stately cactuses of earlier have disappeared. The land begins to take on a reddish hue as we get closer to Sedona. Once we turn off the main interstate 17 onto 179 north, the beauty of the landscape becomes apparent. The red rocks of Sedona rise in stately spires towards the skyline. We end our day by previewing the landscape in preparation for our coming days.

“Educated” by Tara Westover – A Review

A Mama Swan and her cygnets (young)

            I am always looking for new books to read. I especially love non-fiction novels about the lives of others. I want to know how they dealt with the experiences in their lives and how it worked out for them. I came across a book entitled “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is a New York Times best seller. My curiosity was triggered, and I bought the book.

            It is a story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in a Mormon family in Idaho. Even by Mormon standards, her father especially, is an outsider in his own faith tradition. Eccentric might be another term that one would use. Tara and some of her other younger siblings are never sent to school and their so-called “homeschooling” is basically no schooling. Her father believes school will contaminate his children to the world- a world in which he sees himself as God’s prophet.

            There are so many psychological and religious issues in this story that I can relate to on so many levels from my own personal experience. Although, I grew up Mennonite and not Mormon and the religious beliefs are different, the cultural dynamics are similar.

            First, Tara grows up in a family where the father is the ruler and women are seen as needing to always be submissive to men. This is a standard Mormon belief as well as one of many evangelical Christians, but her father uses that belief to control and to manipulate his family into a separate kind of lifestyle ruled by paranoia of everything “out there”, religious superiority, and an expectation of family loyalty. He does this through demanding an adherence to a distorted preaching of his faith as the one and true faith, by shaming his children if they so much as show any interest in how others live and attempt to copy that behavior. I couldn’t help but make that connection to my own father. Though my father was not nearly as off-center as Mr. Westover, I recognized the same behavior from my childhood. The result is the child feels alone and unable to connect with anyone often for life.

Socialization is important for all

            Tara finds herself alienated from everyone in her world except her family. She sits alone in Sunday School and of course, she has no friends for two reasons. She feels different from everyone else and her father makes sure that she has no time or opportunity to cultivate friendships with others. He stresses that girls she meets are not good enough for her. Her father uses his faith to condemn them as not living the way a person of God should live. She, therefore, feels guilty for even wanting to associate with such “wicked” people.

            Tara, even after she leaves home and goes to college, finds herself unable to fit in and at odds with pretty much everyone. I don’t think she, for many years, recognizes that this is a result of the socialization or lack thereof from her home life. It is deeply and complexly rooted in the emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural dynamics of her early years. I find it interesting that she titles the book, “Educated,” as if obtaining an education is what moves her to a place in society that she is accepted as “normal” by others. The lack of education is a handicap and with certainty will keep her a captive in her father’s strange world, but it is not what makes her feel alone, strange, and like she doesn’t belong in the new world that she explores. Getting educated will not fix what is broken inside of her from her childhood. It only gives her a better platform from which the self can say, “Now I am somebody.” I did the same thing. I went to school and got a master’s degree and a job that is viewed with respect and awe. And while working in it, I feel strong, accepted, and like I have worth. But outside of it, I still feel friendless and different from everyone else. I watch Tara as the story progresses feeling this total alienation from others and struggling with it. From my own experience, I have learned the feeling never goes away. One simply has to learn to be comfortable with being alone and knowing that this is who I am.

            A part of her psychic also does the same thing that I did with my family even after leaving. It longs for the love of one’s parents and siblings. Tara, like me, keeps coming back to the family trying to convince them of reality and what is right. Even though on a logical level, one comes to understand that one’s family is mentally unhealthy, there is this deep seated need to stay connected to them. Afterall, if those who bore you and nurtured you in childhood don’t love you, then why would anyone else especially God. Tara loses herself and becomes mentally unstable for a year after she realizes that her family does not want to know the truth that one son has been viciously abusing other members. Her parents are not interested in addressing the problems in the family and the highest value of loyalty makes everyone choose to accept “the delusion that they are one big happy family” which will allow them to remain part of the family. Tara realizes that the family “truth” and loyalty are more important than loving her. This is devastating to her.

What really destroys her is that her mother betrays her in this battle to expose evil. Her mother one minute acknowledges to Tara that she knows about and will speak to her father about Shawn’s unacceptable behavior. But when there is an actual confrontation, her mother turns against her and sides with her father. Her mother tries to destroy Tara’s reputation and character.  For the mother to stand against the patriarch of the family requires too high of a price. It reminds me so much of my own mother who swung from seemingly being rational to total denial and perpetrating vicious attacks on my character. It leaves one very confused and in the case of Tara, she cannot concentrate enough to even study. She falls into a deep depression. She had this deep-seated hope that her family would change because of her speaking the truth. But her family, like mine, was incapable of changing. Denial is a powerful substance that keeps the system stable no matter how dysfunctional. Only the individual has the power to change and often doesn’t because of these pressures from different aspects of society to conform, especially the family of origin and one’s religious community.

If you enjoy exploring the complex dynamics of families, “Educated” is a compelling read. My books “If You Leave This Farm” and “No Longer a Child of Promise” also explore many of the same dynamics. My third book, “Once An Insider, Now Without a Church Home” explores the same dynamics and pressures within the evangelical church as found within the family. One is only a friend and a member as long as one follows the dictated expected behavior and norms.

I appreciate all those who have the courage to write their stories. It helps me to know that I am really not alone and that I don’t need to be ashamed to share my own story.

                                                                                                Amanda Farmer

www.farmgirlwriter.com

www.calvinism-faith-crisis.com