Just in the last week, I have seen two different headlines of religious news that I have found shocking but, in many ways, not surprising. What am I talking about? Former Desiring God contributor Paul Maxwell leaves the Christian faith published in Christianity Today April 10, 2021 and A Pastor’s Son (John Piper’s son) Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok published in the April 12, 2021 edition of the New York Times. What these two people have in common is that they are connected to John Piper. Paul Maxwell wrote for his website and of course, Abraham is his son
Here is a more personal look at who John Piper is according to Roger Olson, on his blog Patheos,
I first became aware of the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement (YRRM) before anyone thought to give it that moniker. I was teaching theology at Baptist-related Bethel College and Seminary (now Bethel University) in Minnesota. John Piper had left the faculty to take the pulpit at nearby Bethlehem Baptist Church about a year before I arrived. He was still much discussed by students and faculty alike and seemed to have been a polarizing figure on campus. People tended either to love him or despise him. I had read his article about “Christian Hedonism” in HIS magazine (the now defunct publication of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) before then and had met Piper when I first visited Bethel a few years before joining its faculty…
Not long after taking my teaching position at Bethel I began to hear colleagues calling certain students (mostly males) “Piper Cubs.” It wasn’t long before I could identify them myself. They tended to quote Piper a lot and be passionate about Calvinism. One told me I wasn’t a Christian because I wasn’t a Calvinist!
Over the following years (approximately 1984 to 1999) I witnessed the beginnings of the YRRM. It was born and then grew and coalesced around Piper’s pastoral conferences at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
John Piper, in my opinion, has been one of the major factors in instigating and teaching a newer, more radical form of Calvinism that has swept the evangelical churches of America. Fifty years later, we are seeing the damage and the backlash of this movement in some people very close to this man.
Of course, it is not the man himself, but what he taught that can lead to total spiritual confusion if one really thinks about what he is saying. I would like to mention a few of his teachings that resulted in my husband and I personally stumbling from the faith we held into a land of questioning and doubt, struggling to regain a foundation for a faith that is workable.
I first came face to face with John Piper’s foundational teaching position through the use of his videos while participating in a Sunday School class at our church. One Sunday morning while watching a video, Mr. Piper, was talking about how everything is pre-determined in life and that we are just nails being used by the hammer of God. “Yes, I am a Calvinist,” He declared. What’s a Calvinist? I had never heard that term.
As soon as we got home from church, I proceeded to look up Calvinist. Whoa! I was shocked with what I found and more shocked to realize that something I had hoped to never encounter was in the midst of seemingly the most evangelical of churches. It is the belief that “every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause (including sin).” More specifically, for those of you reading this who have no idea, from this belief springs several principles outlined in Calvinism by an acronym -TULIP. T stands for Total depravity which most Christians would agree with. We are totally sinful and cannot save ourselves. What would be in dispute would be the belief that goes along with this that we are also totally unable to believe the Gospel message (dead) without God making us believe (or regenerating us before giving us salvation). U stands for Unconditional Election or the belief that God arbitrarily chose, through no action or attribute of the creature (us), before the world was formed, who He would give the gift of salvation to (predestination) and who He would “pass over” or damn to hell. L stands for Limited Atonement or the belief that Christ died only for those who God pre-elected and not for the whole world. I stands for Irresistible Grace or the belief that if God has chosen you to be one of His “elect” that you cannot resist His saving you. P stands for Perseverance of the Saints. In other words, since it is already pre-determined who will be saved, one’s salvation (if so chosen) is guaranteed.
The most often voiced justification by evangelicals for Calvinism that I hear is that “God is God,” “God can do whatever he wants,” and “we all deserve hell so any one God choses to save is receiving his grace and mercy.” First, the overall problem with the Calvinistic viewpoint, as I see it, is that the premise from which the whole doctrine is built on is faulty. I do agree that “God is God” and “God can do whatever he wants.” I also agree that if God decides to save some and send others to hell that is his prerogative but who does that make God into? Why would a loving God make creatures with the whole purpose of throwing most in hell and selecting some for heaven? Is that a God of Love? The response of John Piper is that it is to show God’s glory. What….?? If one can’t know if they are one of the “chosen elect,” than what is the purpose of living a life of honor – you will go whichever way you are supposed to regardless? Also if this teaching is true, then what was the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross to save us? Everyone already has their pre-determined stamp on them, so Jesus dying for our salvation would make no difference. This whole teaching raises so many questions about the Christian faith and what does the Bible really say?
The response of so many people to these articles recently about prominent evangelicals who are renouncing Christianity is Cluck, Cluck “They weren’t really ever Christians in the first place.” I am not sure if that makes them feel better about their own salvation or what. I don’t have to wonder why Paul Maxwell, Abraham Piper, Joshua Harris, Marty Sampson and others are angry and confused. They have finally realized that the teachings they have been exposed to are false and unworkable for a life of faith that is meaningful.
If you are interested in a more detailed understanding of our faith story and how Calvinism affected us, you can buy my book, Once an Insider, Now Without A Church Home by Amanda Farmer on Amazon. It is available as an old fashioned book, a digital book, or an audio book.
“What should we do tomorrow afternoon,” questioned my husband on a Saturday evening in mid-April.
“I think it is too early for bluebells to be blooming,” I answered thoughtfully, “but it might be fun to hike again at Carley State Park. We haven’t been there in a really long time.” Carley State Park is only about eight miles from where we live so it is a local activity.
The next day dawns cloudy and cool. The temperature barely touches the low 50s. Not willing to abandon our plans, I check the weather radar on my cell phone climate app. The forecast calls for a 15% chance of rain all day, but the radar shows that green morning splash that touches the screen as sliding off the display by two p.m. Maybe there is still hope for our plans.
Claire, our dog, barks as we both put on our jackets and then eagerly jumps into the back seat of the car. She knows something exhilarating is happening. Tiny splashes of water dash the windshield as we start towards town. Ugggh… It is still trying to rain. Well, we are going to plow ahead in spite of the windshield wipers flapping back and forth. I am hoping that we will have the trails and the park all to ourselves.
A gently curving route leads into the entry area. We follow the right road split to the vicinity where a little DNR cabin used to sit. The cabin is gone. All that remains is a small kiosk at which to register. Apparently, it has been a lot longer than I thought since we were last here. The small parking area which I remember as usually being empty is full of cars. That’s strange.Is there a special event today, I wonder? We wind our way down the forested gravel lane to the lower-level parking area. This parking lot is full as well. I don’t think there is anything special today. I guess people have nothing else they can do in the midst of the Covid pandemic. This state park used to be pretty much empty when we visited in prior years. Since the gate is closed to the camping area, I pull up to it and park in front of it. Afterall, there is no “NO Parking” sign. My hubby, the rule follower, doesn’t say a word. Claire is excitedly prancing around – ready for a new adventure.
We choose the path along the north branch of the Whitewater River which gurgles and loops slowly through the park. The sky still hangs heavy, but the misty rain has stopped. The trail has a dark brown firm mud underlay from the numerous footsteps that have traversed its length since the recent rain. The trees are just starting to shoot out their buds and the underfloor of the forest is covered with green. Carley SP is known for its bluebells in spring, but I think we are just a couple of weeks early. Many of the plants have purple buds peeking from their green but they have not fully opened. A few shoots display fine cone shaped white blossoms. The day is perfect for a walk such as this. Claire eagerly sniffs every new smell of this fresh unexplored place. She weaves to the right and then the left and then circles back for another snuffle. She soon puts it in 4-wheel drive and tries to drag me along.
We leisurely mosey along the narrow trail, sometimes stopping for Dave to take pictures, sometimes stopping off to the side for others to pass. Claire, of course, wants to bark at everyone but she soon settles down and waits quietly when I cling tightly to her harness handle. Soon we come to a double river crossing where it looks like one part is only water filled when the river is high. The river crossings at this park are not bridges but huge concrete steppingstones that have been placed parallel to each other but perpendicular to the flow of the water. One needs to jump from stone to stone to traverse the river while maintaining dry feet. The absence of recent maintenance also means the riverbanks have become eroded leaving the base along the bank muddy. This calls for some ginger stone stepping attempting to miss the mud. Claire is not sure what to do so she wades out into the water for a splash around before clawing her way onto the concrete steps.
Safely across, we continue our amble through the woods. Soon the trail turns and begins an ascent along the bluff. Hubby and I are panting with the effort. Claire decreases my effort needed as she attempts to drag me along. We climb upward for about ten minutes and then stroll along the ridge for another ¼ mile before the trail begins its decent to the river below again. This river crossing presents a much more challenging dilemma. The erosion along these banks are much more extensive on both sides of the river. Someone has dragged three separate sections of six-inch diameter trees to the riverbank and slid them into place side by side to make a slanted bridge to the first concrete step in the water. This could be hazardous for two sixty something-year-old persons. There is nothing to hang onto, the bridge is uneven, and neither of us have the balance of a younger individual. I wonder for just a moment if we should retrace our steps back the way we have come. But that is an overwhelming thought, so a different plan is needed. Claire is not in the least bit interested in stepping onto that rickety makeshift crossing either, so this also presents a problem. There is no way we can carry her.
I finally give Claire’s leash to Dave and step out onto the round trees. I quickly realize that I will be in the drink if I try to walk across these logs with nothing to grab onto when I lose my balance on the unsteady surface. There is a larger tree at the bottom of the dip just below the makeshift bridge. Maybe I can walk on that and use the trees for balance. I lower my butt to the threesome of trees and gingerly shuffle partway across the larger tree until I can take a flying leap to the concrete step. Once safely landed, I turn to help retrieve Claire. Dave has ended up sitting on the muddy riverbank and he pushes her towards me on the rounded trees. She quickly gets the idea and comes bounding across. That just leaves Dave to traverse the dangerous crossing. At least, I can extend my hand to him for balance. Like an old pro, Claire leaps from concrete step to concrete steps and scrambles up the muddy three-foot bank on the other side. That just leaves the old people to claw their way up on hands and knees. Well so much for being clean but we are safely across! And we didn’t even fall in the river.
It is just a short walk along this side of the stream back to the parking area where our chariot waits to ferry us home. But first, we must cap off the day with a Dairy Queen treat.
“Riiiinggggg, riiiinggggg, riiiinggggg,” The sound of my hubby’s phone interrupts our supper preparation on this Saturday. I feel that twitch of annoyance but then sigh. This has always been my life for almost thirty years of being married to a self-employed electrician. This time it is our tenant who rents the apartment above Gordon’s shop.
“Could you come and fix the garage door opener? It doesn’t work and I am going to have weight-loss surgery on Tuesday and won’t be able to lift it afterward,” she implores.
When Gordon returns an hour later, he indicates that he has not been successful in diagnosing the problem, “Can you call an overhead door company on Monday? She said her surgery was on Tuesday, so we need to get it fixed before then.”
Monday afternoon finds me guiding the overhead door repair technician to the vexing garage door. I push it up by hand and step inside the garage. Whoa! What is that putrid horrible smell? The lady tenant has lived in our above-the-shop apartment for almost twelve years. Neither my hubby nor I have been in the actual apartment in many years. For just a fleeting moment, a thought crosses my mind, what if she dies while having this surgery done, what will we find up there in that apartment. I quickly dismiss that notion. That’s not likely.
The tenant has communicated to me that she expects to be back on Saturday. I toy with the idea of going up there while she is gone and seeing just what is going on. Gordon and I have suspected that she now has a dog. She had a cat when she moved in. And how does one care for a large dog in an upstairs apartment when one can hardly get up and down the steps themselves? I quickly dismiss my desire to investigate as we have not informed her of any intent to enter the apartment as is legally required.
Thursday morning, I receive a call from my husband. He sounds distressed.
“Sally died in Mexico!” He blurts out.
What??? My premonition is disturbingly slapping me in the face. I exhale a short laugh. “I was not really expecting that, but I am not too surprised,” I tell him.
“Her brother called,” continues my husband, “and said that she died. I didn’t know she was going to Mexico for her surgery. He is going to contact us later about removing her possessions from the apartment and cleaning up. I gave him until the end of December to get everything out.”
“The end of December!?” I repeat, my heart sinking.
My stomach has clenched into a tight knot and a wave of weariness slides over me. She is gone, just like that. Guess it is time to go see exactly what the condition of the apartment is. I knew a day of reckoning was coming. I just wasn’t expecting it quite yet. But denial of the signs- the glimpses of a dog, the smell – only works for so long.
The rancid smell touches my nose as soon as I push open the front entry door. Behind the door is a package of doggie training pads and cardboard laid out on the cement landing. The seventeen steep steps to the apartment are a little dirty but not bad. Both latches on the final entry door have been busted out. I gingerly push open the door. I gasp at the sight that greets my eyes, followed by total breath holding. The stench is overpowering. Covering the floor in the dining area are rumbled blankets, dog poop, and urine stains coated with cat and dog hair. My stomach has started to churn. I tiptoe carefully around piles of dog excrement as I explore the bedroom, living area, kitchen, and finally the bathroom. I touch nothing. I am repulsed. I cannot believe anyone would want to even sit on the toilet. I am about to gag, and I make a hasty escape from this dungeon.
I wonder where the dog and cat are. The tenant’s brother informs me in a phone conversation later that day that he picked up the dog from the local kennel before flying to Mexico. He insists however, “Sally left the cat in the apartment because she wasn’t going to be gone that long.” I am puzzled as I look around on my second trip to investigate this claim. There is a big bowl of water in the middle of the kitchen floor but no cat to be seen, no cat food visible and no litter box. I text the tenant’s brother with this information. I finish, “The cat could be hiding so I have decided to take some cat food today and see if it disappears.” I also suggest that maybe she boarded the cat with someone at the last minute.
“I just don’t want a cat to starve to death in the apartment or destroy the property,” he expresses his concern in return.
I chuckle sarcastically to myself. This man is clueless about his sister. “I appreciate your concern for the property,” I text, “but it is too late for that.” I want to cry. The hardwood floors are totally ruined. But he is still in Mexico and trying to deal with his sister’s body. I assure him that I will feed and water the cat until he can come if it is there and alive yet.
I drive home on this Saturday and collect a small bag of cat food and a dish. This time I don an N95 mask and some gloves. I don’t really think there is a cat here, but this will be the litmus test. I leave a small dish of food. I gather up my courage to climb those steps into the cesspool again on Monday morning to check the result of my experiment. The bowl is empty. OK, something ate it. I fill the bowl again with cat food and decide to drive home to get a litter box. I am not sure it will be of much help at this point but maybe it will prevent a couple of dumps into the already toxic mess. When I return in just under an hour, the food again is gone. That smothers my doubts. Somewhere in here is a cat.
Each day, I make the trip to put out food which disappears by the next time I come. On Thursday, I spend a few minutes quietly standing and looking around.
“Meow, Meow,” I hear the soft sound. And there she is, a thin silver-gray colored kitty. She approaches tentatively and finally allows me to pet her. It is time for me to go and as I close the door behind me, the cell phone rings.
“I would like to come this afternoon and see what the situation is,” begins the voice of the tenant’s brother, “and maybe if we can catch the cat, I will take her.” In the background, a harsh loud meowing reverberates over and over through the door. Well, the cat has had enough of being alone. Maybe there is hope of catching her today.
A few hours later as the tenant’s brother, nephew, and I climb the stairs, they are shocked by the state of affairs that we find, “I can’t believe that she was living like this. I had no idea.”
At first, there is no sign of the cat. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” I call. In a few minutes, she appears from one of the open kitchen cabinets. She still is not sure about all these strange people and stays just out of reach. Nephew reaches down and strokes her face hesitantly. “I don’t want to get bitten,” he wavers. He does finally pick her up but as she struggles to get away, he releases her. My heart sinks. I can just see her escaping back into her secure hiding place. She doesn’t look too wild or dangerous to me. Once she calms down, I pick her up again and hang on when she attempts to flee. Soon she calms down and allows me to hold her and stroke her back.
Nephew looks around for something to contain the cat in for transport. There is a Tupperware storage container between the living room and dining area that looks promising.
“See if you can empty that and we can put her in there,” I suggest.
He lifts the lid and peeks in. Quickly, he slams it back shut. “Un Uh!” he says.
“Well, what is in there?” I question.
“Poop,” he answers.
Oh dear. Really? The poop storage container!!!
The decision is eventually made to take Kitty without a carrier. I just hope she doesn’t disappear in their vehicle or escape. Good-bye Kitty.
On Friday, I drive by the apartment building and notice that the dumpster is full. They are not losing any time in tackling this project. I am relieved as there is nothing quite so depressing as being faced with such a mess.
I text Brother on Saturday to let him know that all the appliances are to be left with the apartment. I forgot to inform him of that.
“Okay, thanks,” He responds, “We got a start yesterday, but the real work begins on Monday. I am renting a dump trailer and planning on having the apartment empty by Tuesday evening. Wish us luck.”
“I do wish you luck,” I answer, “And thank you so much for taking care of this.” I feel a huge sense of relief that Brother is diving right in and taking on this overwhelming, gross task. I am afraid that if I were in his shoes, I would have thrown my hands in the air and just walked away, leaving the mess for the landlord. I think he is being overoptimistic with his time estimation but every step forward that he makes is one less that I have to navigate.
I climb the steps to the apartment on Tuesday evening. The stench has decreased significantly with the emptying of the contents of the building. It is still filthy but so much better. I look through cabinets, the closet, and various nooks and crannies. Most everything is gone with the exception of two things. The carpet still rests on the living room floor. That grimy piece of dirt infested threads needs to go too. I peek in the refrigerator. He must have forgotten that. It is still plumb full.
“I will be back on Friday,” he informs me when I contact him about his further plans.
“Could you carry the carpet down to the dumpster when you come back?” I ask. “And by the way, the refrigerator is full yet.” I think he may have forgotten.
I am hopeful that those final two items will get taken care of in addition to the emptying of the garage downstairs when he returns. Then we will be ready to hire a commercial heavy-duty cleaner.
I have been so impressed with the work that this gentleman has done so far that I have allowed myself to be overly optimistic. On Friday, I receive his final text, “I’ve gone as far as I’m going to go. I did not empty the refrigerator. I just don’t have a stomach for it.”
OK so I guess emptying the refrigerator is my job. He did not say anything about the rug, so it is time to investigate just what is left. On Sunday, we stop at the shop for my hubby to check on some supplies. I peek in the dumpster. There is no rug in it. That means it is still upstairs. Well, I guess that is our job too. Next, I head straight for the garage below the apartment. As I open the overhead door, I am jolted. I was expecting an empty garage. Instead, it is half-full of discarded computers, a monitor, printers, a 64” TV, 4 various vacuum cleaners, a couple of brand new looking handicapped accessories, and various other miscellaneous pieces. What am I supposed to do with all this stuff? They are all items that need a cash outlay in order to discard. Great! Just great! I guess he got tired of his non-paying non-productive task and just decided he was done. I can’t say I blame him, but I am disappointed that his great start just petered out and flopped.
I return to the apartment on Monday with a couple of tasks in mind. I want to try all the devices that Brother has left and see if any of them work. I want to take down the curtains to wash them and I need to empty the refrigerator. I begin with the curtains. Ugh, they are dirty. Well, so much for my idea of washing them. I cringe at the filth then stuff them in a garbage bag. As I traverse the laundry room removing curtains, I decide to give the clothes dryer a spin. It responds quite promptly and begins to turn. Clunk, Clunk, Clunk…. It sounds like it is running on scorched bearings. I shut it off immediately once the burning smell reaches my nostrils.
It is time to move on to the refrigerator. The freezer is stacked plumb full of frozen single serve meals. It seems a shame to throw it all away but even it emits a nasty odor. The main cooling compartment contains curdled milk in a jug and various leftovers in different stages of disintegration. Four large garbage bags fill as I pull out container after container. I peak in the bottom drawers and discover an inch-deep layer of mold. Ick! My last discovery is on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Box after box of the medication insulin for diabetes touches my fingers. What a waste! It all gets heaved into the dumpster. I let out a sad mournful sigh. The apartment is empty, and this is the end of one life here on earth. Now it is time to move on to the cleaning.
I stand at the end of the driveway and peer towards the northwest down the gravel road that wanders through our property. Dusk is encroaching. Tiny little colored lights twinkle from the evergreen tree that grows proudly amongst others that border the road. Placing Christmas lights on this tree has become a tradition for my husband and me. It doesn’t hurt that we have a bucket truck for electrical work that makes this task possible. The decorated tree provides a cheerful sight on a country road while our neighbors travel through the brown winter landscape.
Each year for the past twenty years, I have unrolled 350’ of electrical wire each fall. I begin at the outlet by the outside motion detector light, trek across the short distance of yard to the woods, and then trip and stumble 100 feet through the underbrush to the hiking path. Every step I take seems to result in more and more little brown weed seed pods plastered on my clothing. Not only are they annoying in the clothing, but I am also spreading them all over the landscape. A sharp right on the trail leads me another 100 feet before diving again into the tangled underbrush, all the while unrolling that big heavy roll of wire that I lug with me. After numerous other vines conspire to trip me, I arrive at the designated tree breathless and exhausted.
Each year, Gordon and I talk about running permanent conduit to our special tree because each winter, little critters nibble at the insulation on the wire. It must be really tasty. These defects are repaired with black electrician’s tape wrapped around the bare spots. I have tried stringing as much of the wire as possible high up through the tops of bushes, so it is not laying on the ground. That has decreased the number of nude spots but has not eliminated them.
This year, we lit our tree a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Our personal policy has been not to light the tree until after Thanksgiving, but this year has been so dismal with the global pandemic restrictions that we needed some early Christmas cheer. About a week after our first lighting, the day began with snow and later turned into a cold drenching rain. The Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) on the pole dutifully popped and the lights went dark. At first, we thought, it is just shorted out from the water.Give it a few days to dry out. On the first sunny day, the GFI is reset. Within ten minutes, it trips again. Oh no!! I push away the niggling little worry in the back of my head. Last January, the lights had stopped working and I thought I had fixed the problem while taking the wire down in the spring. Did I wrap some bare wires together? I find it strange that it worked for a week but now refuses to stay operational. Numerous attempts to reset the GFI result in the same ping within a few minutes.
On a subsequent sunny afternoon, I set out to do some sleuthing. I first remove the timer from the circuit. Then I unhook one string of Christmas lights. Then I unhook the other. Finally, I unhook both strings of lights. I plug the cord in after each trial attempting to determine wherein lie the problem. The same tripping of the GFI is the result no matter what I do. The only conclusion possible is that the wire itself is shorting out somewhere. I sigh. Time to start over. I do not look forward to re-rolling the heavy wire so soon after unrolling it but there is nothing else to do. Together, we decide it is time to get serious about a change.
The next Saturday, Gordon comes home with 350 feet of 1/2 inch PVC pipe in ten-foot sections. It is a magnificent day for our project. The sun shines brightly, the wind is calm, and the temperature hovers around 40 degrees. Spread out on the lawn, we glue together ten 10-foot sections of PVC into three 100-foot ones. Now we are ready to begin. The first section is laid from the outlet around the edge of the wood. I stumble and trip through the thick underbrush guiding the end of the pipe over down tree limbs and around bushes as my hubby pushes from the other end. The next section is pushed over the forest floor around additional obstacles to the trail. Our last section transverses the segment from the trail to the designated tree. A few 10 foot sections are added where necessary and we are ready for the wire pulling part of the process.
I am glad I am married to an electrician who has all the tools and knowledge of such things. He runs his wire guiding snake up the first section of pipe and secures it to wire with good old-fashioned electrician’s tape. As he pulls from the other end, my job is simply to guide the three strands of wire into the pipe, so it doesn’t get hung up. Because the snake is only a little over 100 feet long, we repeat this process three times. In just a little over two hours, we have seamlessly installed a professional wiring job right through the middle of the woods. All that is left to do is finish the wiring on both ends and dig a small trench for the pipe under the yard area and across the trail in the woods. The ground is damp and cold but requires little effort to stomp a shovel into it. I dig the trench while Hubby puts a professional touch with a bonafide weatherproof outlet on one end and a plug on the other.
Then, it is time for the acid test. Gordon plugs in the timer and connects the circuit. Through the trees, we see a gloriously lit Christmas tree. Merry Christmas everyone.
“What should we do to celebrate our wedding anniversary?” questions my husband.
“We can’t go to a movie, eat out, or visit any museums with all the restrictions from Covid,” I reply.
“How about if we go to a different State Park that we haven’t been to before in the southeastern part of the state?
That sounds good to me so the evening before our planned adventure, Gordon researches the various state parks in Southeastern Minnesota and decides upon Beaver Creek Valley State Park close to Caledonia. Neither one has ever heard of it before and we definitely have not visited it before. He prints off some Google directions to help with our navigating.
We decide to take Claire, our puppy, with us for the day. I am beginning to think that we should have a diaper bag ready to take along just like for a baby. We need a water bottle, bowl to drink from, harness, leash, a towel to clean feet, and last but not least, doggie poop bags. By 8 a.m., we have all our supplies gathered and are ready for our conquest.
Deviating from our printed Google directions, we drive to Plainview for our usual Kwik Trip breakfast. Travel continues down Hwy 42 to Kellogg, then south on Hwy 61. We make a stop on Garvin Heights in Winona to give Claire a break. Of course, she instantly leaves her calling card after getting out of the car. Time to use those extra plastic grocery bags.
Not really knowing where we are going, we finally plug the address for Beaver Creek Valley State Park into the GPS. Oh no! Its first command directs us to Interstate 90 and insists that we get on it. No ma’am. We do not want to travel the interstate. We want to take back country roads, so we just keep driving on right over the interstate. The sign says this is County 19. The road travels along I90 for a while then turns south. Soon we find ourselves on a back-country gravel road. The landscape is rolling. Steep bluffs are contrasted with farms nestled in the valley. The trees are just starting to turn color. We wind around the sides of hills, through valleys, and along meadows with herds of beef cattle. Surprisingly, the direction goddess is silent. Now this is more like it. This twisting trailing path we are on takes us almost exactly to the state park after a sidetrack down what looks like a minimally maintained road.
It has been a densely foggy morning. A damp coolness still hangs in the air as we start our stroll across a well-crafted five-foot-wide wooden bridge. The creek gurgles lazily beneath our feet. The blacktop path transitions into a well-worn dirt track. It has rained recently so there are widely spaced mud puddles. Claire is excited and she leans into the body harness dragging me after her. It is all I can do to hold back her thirty pounds powered by four-wheel drive. Us old people behind the dog are much slower. Gordon has been struggling with plantar fasciitis making for a painful hobble at times. Still he is determined to hike and take photos today.
We soon arrive at the first creek crossing. A free-standing bridge is balanced over the water. There are no handrails, just a few wooden slats securely fastened together. Clair eagerly tugs on the leash in her hurry to investigate the flowing water. She has never been near open water before and as part Golden Retriever, Gordon and I suspect she might like water. Soon she wades into the green lilies along the shoreline. What reappears is a dog with four very muddy feet and legs. Ah! This is fun! She must be thinking. Before I can stop her, she rolls upside down in the shallow mud. No…o…o…! Now our cream-colored dog is brown on her back and top of her head. Well there is not much I can do about it right now. Maybe, I will throw her all the way in later. She pads around in the shallower areas of the flowing water until it is time to move on.
The hiking trail runs parallel to the river. Gordon and I stroll slowly along taking in the beauty of the day. Some of the trees are starting to change color. Gordon stops occasionally to take photos. Claire pulls me along with enthusiasm. I am not moving fast enough for her. She finds every small trail that divvies off to the river and turns to try make her way there. After several turns like this, she looks a sight. There are green and brown seed pods clinging to her face, her legs, and her body. What a distressing mess! Claire’s hair is wavy and about two inches long and these, what I call, prickers seem to become well enmeshed deep into the soft, thick layers.
The path we have chosen to walk is about a three-mile round trip. There are two separate loops within the greater circle. We decide to trace both loops. The day warms as the sun burns away the fog and climbs higher. Off comes my coat and then, the sweater. Gordon begins to have pain between his shoulder blades which is not uncommon, so I offer to carry the camera bag and the tripod. Both of us are starting to feel our weariness as we reach the furthest most point in our trek and turn back towards the beginning.
Claire barks robustly and loudly at every person we meet. This is unacceptable. We seem to be able to mitigate this by stopping to sit and be quiet when humans come by. It is harder to bark and lunge while seated on one’s butt. Our stops become more frequent as the number of hikers increases with the passing of the day. She also wades into the gushing water with every creek crossing of which there are many. Finally, there is a splash as she gets brave enough to jump in from one of the bridge crossings. She has lost none of her energy and continues to pull actively, trying to drag me along. The same cannot be said for us. We are moving slower and slower.
As we make our way back to the parking lot, I mark off in my head each segment of the trail as we come to a signpost. We are almost there. Finally, we come to a river crossing that does not seem to have a bridge across it.
“I don’t remember ever crossing open water,” Gordon comments.
“I don’t either,” I agree, “This must not be the right place.”
As we continue along the path, I step on a protruding rock in the path. Without warning, my left ankle turns over and I pitch forward. Claire, who I have been leaning back on trying to slow her forward motion, continues her dive forward. I have no way to stop the forward pitch. I slam into the ground with my right knee first followed by my right arm. The leash handle clatters along the ground before Claire stops and looks questioningly back at me. I lay there stunned. I want to cry. My knee hurts. My arm hurts. The camera bag and the tripod have clobbered me from behind. Gordon rescues me from the extra load. We can hear people coming so I stumble to my feet. I am glad no one saw my ridiculous spill onto the ground. Everything seems intact so we start out on our hike again. We haven’t gone more than a few hundred feet until we meet a lone older gentleman who throws a question our way, “Are you going around again?”
“No,” I reply, “Just trying to get back to the parking lot.”
The man does not say any more but as he moves on, Gordon and I look at each other.
“That’s a strange question. Are we going the wrong way? Did we miss the turn back to the parking lot?”
Now we are totally confused. “I don’t know if we are going the right way.”
“Well, let’s go back to that last crossing again and see if we missed something.”
Disheartened, we turn and trudge back the other direction. Within a few hundred feet, we arrive again at the crossing we had discussed earlier. The bridge we could not see coming from the other direction is now clearly visible off to the right.
“This must be the path back to the car.”
A few hundred more feet and it is evident that we are now going the right way. If we hadn’t met that man who asked a strange question, we would have walked another mile before realizing that we were totally turned around. It reminds me a little of life’s journey. There are others along our walk of life who try to point us in the right way. Sometimes, we don’t pay any attention to the wisdom they are offering us and end up way off course – a difficulty we could have avoided if we had been tuned in.
By now, it is pushing three o’clock in the afternoon and we are thirsty and hungry. Claire has had all the water needed from the river, but we did not remember a water bottle for ourselves.
“Where should we eat?” is the next question of the day.
I grab the local Minnesota county map book that I keep under the car seat. I quickly peruse it. “If we keep going just a few miles south on this road, we should arrive in Caledonia,” I announce, “Let’s see if we can find some fast food there.”
Caledonia turns out to be a good size town with many businesses and several franchise eating joints. We grab some Subway sandwiches and cool refreshing pop and take our treasures back to a city park that I had spied on our way into town. There we have a quiet lunch in the shade of a few trees. It is time to head for home. Our last stop at Dairy Queen in Chatfield is the “icing on the cake” as the saying goes. Time to begin year thirty in our married walk of life.
Friday, August 28, 2020, I awaken to the rumble of thunder. The bedroom is still cloaked in darkness. The digital clock blinks out 6:20 a.m. I still have ten minutes until the alarm goes off but maybe if I get up now, I can get the dog pottied and the steers fed before it rains. The weather report last evening was for heavy rain this morning. As I swing my feet over the edge of the bed, the first pitter patter of raindrops sounds on the steel roof. I am too late to stay dry.
I grab the umbrella on the way out the door in my pajamas. Water is now pouring from the sky. Claire, our puppy, shakes her head at the deluge. She finally manages to squat to pee. Forget waiting for #2. We flee to the barn. I haven’t figured out how to carry two pails of feed and hold the umbrella at the same time, so I tuck my head and make a dash for the feed box. No animals are in sight to greet me as is their usual routine. Their food is going to be mash mixed with all the water collecting in the trough if they don’t come soon. Even with the umbrella, my t-shirt top and my hair is soaked as Claire and I make the dash back to the house. I scan the pasture for cattle but see none.
This is how the morning begins of our weekend camping getaway to Grand Marias, Minnesota. The cattle still have not come to eat by the time we head down the drive. The car is put in reverse. We can’t leave if the cattle are missing. That is an ingrained farmer thing. I walk out along the pasture fence looking for those familiar black blobs. There is just a little rise in the landscape so sometimes it is hard to see over it. “Come bossie,” I call, “Come bossie.” Finally, I hear an answering, “Baa!” and as I squint into the morning gloom, a few dark specks emerge from the tree line. Soon, four black creatures are thundering my way. Now we can go. The steers are fine.
We drop Claire off at “doggy daycare” before heading north. We make our usual traveling breakfast stop at Kwik Trip. I select yogurt, a donut, and a “baby” milk while Dave gathers his breakfast choices. We approach the checkout and pay together while the clerk places the purchases in a plastic shopping bag.
As we are eating while we drive, Dave says, “Where’s my diet Dr. Pepper?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see any Dr. Pepper,” I respond.
“I am sure I put some on the counter at the checkout,” He insists.
“I don’t think so,” I reiterate.
“I must have left it when I picked up my food,” He concludes.
“We can stop at the next Kwik Trip and buy one,” I reassure him.
After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, he says, “Check the sales slip. See if she charged for a Dr. Pepper?”
We are about to take the next Kwik Trip exit as I pull out the receipt and read, “Long John, hash browns, sausage/egg croissant, M&M Peanut butter, skim milk, parfait, and … Dr. Pepper.” There it is. Maybe I should look in the bag at my feet again. I reach in and … sheepishly hold up a bottle of … Dr. Pepper!
“I thought I was becoming senile,” Dave intones.
Oh dear, apparently one of us is losing it but it’s not Dave.
We continue our journey traveling north on Hwy 52. I haven’t set up the GPS as I don’t want it talking to us the whole way. But I have printed out a Google direction sheet just in case. I don’t think we need much help with this part of the trip. We just need to hop onto I35E North until we reach Hwy 61 in Duluth which will take us to Grand Marias, Minnesota. At the last moment, I decide to consult the printed directions to see how to make the connection with 35E. The paper says, “Take the exit on the left to I94 east. Go .7 miles and exit onto 35.” As I look at the road signs coming up, I am confused. The road sign indicates that to catch I35, one needs to go west on I94. This is the right exit, not the left. Should I follow my intuition or the directions in front of me? I foolishly choose to ignore my sixth sense and instruct Hubby to take I94 going east. As soon as we make this turn, I instinctively know we are going the wrong way. I dig through the glove compartment for a real road map while proclaiming, “We are going the wrong way. We need to turn around.” We are old enough to still use those old-fashioned things called roadmaps.
Dave looks at me incredulously, “You know it’s not that easy.”
“I know. But according to the map, I35E is west of where we came into 94 so we NEED to turn around.”
After making a speedy exit and flipping around to the west lanes, we travel just a few miles and there is our correct exit. This experience leads me to one of the strong convictions I hold in life: if you find you are going the wrong way in life, never be afraid to turn around and go the other way.
We make a couple of stops along the way to Grand Marias. Our plan is to first stop in Duluth at the lift bridge and maybe have a picnic lunch in Canal Park around noon. As we drive around the lakeside, the roads and sidewalks are crowded with people milling about and there does not seem to be anywhere to park let alone have a quiet lunch. We might as well move on. As we are leaving the harbor area and stopped at a stop light, we notice that the road ahead is blocked off so that only the right lane is usable. Besides that, we need to turn right to get back onto the I35 entrance ramp.
“Put the turbo on and just pull ahead of the pickup in the right lane when the light turns,” I urge my husband who has it ingrained in himself to yield to others no matter how much of an inconvenience our predicament might leave us in. Surprisingly, today though, he stomps on the accelerator and we have no problem pulling ahead of the truck and getting ourselves into the lane we need to be in. But the pickup truck driver sees our actions as a personal affront. “Beep, Beep, Beep!” he lays on the horn over and over again. He rides our bumper for several miles and then exits off the interstate and up a ramp. As we pull away, I see his left arm extended out the driver’s window and his middle finger pointed skyward. I am not sure why driver’s these days are so ready to kill each other for the smallest infractions or actions of others. Oh well, we need to take a deep breath and move on. We stop instead for a quiet picnic lunch at a secluded rest area just off of Hwy 61 north of Duluth.
We are ready for another leg stretch stop by the time we arrive in Silver Bay. There is a sign for an overlook. We wind uphill and around and around until we arrive at the top of a cliff. After parking, we wind our way around a shady trail through a wooded area. It is a cool, cloudy day and no one else is around. This is how we like it. The trail leads to three separate overlooks. The first one grants a view of Lake Superior and a large iron ore mining company on the shore below. The second overlook provides a view of the layout of Silver Bay. The third overlook gives a different vantage point from the other two. The views are breathtaking in their magnitude.
I decide it is time to plug the address of Hungry Hippie Hostel into the GPS. They are located on a township road about eight miles east of Grand Marias. It has been advertised on the internet as having great views of Lake Superior. As we drive up the road towards the establishment, we seem to get further and further away from the lake. We are somewhat disappointed as we pull into the driveway around 4:30 p.m. as all we can see is trees.
“There is no way we can see the lake from here,” declares Dave.
The owners are expecting us and direct us to drive around to the back parking lot and haul our stuff with a little wagon to the first “glamping” tent that we come to. I have no idea what “glamping” means so I look it up on the internet. According to Wikipedia, “glamping is a hybrid of ‘glamorous’ and ‘camping’, and describes a style of camping with amenities and, in some cases, resort-style services not usually associated with ‘traditional’ camping.” Our “glamping” tent here is an open front canvas shelter erected on a raised wooden platform. Inside is a mattress and box spring ready for sleeping. When I registered, I thought this would be unique but still be tent camping without the sleeping on the ground. My expectations on this, though, don’t begin to meet the standards of a similar style abode we stayed in in Africa in 2013. That one was a full-scale bedroom with all around mosquito netting. It also had a full bathroom and shower, all inside a large canvas tent. That’s what I call glamorous.
Back here in the real camping world of Minnesota, there are three glamping tents and they are quite close together and out in the open. Inside, there is a mosquito screen and a privacy sheet covering the area where the bed is located. The problem is, they have left no room to stand to dress, undress, or even get into bed in the “bedroom.” How are we supposed to undress and get ready for bed in a 3-sided open room with wide open views of the outdoors? Dave does some moving around of hanging clips and designs a small “dressing room” with the privacy curtain.
As we look out our south tent opening to the horizon way off in the distance, surprise of surprises, is a spectacular view of Lake Superior. This view is tempered by the huge freshly dug unfinished mound septic system in the foreground just 100 feet from the opening of our tent. Seriously?! To say I am disappointed is putting it mildly. I can’t say it makes for photographic delights either, but here we are. We might as well enjoy it the best that we can.
We drive back to Grand Marias in search of supper. What shall we eat in this time of Covid-19? There are few indoor dining places. Most dining out is done by ordering on-line, by phone, or in-person for pickup. We finally decide on tacos from Hungry Hippies Taco, an establishment owned by the same people who own the tenting grounds. We don our masks to order and then enjoy our much too spicy food at a small table out front.
Then it is time to head back to our home-away-from-home. The day has been cloudy and cool throughout. We sit on the wooden steps outside our tent and watch the sky. There are two plastic chairs to use but mine already has a crack and Dave’s weight adds a crack to the other one. Now we are afraid to sit on either of them. As we talk by the light of one solar powered Ball Jar light, rain drops begin to splatter on our heads.
“Let’s make one last trip to the bathroom before it starts pouring,” I suggest.
The rain has picked up as we exit the bathroom. It is a good 400 feet back to our tent.
“I am going to run,” I inform Dave who is slowly limping his way back. My running in the dark over rough ground is more like a slow stumble. I can never be quite sure when the ground might come up to meet me. By the time I hit the wooden steps of our strange home, it has started to pour. We might as well get ready for bed and climb in. At least it will be warm and dry there . . . I hope. This tent leaves much to be desired especially in a rainstorm. There is no flap to let down in front, so water is splashing in. I move the suitcase, our coolers, and clothes as far back in as possible. We hurriedly get ready for bed and tumble our 60 something bodies onto the mattress and skootch down into the sleeping bag. As we lay there in the dark and listen to the continuing of the pouring rain, mist droplets splash on our faces from above. Uh oh! I hope this tent repels water. Oh well, there is not much we can do about it if it doesn’t. Maybe it will stop raining soon. When I get up to traipse to the bathroom at 3 a.m., the sky is sprinkled with a million twinkling stars. We are still relatively dry, and the mattress is actually a pretty comfy bed.
Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. I have brought along most of our food which was a good decision. The menu consists of hard-boiled eggs and gluten-free coffee cake. We are ready to start our adventures by 8:15 a.m. Judge C.R. Magney State Park is just a few miles east of where we are staying. Our goal at the state park is to hike to the Devil’s Kettle. The Devil’s Kettle contains two waterfalls. One cascades into a deep pothole with what seems like no outlet. The other side splashes fifty feet into a pool before continuing down the Brule River to Lake Superior. The park map shows the Kettle and the falls to be a mile hike. Even though it is still cloudy, the temperature is in the 50s. It is a beautiful morning and perfect for trekking. Most of the path angles upwards with some steep steps along the way. At least it will be all downhill on the way out. Not many people are around yet, so we pretty much have the viewing platforms for drinking in the beauty of the falls to ourselves. It takes us about two hours to make the round trip back to the car.
From there, we follow Hwy 61 further northeast to Grand Portage State Park. Grand Portage State Park straddles the US/Canadian border. I would have liked to go further north into Canada to Thunder Bay where there is another glorious waterfall, but no one is being allowed to cross the border due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The falls here at Grand Portage is only a ½ mile hike. Most of the path is made of blacktop or is a boardwalk so is much easier to traverse. Dave’s left knee and his feet are hurting him, so our hike is rather slow. The viewing platforms here are much more crowded. The waterfall is glorious in all its splendor, but we do not stay long due to the number of people waiting. The sun has begun to peak through the clouds asking me to take off my sweater. It is still quite cool and windy.
My plan was to eat our lunch here at the state park, but we decide instead to seek out a quieter place. We drive just a couple of miles back down Hwy 61 to the Grand Portage overlook. There are several empty picnic tables here. The wind calls for holding down the plates and food with one hand while eating with the other. We enjoy sandwiches and chips for sustenance. The view of Lake Superior from here is fantastic. One can see for miles.
Dave would really like to do some beach combing so I keep my eyes open for a stopping spot that might offer that activity along the shore of Lake Superior. I finally spy the Kadunce River Wayside Rest which seems to offer a pebble covered northern Minnesota kind of beach. There is even still a parking place for us. A fair number of people linger along the shoreline. As Dave does his exploring for unique colored rocks, I find a spot to sprawl out and rest.
Around 3 p.m., we decide to head for Grand Marias to finish our day there. As we walk to the car, Dave pats his shirt pocket and then stops, “I am missing my phone.” A panicked tone takes over his voice, “Where did I lose my phone? All my numbers are in there.”
At this point, I am sure all is not lost. I am sure it can be found. It must be in the car or back at the tent. My confidence is not contagious though as Dave is disturbed and agitated over this loss. The joy of the day is gone for him. But there is nothing we can do about it right now so we might as well continue with our plans.
I do a thorough search of the car when we arrive in Grand Marias but there is no sight of the missing phone. Our plan is to walk out to Artist’s Point and then to the lighthouse on the pier. It is not just a simple walk to either of these places. The path to Artist’s Point switches back and forth from tree-root tripping to rock jumping and traverses in all directions depending on how the multitude of prior travelers wished to go. We eventually come out on the big flat rock that overlooks the lake. Sailboats and smaller watercraft dot the sparkling lake. We retrace our steps over the treelined path and head west to the lighthouse. This is not really a path, but a deteriorating seawall built to protect the Grand Marias harbor. Walking on top of it is how we navigate our way to the lighthouse. We turn away as we pass others going back towards the town. Afterall, we don’t want to breathe on anyone.
Dave’s heart is no longer in exploring as he is too distracted by his phone loss, so we soon head back to the campground. We pick up Subway sandwiches to take back to the tent to eat. My first order of business is to search high and low through the tent and along the path to it but there is no phone to be found. We might as well kiss it good-bye. Dave surmises that it got pushed out of his shirt pocket while accessing his camera bag sometime during our day. It could be just about anywhere. And of course, it is an older flip-phone style and it is turned off so even if someone finds it, they won’t have a clue how to go about contacting us.
The sun has finally chased all the clouds away and a clear sky soon exhibits a climbing moon that is almost full. As dusk deepens, the moon casts long bright shadows on the surface of Lake Superior. Dave sets up his camera and takes some shots. The evening is windless, quiet and peaceful. I sit and read my Kindle while Dave peruses some magazines. The temperature has dropped into the shivering zone. We both begin to put on more clothing – first a sweater, then a coat but we are still cold. We might as well go to bed. Dave climbs in fully clothed. I have added a long-sleeved turtleneck to my winter pajamas. Our night remains restless. Dave is not sleeping well anyway due to not being able to use his CPAP. There is no electricity here and I listen to him wake himself up every few minutes due to obstructing. I continue to be cold and my left hip causes pain all the way to my ankle when I lie on my side. Who ever thought old people should go tent camping? So much for glamorous!
I think I do get in a few hours of sleep because before I know it, it is 6:30 a.m. We might as well get up and get moving. Dave wants to go back to Judge C.R. Magney State Park to see if maybe someone has found his phone. I don’t think the park is staffed and therefore, I think it is a lost cause but since we are here, there is nothing to be lost by checking before leaving.
The dew is heavy this morning and because we have no flap on the front of the tent, everything is wet. I tried to move the coolers as far inside as possible last evening and then laid my phone, hearing aide, and clothes on a towel. Dave also threw a towel over his camera. I thought our possessions would be fine. But everything is completely wet. I am dismayed. I can only hope the electronics still work. I shiver while I get into my damp wet clothes. Amazingly, my phone and the camera work after some drying off but my hearing aid only emits a long continuous screeching. Guess that won’t be of any help. I can only hope that it will dry out and then work. I guess I will be deaf if that is not successful.
We have a short breakfast of the remaining hard-boiled egg, banana, and coffee cake and then hurriedly throw everything in the car. No one is around at the office to Judge Magney SP and we can’t find anyone at the maintenance building. This is an exercise in futility. We might as well go home. At least, my hearing aid has started to work again.
Traveling west and south on Hwy 61, we stop at Temperance State Park. I don’t think we have ever been to this park. A short walk brings us to Hidden Falls. It is a waterfall tucked back into a crevice between two large rock walls. One can hardly see it. The map shows another falls a mile upriver. I don’t think either one of us is up to a two mile walk today so we opt to drive north on Temperance Road and enter the trail closer to the falls. We are alone on the trail which calls for stepping over tree roots, climbing up and down rocks, and balancing over water holes. We question several times if we are going the wrong way but eventually, we actually do find two separate small waterfalls. It is approaching 10 a.m. and time to get moving on our way home. At least we are warmed up now from the activity.
Our chosen route home takes us into Wisconsin at Duluth. We find a park by Superior Bay to eat our lunch then head down Wisconsin Hwy 53. This allows us to avoid the very busy traffic of the twin cities. I take over the driving as Dave is falling asleep from his lack of sleep these last two nights. We end our journey with a Dairy Queen treat in Wabasha, MN. And tomorrow, I need to shop for a new cell phone for Dave.
Monday, I begin my day by visiting the Verizon store in Rochester. I am hoping I can pick up a phone similar to what Dave had. I have picked one out on-line that looks to be of slightly better quality.
“Can I help you?” questions the young man behind the desk without even looking at me.
I explain to him our situation. “Do you have one of these phones?” I point to the one I have on my printed paper.
“No, we don’t carry it here. They might have one at one of the other stores in Rochester.”
He makes no attempt to check if any of the other stores carries this style of cell phone. “Could you call them and see?” I plead.
He shrugs, “I can’t. They don’t have any phones.”
I look at him dumbfounded. Verizon cell phone stores that have no phones to call each other!Such a helpful salesperson. I am becoming more and more frustrated. I am not about to run all over town. I will just go home and order it over the internet.
The new phone arrives in two days. I am able to activate it without a problem and low and behold, it automatically downloads all of Dave’s prior contacts. One couldn’t ask for a better outcome.
Five weeks later, Dave is sorting through his camera bag looking for some accessories that he would like to use in a photography project. He pulls out a small black object.
“Well, I found my cell phone,” he calls up the stairs. “I remember now what happened. I put the phone in my camera bag one evening so it wouldn’t get wet or lost when we were in Grand Marias. I feel so stupid. I never thought of it once until now.”
Seriously?? All that and the phone has been riding in his camera bag the whole time. Oh well, I have done the same thing before as well – put something away securely so it would be safe and then can’t remember where that might be. He likes his new phone better anyway.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
“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.