Rain-Soaked Challenge

Raindrops splatter on the windowpane and slide down the glass. The sky is dark and lowering. I sigh. Not another rainy day. Yesterday, the water poured from the sky all day leaving an inch of water in the rain gauge. I was hoping for a better day today, Friday, as the lawn is growing lush and green heralding the need for a mowing. I wanted to get the mowing done before Saturday as we are going into the Memorial Day weekend. Oh well, it may just have to wait until tomorrow.

 Surprisingly, by noon, patches of blue sky with peaks of sunshine begin to appear and a renewed hope rises within me. I know the yard is slightly damp yet and our trails through the woods are probably soggy, but I am going to give it a try. With a roar of the engine, I am off and soon going around and around shaving that lush green grass into a mat of fresh smelling clippings.

The last part of the task is to clip the overgrown trail through the woods. I make my first pass from the house winding through the trees down to the gravel road. The last fifty feet of the trail is downhill and culminates in a steep headfirst dive to the road ditch. Sliding down the hill sideways is not my idea of fun so the wise thing to do is to avoid that. My plan is to turn around and go back the way I came before the steep descent. Even then, I am uncertain of being able to ascend back up the incline I came down. The X540 John Deere that we own has rear tires with lug tread but even with them, I have learned it tends to be extremely helpless on an upslope. I hold my breath as I back around and head out of my precarious position. Just a few spins of the tires and I am wheeling along back towards the house. Whew! Made that one.

Bluebells

The next section of trail winds through the forest on the north side of the gravel road. Hubby and I have built a 20-foot bridge over the road ditch which extends from the ditch to the woodland opening. The bridge is just wide enough for the tractor, so precision is required with a little speed to make the slight incline at the other end. The hope is to not end up in the ditch here either. Traveling this portion goes off without a hitch. I do have a little problem with spinning on the trail which should have been my first clue that this whole operation is not a good idea today but hey, I am not one to give up what I have started. Use of the differential lock seems to overcome most of my difficulty. About ½ mile along this trail, we have installed another bridge that straddles a large washout. It lies at the bottom of a V slope in the trail. I know that if I descend into the V that I will not get out either way with it being as wet as it is so I turn around and head back. Without a problem, I am able to mow back to the road at the beginning. Now all that is left to do is mow the last section of trail that comes in from the opposite way to the V.

My confidence growing, I speed to the opposite end and begin again. I can do this. As I approach the treacherous section again, I am apprehensive. I have to be careful and not let myself get down into the valley or I am done. Falling into the wash would be disastrous as well. I roar up a little incline and position myself to turn around but there is not much room, and the terrain is inclined. Turning around requires backing uphill with the tractor. Not only do the back tires want to spin, the front tires do not want to turn the machine to bring it back around to the path. They just slide further off the trail. Between accidently hitting the forward foot pedal instead of the reverse more than once, I am soon helplessly positioned off the path and stuck against a tree with the mower. I have dug a big hole with the back tires and wedged the front against a log. Oh No! Frustrated, I sit there. I am in the middle of the woods. No one else is around and we have no other vehicle to pull with that will fit down the path. I have no idea how we are ever going to get this out of here. I might just as well walk home. It is 3:30 in the afternoon. I was doing so well and now I am dead in the water.

“How late r u going to be?” I text Dave.

“Not late. Around 4:10.”

“I will wait for you then. I got the tractor royally stuck in the woods.”

Right on time, Dave’s white pickup rolls up the drive.

“How are we going to do this?” I question him.

Confident, he replies, “We will take the tow rope and a Come-Along. Hopefully, we can find a tree nearby to pull from.”

This is a solution that has not ever even occurred to me. It infuses me with optimism.

Soon we are hiking up the path carrying two sets of tow rope and the Come-Along. My heart sinks just a little when I realize how few sturdy trees there are close to our predicament spot. There is no tree to be able to pull backward or forward from. The only available tree is about 25 feet away and off at a 45-degree angle. We come up with a plan to hook onto the front frame of the little tractor and to try and pull the front end around onto the trail. Within just a few minutes, my competent Hubby is slowly ratcheting the front around to face the trail.

“Now get on it and see if you can drive it out,” is the command.

I have my doubts, but I stomp on the differential lock and push the gas pedal to the floor. With a roar, it rises up out of its hole. Hurrah! I am off.

Irises

Since, I was almost done anyway, I decide to finish that last pass on the path and make a couple of passes along the side of the gravel road. That should only take fifteen minutes or so. I have just about reached the hardtop road when the mower abruptly and unexpectedly stops and the engine stalls out. The engine starts without a problem but each time I try to engage the mower, the tractor stalls. So now what’s wrong? I might as well give up. I turn around and head the tractor for the house. But on one last thought, at the end of the drive, I stop, get off and peer under the mower. Ah! There is the problem. A 5-6” diameter rock is wedged between the mower blade and the deck. I knock it out and climb back into the seat. With a screech, the mower whirls to life without killing the engine. Soon I am done.

Dave is laying on the lawn soaking in the sunshine when I return. Claire dances around him waiting for flying toys.

I sprawl beside him and kiss him on the cheek, “What would I do without you? I had no idea how we were ever going to get that tractor out of there.”

“Oh, I had time to think about it on the way home,” he responds.

Life is so much easier to tackle when one has someone to help shoulder the challenges. This year we will have spent thirty years helping each other deal with life. It reminds me of the Bible verse, “Two people are better than one because together they have a good reward for their hard work. If one falls, the other can help his friend get up. But how tragic it is for the one who is all alone when he falls. There is no one to help him get up.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

An Afternoon Walk at Carley State Park

A budding tree

“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.

Christmas Tree Lights

The Tree By the Road

            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.

Birthday Waterfall Trip 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The Path

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

Willow River Falls

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

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

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

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

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

Stone Arch Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Anthony Falls

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

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

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

Minnehaha Falls

“I want a milkshake,” I declare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden Falls

Challenges of Country Living – Thanksgiving Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blizzard 2019

“Eight to ten inches of snow for southeastern Minnesota,” predicts the weather lady on the Saturday evening news, “followed by 45-50 mile per hour winds. There is a blizzard warning from 6 p.m. Saturday evening until 6 p.m. Sunday evening.”

            I groan. Not again! We have already received almost 40 inches of snow in the month of February. It is piled high along the sides of our driveway. More snow is the last thing we need. But like all Minnesotans we take the prediction with a grain of salt and hope for the best.

            Mother Nature has started to shake clusters of fat fluffy snowflakes past our security camera before we crawl into our warm bed. The storm has begun. Church has already been cancelled for tomorrow so it remains to be seen what the landscape will look like in the morning. I awaken several times during the night. The wind howls around the corners of the house. At least we don’t have to go anywhere being it is a Sunday.

            I peak outside in the early dawn of morning. The sky is blue, and the sun shines brightly. Judging by the stacked pile of white peaked on the deck railing, it looks like we might have gotten around seven to eight inches. The trees are whipping back and forth but otherwise, it is a winter wonderland out the bay window in the back of the house. It is a different scene from the front door. The wind drives sheets of white across what was once our lawn and hurdles them down the drive. Our snow fence and garden fence have disappeared beneath the ocean of blinding brightness. Only the tops of posts with specks of orange webbing peak out. So much for the snow fence effectiveness. The stone bench by the apple tree is no longer visible while the apple tree trunk has gotten significantly shorter.

            Hubby ventures outdoors to steal a few pictures and I follow him in a few minutes. Just how bad is this situation anyway? I step into his footprints as I trudge after him seeking to avoid making new tracks in the mid-thigh drifts. I am soon out of breath with this balancing act. Our whole driveway is covered to this depth. Neither of us go far in this labor-intensive march and turn back towards the house. The wind blasts us in the face and hubby disappears into the snow. “Help me up?” is the request thrown my way as I look back to see if he is coming.

            “If you really can’t get up, I am not strong enough to pull you out.” I worry out loud. This could be a life-threatening situation if one fell out here alone. The tracks we have made only a few moments before are almost filled back in already. I extend my hand and he is soon back on his feet. Together, we return to our warm cozy house.

            We have a plow truck, but an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness engulfs me. There is no way that we will be able to push these kinds of drifts. I make several calls to different neighbors looking for someone who has a large tractor snowblower or a tractor and bucket. Everyone is in the same predicament and not willing to venture out in this weather. There is not much we can do in this wind anyway. We both finally make the decision to wait until Monday morning when the wind has died down to tackle this impossible project. I am supposed to work at 9 a.m. but maybe I can negotiate a later time.

            The same white landscape with even deeper drifts greets us in the morning. Now the drifts are solid and unmovable. Thankfully, the wind has retreated, and the air is still in the almost zero-degree weather.

            “I am going to see what I can do,” Hubby announces. My stomach is tight, and I am tense. I know how this will end – being stuck. I watch the movement of the truck on the security cameras. Back and forth. Back and forth. I am constantly watching for a lack of movement. He needs to drag the snow backwards with the plow in small amounts and deposit it out of the way. He does this over and over because it is too hard and too deep to plow forward. I am just putting my boots on to go out and check on the progress when I hear the garage door slam. Uh Oh! That is a bad sign. Hubby has come to retrieve the shovel. I stomp heavily in his footsteps to the stranded truck.

            “Are you stuck?” I ask the obvious. The front wheels have dropped over the edge of the driveway in his effort to push the massive pile back from the edge. The plow is buried in the snow drift. Soon we have the wedged snow dug out from under the plow and the truck frame. But the attempt to back up only results in two deeper holes for the front tires and the back tires spin. The chains usually work wonderfully for traction but now are digging only deeper holes.

            “We’re done for!” pronounces Hubby. We stand and stare at our hopeless situation. But my ever-creative husband has an idea. He gathers all the tow rope that we own and ties the truck off to the other truck in the shed. Then he attaches his come-along. Neither of us are optimistic that this is going to work but we have nothing to lose. While he is doing that, I struggle back through the snow for a ½ full pail of sand and salt for the back wheels.

            “Get in the truck,” he directs, “and put it in reverse while I ratchet.”

            I let out the clutch and apply the gas until the wheels begin to spin. Then I stop. We do this a couple of times while Hubby tightens the rope with the come-along. Finally, he says, “That is all I can pull it. I think we are done. Try it one more time.”

            I let out the clutch and step on the gas – this time like I really mean business. Amazingly, the truck rises up out of the hole. I am almost shocked by our success. The extra tension and the pulling downward on the rear bumper were the ticket to triumph. My husband is a genius.

            I retreat to the warmth of the house while I wait for the next call for help. Another hour goes by before I hear the house door bang again. “I need your assistance.” In this last hour, Hubby has been able to clear out by the house garage. This leaves us with the access to his 4-wheel drive work truck, a significant improvement from our previous predicament. I drive the plow truck while he pulls with the other truck. Soon, I have been dragged backwards out of the snowbank and planted firmly on the drive again.

I glance at my watch. 10:00. If I am going to arrive at work by noon which was my re-negotiated start time for today, I will need to leave in an hour. The drive is only ½ cleared after three hours of plowing. My decision is made. I need to let go of my guilt and life-long instilled drive to always meet my obligations. I will make my first road call ever. I am already stressed to the max over this situation and the sheriff’s department is saying many roads are still closed with huge drifts in places.

One more episode of needing to be dragged backward out of the snowdrift on the side of the drive occurs in the next hour before Hubby announces, “I’m through. I can get out. I need to go on a service call though. One of my customer’s barns collapsed. You can try to widen the path a little if you want while I am gone.”

I have no desire to get stuck while he is gone, and I have no one to pull me out. However, I have this bright idea that I can go to town with the snowplow and fill the truck with gas. The roads are snow covered so the chains won’t be so hard on the blacktop and it will give me a chance to see what the roads are like. I switch over to 4-wheel high gear and off we go. The chains do make for significantly more chattering of the tires, so I drive slowly. Several spots in the road are one-lane only but otherwise, the road is in fair condition. One mile out of town, I notice that the “Coolant Low” light is on followed by the “Engine-Overheated” light. Great! Just great! I am frustrated as to why the truck should be overheating. We have plowed all morning without a problem. I pull over, turn the key off, and pull the hood lever. I do have extra coolant with me. I know that one is not supposed to open the radiator lid when the engine is hot, but I think that I can turn the cap just enough to let off some of that pressure slowly. I stand back and slowly turn the cap, allowing the scalding coolant to sizzle gradually around the cap. But the boiling liquid has other intentions. Like a volcano, the cap shoots into the air following by the trapped geyser like those found at Yellowstone National Park. I stand there in horror and watch the spouting liquid cover the plow, the engine and the front of my coat. It does not stop until most of the coolant has been spewed into the air.

“Can I help you? Do you need a ride?” the voice is that of a gentleman who has stopped.

“I’m good,” I say, “it just overheated, and I wanted to add more anti-freeze.” I am not about to admit that I am a total idiot for taking off the cap while hot but I’m sure it is obvious from the state of my truck. The engine is steaming, and the plow is covered in orange-yellowish liquid. He wishes me well and drives away. I am left to dump what remaining anti-freeze I have with me into the holding tank. It does not begin to fill it. If I can only make it to town, I can buy more. Now to find the missing cap. I look under the truck and all through the engine compartment. No cap! “Lord, help me,” I breathe. This is an utterly ridiculous pickle. I turn around and look up the road. There it lays on the shoulder of the road six feet in front of the plow. “Thank you.”

The temperature gauge has dropped back into the safe range when I restart the truck. If I can just make it this last 1 ½ miles to the gas station. No sooner have I started out again than the temperature begins its climb and the “Coolant Low” light comes on. I barely make the city limit before the “Engine Overheated” begins flashing again too. Frickit! This is not going at all like I planned. There is nothing to do but stop and walk to the gas station to buy coolant. Walking down the icy street because the sidewalks aren’t cleared makes me feel totally conspicuous. The middle of the street is piled high with the remnants of the storm making me an even more likely target for unwary motorists. Soon I am able to buy more coolant and stroll back to the truck. This does allow me to reach the gas station where I buy another container of coolant to empty into the bottomless hole. A full tank of gas and a full container of coolant later, I am ready to begin my journey home. The temperature stays in the acceptable range. Thank you, Lord. But as I make the last turn into the drive, that pesky “Coolant Low” light comes on again. Ugh!

The drive is passable, the truck is gassed, and blizzard 2019 is over. I am so done with this storm. And we are left with memories of a lifetime.

Coldest Minnesota Weather in Decades

I am hit in the face by a blast of cold air as I step out of the elevator and into the fifth level of the parking ramp. The weatherman has predicted temperatures of -15 to -20 degrees for this evening with 30 mile per hour winds. I am hoping to make it home from work without a problem. My 2016 Subaru Forester protests as I turn the key but pops right off. The dashboard thermometer shines out a chilly -14. Every part of my trusty chariot creaks and cracks with stiffness but soon we are rolling homeward. The air is saturated with tiny particles of blowing snow making for a hazy backdrop for the street lights.

            As I approach the stop sign at the top of the hill behind the hospital, I step on the brake as is considered appropriate to do at a stop sign. The brake pedal is stiff and refuses to be depressed. The car keeps creeping forward. Oh no! I press harder on the pedal as a sense of helplessness washes over me. I then let up and press again. This time the brake pedal responds. What was that all about? I ask myself. A memory from this past Sunday comes back to me. My hubby was driving on the way to church. As he braked for a stop sign, he had declared that the brakes didn’t work.

            “Well, I haven’t had any problem with them,” I had declared brushing off his concerns. He must have been mistaken, I had thought. Now, I understood what had happened to him.

            I pump the brakes a few times. They seem to be working again. This is not a night that I want to be stranded beside the road requiring walking but then moving forward is not the problem, it is only the stopping. At least, there are not many people on the road, so I make the decision to continue my journey towards home. The wind driven snow hurtles across the road making for whiteout conditions in spots. This makes travel slow and tedious. The brakes seem to now be working properly. Soon I am making a left turn onto main street in Elgin and then a right to stop at the post office. Well, maybe, I will stop at the post office as it is happening again. I apply the brakes. They are stiff and do not respond. Is this just because it is so cold outside? I have no idea but this is getting scary. I need my car tomorrow, but I am going to have to call the garage.  I can’t drive like this. It is a lot like playing Russian roulette, never being sure which stop will become the deadly one.

            We are greeted the next morning by frost coating the windows and creeping around the edges of the doors of the house. The little snowman on the wall is bundled up and declares that it is -28 degrees. Hugh beautiful sun dogs grace the sky. I have no desire to leave the house, but I have a tax appointment at 10 a.m. and I need to drop my car off at the garage afterward. My hubby has decided to not even try to go to work so he can at least pick me up.

            That little Subaru groans as it does a slow turn of the engine but then sputters to life. She always starts. I test the brakes gingerly a few times as I drive away but all seems well. My trip to town for the completion of taxes is without incident and I continue on from there to the repair shop in our little town that sports our address. As I roll up to the garage, it happens again. My foot firmly stomped on the brake is having no effect. Horrified, I have visions of crashing through the closed garage door right into the service bay. Hello. I’m here. Now wouldn’t that be embarrassing. Thankfully, my anticipation of the possibility of such an event has caused me to come in slower than I normally would, and we roll to a stop just shy of the door.

            “Just drive it in,” instructs the repairman, “and we will check it out quick.”

            We turn off the car while he tears off the engine cover and peers at the various contraptions under there. He then steps around and drops into the car. A turn of the key producing a cranking of the engine, but it refuses to start. After several tries, the battery has given up and a turn of the key produces only a clicking sound. OK, we are going from bad to worse. I wasn’t having any problem starting it.

            “All I did was take the cover off the engine,” he insists.

            “Your hubby is here,” adds his brother.

            Yes, it is time for me to walk away. There is not going to be a car for me to drive by tomorrow.

            “Should we drive to the shop while we are out and moving and try to start your other pickup, so I have a vehicle to drive to work tomorrow?” I question Hubby.

            “It hasn’t been run for a week,” he counters, “but now is probably better than at 5 o’clock this evening.

            My hubby’s shop is not heated and the cold seeps into our clothes and bites our fingers and toes. The truck does not think it should have to wake up today in the cold either. It makes a gallant effort at cranking sluggishly five or six times and then it is done. Jumping it is not an option due to its forward position in the shop parking bay. The charger and the portable LP heater are at home, five miles away but there is nothing to do but go get them. At least we have one vehicle that has not been defeated by the bone chilling cold.

            Soon we have the heater pouring its warmth into the truck engine and the charger putting new life back into the battery. We hole up in the running work truck while we wait. Thirty minutes later, hubby decides to give it a try again. Vrrrmm!! What a delightful sound.

            “Hurrah!” I shout. My hubby who doesn’t realize I have followed him back into the shop half collapses to the floor in fright. Oh dear! “I didn’t mean to scare you,” I laugh. “I was just so happy it started.”

            “Hello, this is Gary from the garage. Your car is ready.” Begins the phone call at 5 p.m. “I couldn’t find anything wrong except the battery is weak.”

            “Really! How is it possible that the brakes don’t work because the battery is bad?”

            “I couldn’t find anything else and so many things are electronic these days, the ABS system could be being affected because of it.”

            As I drive home from the shop, the thermometer on the car still reads -18 degrees. Who would have guessed that a stressed and weak battery from the cold could cause the car brakes to fail? Could we just turn the heat up now, please?

For the Love of a Dog – Saying Good-bye

Springtime2013 012By the end of the first week on a good dose of Doxycycline, Bella looks pretty chipper. She begs to go for a walk with me. Then suddenly by nightfall, she regresses.

“Bella looks terrible tonight,” Hubby greets me as I come in the door from volunteering work.

“She looked great this morning,” I counter.

She refuses to eat her evening meal and she staggers when she tries to run. I excuse what we are seeing as being weakness caused from not eating. If I could only get her to eat. I go back to the first vet and ask for some prednisone tablets which I break into 10 and 5 mg doses. This may be a huge mistake but I conclude that she is starving to death so it does not much matter about the effects of long term prednisone. I continue the doxycycline 400mg per day and add 10mg of prednisone. Within a day, she is gobbling a can of soft cat food mixed with her dry dog food. With a sigh of relief, I pack up several cans of cat food, a bag of dry dog food, all her medications, and accessories and meet our daughter for an exchange. She will keep Bella for the weekend while Hubby and I make a trip to Long Prairie, MN for a book promotion weekend.

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Treehouse B&B @ Long Priarie, MN

Bella wags her tail happily and excitedly whines to get out of Daughter’s house and into my car when I go to pick her up on Sunday. She looks like her normal self. Daughter tells me that she bought some canned dog food, warmed it up, and mixed it with the dry dog food. Bella has been chowing it down like a healthy dog. When I get Bella home, I make a decision, that in looking back, results in a final decline. I decrease the prednisone dosage to 5 mg a day, thinking that a small maintenance dose might be all that is needed to keep her on an even keel until we can finish all her antibiotics.Powerline construction 014

I can tell Bella is still running a fever as she puffs when it isn’t in-the-least-bit hot but otherwise, seems stable. But by Tuesday, things have changed. I send her out to go potty before we leave for the evening. She seems OK when I put her out but is totally dizzy and disoriented when she comes back in. She cannot walk a straight line and lays down in the middle of the floor as she can’t navigate. This is the first either of us have seen her like this. I expect to find her dead when we come home but she wags her tail in greeting and does not seem worse than before. However, by the next evening, she is refusing to eat again and I have to force the pills down her throat. The part of me that is a nurse knows that there is no longer any hope. We have fallen back into a deep dark hole and I see no point in doing this anymore. The emotional part of me wants to save her and the logical part of me knows that it is not possible.

By Thursday morning, it is obvious that Bella has seriously declined again. I had been told by a colleague at work about a vet clinic in Eden Prairie where they can do MRIs, CT scans, and all kinds of advanced tests at their clinic. As a last ditch effort, I assist Bella into the car and make a two-hour drive to this clinic in Eden Prairie. While I fill out paper work, the assistant takes Bella away to exam her. They then meet with me to explain what they would like to do and how much it will cost. They are recommending some blood work, a urinalysis, a chest x-ray, and some biopsies if they see any enlarged lymph nodes. They will be happy to perform all of these things that day, all to the tune of $1500 due and payable before I leave. Whoa! That’s a lot of money. Other than the blood work, which they already have from the local vet a couple weeks earlier, I don’t see that any of the other things will be particularly helpful.

“What would an MRI cost?” I ask.

“$3000”

“Guess that is not going to be happening.” I assert.

“Do you realize that Bella had no platelets already on the bloodwork done at your local clinic? Did he mention that to you?” Doc asks.

I sort through my brain trying to remember what was said at the local clinic. I think lower that normal platelets were mentioned but not “no platelets.” I don’t know what to do.

“I want to call my husband and daughter before I make a decision.” I tell the veterinarian.

“OK, we will leave you alone for a time while you call your family.”

Again, the emotional part of me wants to keep going but the rational part of me knows it is time to quit. “I think we are just pouring money down a deep dark hole,” I finally communicate my decision to the veterinarian after talking to Hubby and Daughter.015

“Well, if you don’t let us do any of this, we can’t help you,” is her response back. Now I feel guilty and like I am a really bad pet owner. But I am resolute. It is time to go. My plan is to go home and increase the prednisone to 20 mg twice a day. This is the treatment for an auto-immune disorder that is causing her to destroy her platelets. It is what I should have been doing all along. That is why she got better during the couple of days I had her on 10mg per day of the prednisone. None of the other stuff being proposed is going to be of any help.

Bella lies quietly on the back car seat on the way home. She meets my eyes every time I look back at her. I hold a tiny little hope that we can still turn this around. But it is too late. By evening, her breathing has changed to being more labored and there is a red fluid dripping from her nose. She refuses her food and her pills. We struggle to get them down her. It takes all her strength to follow Hubby down the stairs and out the door for her before bed potty time. Then she heads out across the yard and lies down instead of coming back in. She just looks at us when we call her name.

“Can you come and help me bring Bella back in?” Hubby implores. “I can’t leave her out there tonight.” Frost is predicted and the temperature is supposed to drop into the 20s.

I wake up several times during the night wondering if she is still alive.

“Can you go down and check on Bella?” are the first words out of Hubby’s mouth in the morning.

“I’m going,” I reply. I already know what I will find. I find her lying in the mud room where life has fled. She is at peace now. Sadness envelopes me. Bella had become a part of who we are.

I make a phone call to Daughter and we plan for a burial in our pet grave yard in the woods on Saturday morning. Hubby digs the grave on Friday evening while I am at work. “I cried the whole time I was digging,” he says with sorrow.

Hubby and Daughter sob and embrace as we carefully lay our beloved pet to rest. If I start to cry, I will never stop.

“Bella, and Blackie, and Honey Spot, and Purr will be waiting in heaven for us,” Daughter declares. Maybe they will. Maybe they will. Who am I to say they won’t be?

For me, the emptiness of the house is what messes with my brain the most. There is no happy barking when someone comes or the doorbell rings. There is no ringing of the bell on the door saying, “I want to go out.” There is no begging for food or play. There is no wagging tail and happy greeting of unconditional love when I come home. I have to keep telling myself she is no longer here.

“Are you going to get another dog?” Is the question that keeps being asked. I don’t want another dog. I want Bella.045

For the Love of a Dog

PetsFamilyJan2013 143“Come Bella,” I call from the bottom of the stairs. I repeat the summons several times before Bella staggers down the stairs and stumbles out the door to go potty. I sigh. A feeling of hopelessness creeps through my chest and into my heart. For several days now Bella has refused to eat, no longer desires to play, and lies upstairs puffing. She has grown thin and emaciated. I am at my wits end. I took Bella to the vet for the third time three days ago for these same symptoms. “She has a temperature of 104 degrees F,” was his verdict. We do not know why.

Early in January, during her last excursion outdoors before bedtime, her frantic barking alerted us. On the security camera, we could see her aggressive stance as she faced off with some unknown creature in the yard. A few minutes of protecting “her” property and she returned to the house, seemingly unscathed. But a few days later, she seemed mildly lethargic and had stopped eating. I wasn’t too worried as she has had times of skipping meals in the past. She continued to bring her indoor ball to me when I would come home, begging me to play. I did notice a small area of black on the bottom of her tongue. I don’t remember her tongue having a black colored spot there. I quickly dismissed my observation as irrelevant. One evening, I noticed very bad breath arising from her mouth each time she delivered her treasure to me. Whew! That smell was enough to knock me over. Still not giving it much thought, a few more days went by. One evening, as she stood panting, waiting for me to throw her ball, I noticed part of her tongue was missing and the remaining slit looked swollen and infected. So maybe that is why she wasn’t eating properly.363

After a trip to the vet for some antibiotics and prednisone pills, Bella began to eat regularly again and to play like her long-forgotten puppy self. Being between 7 and 8 years old, she is no longer a puppy so it was obvious that the prednisone had transformed her into the energetic frisky dog she once was. It seemed that all was back to normal. All of us were happy and returned to other life concerns.

But the good times were not to last. About 4 days after the last of the prednisone pills, Bella again started skipping meals. Oh well. I’m sure she will come around in a couple of days and be OK.

“Bella is not eating at all,” my concerned hubby conveyed to me a couple of evenings later. “And it seems like she is puffing more than normal,” he continued.

Oh dear. I had to work for the next day so I couldn’t make an appointment until the following day. “She has a fever of 104,” was the vet’s observation. “Let’s just treat her conservatively with Doxycycline for a couple of weeks and see what happens.”

That sounded good to me. Bella has always been an easy dog to give pills to which makes treating her easy. Wrap the pill in a piece of meat and give it a toss. She just opens her mouth wide and swallows whole whatever you are tossing her. Over the next couple of days, she slowly improved and went back to eating and behaving normally.power pole and birds 145

One day, however, while taking her for a walk, she was panting with maximum open mouth. As she and I puffed to the top of a steep hill, she was slightly above me and I had an unimpeded view into her open mouth. I noticed two slits on her tongue running lengthwise with her tongue further back in her mouth. That is weird. Is it possible that she has a rough or sharp tooth that is cutting her tongue? This really doesn’t make any sense.

I stopped at the vet clinic the next day and asked to make an appointment to have her sedated so that they could inspect her mouth and teeth for mechanical reasons for the slits and poor appetite.

“I would like to have you finish the antibiotics and then come back and we will take a look,” was the desire of the veterinarian.

OK, I guess I can live with that as Bella seemed to be totally back to normal. I made the appointment for a week later on March 30. I was hoping that they could also clean her teeth and x-ray her front shoulders while she was sedated as she had been limping on her front end off and on for over a year. Apparently, I did not communicate this well as when I brought her in for her appointment, I was told they did not have time to do all I was requesting that day.

“Then let’s make a new appointment when you can do all those things while only sedating her once,” I requested

“We are very busy and don’t have any opening for any kind of surgery until April 11.”

That date is almost two weeks out but I agree to the change. After all, Bella seems OK at the moment. Several days later about 4 days after completing her course of doxycycline, Bella has stopped eating again. By the following Friday, it is evident that she is seriously ill. “Bella is not going to make it to her appointment on Tuesday,” I explain to the receptionist who agrees to take her that day. “Can you draw labs too and check her for Lyme’s disease?” I implore.

They sedate her and inspect her mouth. “Her tongue looks pretty rough,” the receptionist conveys to me when I pick her up, “but it is completely healed. The only thing the doc finds abnormal is that she is running a fever of 104 degrees again. He left some antibiotics for her.” I pick up the bottles and look at them. There is a bottle of Flagyl and one of Amoxicillin. The course of treatment is for 10 days. I was hoping that he would give me more of the doxycycline since it seemed to work the last time. “I want to give her doxycycline again and try an extended course of antibiotics,” I explain to the receptionist. “Did he check her for Lyme’s” I continue my questioning. She shouts to the veterinarian who is working in the back room and he shouts back to her, instructing her to give me two more weeks’ worth of the doxycycline. I am frustrated by the lack of one-on-one communication and the inability to get what I believe is needed. He did not believe it necessary to check for Lyme’s so did not draw that test. “All of her other labs look pretty normal.”

“Alright, I will try this,” I say, “but I don’t think it is going to work.”

By now, Bella is so sick that she refuses not only her regular food but all treats as well. It has become impossible to get her to take her pills. She just smells what I have to offer and turns away. I want to cry. If I can’t get her to take the pills, she is going to die. “I can’t handle another loss,” is the sentiment expressed by my hubby. What am I going to do? There are two pills to give morning and night. There is nothing to do but pry open her mouth and shove them down the back of her throat with my fingers. Hope wells up each morning and I hurry down to see if she has started to eat her food.  But each morning and night, it lays untouched. Three days go by and Bella shows no signs of improvement. Each day, she slowly deteriorates. She no longer asks to play, she no longer walks with me and goes out only to urinate. She does continue to drink water and urinate which is a good sign but I have resigned myself that she is going to die and there is nothing I can do about it.PetsFamilyJan2013 196

“Should I make an appointment for Bella at the clinic where I work?” reads the text from my daughter.

“Yes, go ahead,” I respond. What can it hurt? I see no hope with what we are doing.

With a sense of foreboding, I take Bella 30 miles to this other vet clinic. She reacts weakly to the Lyme’s test. She is still running a 104 fever. But this vet and I agree to put her back on doxycycline at a higher dose and for a month. This vet also gives me a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to reduce the fever and a drug to increase her appetite. Will it work? I do not hold out much hope but it is the last ditch effort. Is it silly to pray for the recovery of a dog, I wonder? At this point I don’t care how silly it is. We pray every night for Bella to get better.

The problem this new regime creates is that I now have five pills to get down her throat every morning and she is not the least bit interested in our attempts to help her. There must be a better way. When I took care of cows, we had a pill gun to give pills to uncooperative cows. What can I use to make a pill gun? Then it comes to me. Vaginal estrogen cream and vaginal anti-fungal creams come with applicators. This is unconventional but I craft one into a pill gun for Bella. I find that if I mix some yogurt around the pills, they slide out nicely and into Bella’s mouth. Ever so slowly, Bella gets better over the next week. She begins to ask to play again, agrees to go for short walks with me, and gingerly starts to eat small amounts again. She still won’t touch her dog food but readily gobbles down the cat food. If she wants to be a cat, I guess we are OK with that for now. My hubby and I cheer when she finally gulps her pills wrapped neatly in bologna. Will this recovery be permanent or will she again relapse when the month is up? Only time will tell. I never realized the love of a dog could pull so hard at one’s heartstrings especially since my heartstrings tend to be loosely tied.

Visitors in the Attic

PetsFamilyJan2013 094As my husband and I lay in the darkness of our bedroom, just as we are drifting off to sleep, I hear this scratching noise like when our white cat, Snowflake, uses her paws on a door to open it. Scritch, scratch, thump, bang seem to be coming from the bathroom or so I think. Often Snowflake will sneak into the bathroom closet by opening the folding door. She does this by placing her little paw in the opening underneath the door and pulling until it squeaks open just a crack. Her owners then give doors such as this one all over the house that compulsory push to close them again. Once Snowflake is done snoozing away in the soft blankets and towels, she must find her way out. It keeps her entertained. The thought occurs to me that I should get up and let her out but I am nicely snuggled down in my bed so I sink into my world of dreams. Around 11:30 p.m., I hear my hubby get up to go to the bathroom. I can still hear the scritch, scratching noise so when he comes back, I sleepily mumble, “Did you let the cat out of the closet?”

“She is not in the closet,” he replies. “Both cats are laying with the dog in the hall.”

OK, so what is that persistent scratching noise that I hear? And where is it coming from?

PetsFamilyJan2013 092My 6’4” hubby reaches up and bangs on the ceiling. Instant silence follows. Apparently, we have some kind of visitors making their home in our crawl space above the ceiling. Mice? Rats? Raccoons? Squirrels? And what do we do about it? There is no entrance from inside the house to the crawl space in order to set a trap. Hubby crawls back in bed and we settle back down to sleep. Only a few minutes go by and the scurrying, scratching noise begins again. Ugh… How are we supposed to sleep like this?

Over the course of the next few weeks, there are nights when we hear no noises and nights when the frantic scurrying awakens us. We discuss many times what to do. Our house roof is very steep, 30 feet in the air, and covered with snow so neither one of us wants to go on the roof to see if one of the attic vents is allowing access to our happy housemate.

“We have a live trap boxed up in the basement from when we caught that squirrel running around in our first house,” I inform Hubby after he decides he will go buy a live trap and cut a hole in the bathroom closet wall. Soon our trap is baited with peanut butter and set just outside the new hole our closet wall sports. Hopefully, the cat doesn’t find this hole or she will be gone into oblivion.

Several weeks go by. There are some nights during which the scurrying persists and many nights when there are no sounds. The trap sits empty, always at the ready to receive the offender who seems not the least bit enticed by what we are offering. We have given up hope of ever catching anything and don’t know what our next step should be.005 (3)

One morning, as I am sitting on the commode, I hear this commotion in the bathroom closet (scratching, scurrying, banging). What is that noise? Finally, it dawns on me. I pull open the closet door and peer into the depths. Two shining eyes and bared teeth glare back at me. Hello, my not-so-innocent little friend. We have just caught a squirrel. Now the question is, what do I do with him? Our son-in-law had suggested that we make squirrel soup if we ever caught the critter. But to my soft-hearted Hubby, that is just not an option. So, I load my very unhappy catch into the car and drive him 7 miles down by the river and watch him scamper off into the woods there.

The very next evening, Hubby hears the very same crashing going on in the closet. Squirrel #2 in custody. Has the first squirrel already made his way back? Or is this his mate? Now, it is hubby’s turn to drive 7 miles, this time in the dark, and to release our catch. Another decision is made. On the next Saturday, the bucket truck comes home and all the branches on the tree next to the house that must be totally tempting for squirrels to use as a bridge to the house roof come off and go into a heap. Hopefully, this is the last visit from the busy bodies. I guess we shall see as the trap remains at the ready.039_1 (2)