The Brother Who Can’t

Dear Grace,

Your past several posts have just made me cry. I am going to miss your shaggy dog, and I wish I was there so we could bake cookies to make ourselves feel better. Because that is how we handle emotions around here.

In the absence of me and cookies, maybe this brief anecdote will make you feel slightly better.

A couple of weeks ago, Jake and Cara asked to come stay at Dutchman House for a night as they passed through on their way to wherever they were actually trying to get to. Abe and I were so excited for them to come, even if for a night.

I am not sure if I have ever mentioned how difficult Dutchman House is to locate. One can go one of two ways: First route: through a nonsensical maze that twists and turns about the subdivision to the very last street that borders the desert. It takes five full minutes to get from our house to the main road. And yes, I have timed it. Second route: through the desert on the world’s least maintained dirt road that Google claims is the fastest way to find our house. Although the dirt road is faster (distance-wise), it is much less comfortable as one must dodge abandoned furniture and giant dips and ditches in the “road”.

As Abe and I sat calmly awaiting their arrival (i.e. scurrying about the house trying to clean), I got a call from Jake. Good news: They were mere minutes away. Bad news: They were stuck in a giant mud puddle mere minutes away on the abandoned dirt road. Abe and I had recently sold Abe’s clunker Jeep, so we only had our Chevy Cruz to attempt to get their car out of the mud. I put on my muddy times outfit: knee-length leggings and mid-calf cowboy boots which is quite the ensemble. Surprisingly, our Chevy was not at all helpful in getting the car out of the mud, so we all waited together in the desert chill for a tow-truck while three-year-old Chloe serenaded us with songs from Moana. It was quite the evening, and I think we will be making fun of Jake forever in his persistence that he could in fact drive through the puddle.

Turns out “can’t” runs in the family.

Love Always,

Millie

Snow

Dear Millie,

We spent the weekend rearranging our bedroom and such.  I couldn’t stand seeing our dog’s empty bed at the foot of mine and without it there, it was just a sad, empty space.  There are other things I should tend to–her water and food bowls are still sitting there, waiting for her.

On Friday, I had our dog come downstairs into the living room so I could brush her a bit.  Always good to look nice for the doc, right?  She did get compliments when Gordon walked her into the lobby.  🙂  I had to go searching for her since she wasn’t in her usual resting places.  I found her in the boys’ room on the far side of Paul’s bed.  “Come on, Pup, let’s go downstairs,” I said.  She picked herself up and headed into my room.  “No, come downstairs. Come on, Pup-Pup, come on,” I cheered.  Her back end slipped when she got on the wood, and she couldn’t grip with her front paws.  I basically slid her over to the couch where she could lean on it while I brushed her.  She was so thin.  I did as much as she would allow and then let her go while the girls helped me clean up all the hair.  I had it all gathered up in a bag to take to the trash and realized the trash bin was still down by the road, so I set it on the steps in the garage to take out later.

I was anxious all morning and procrastinated doing anything I needed to get done.  I didn’t want to go shopping because I didn’t want to leave her.  I wanted to sit and stroke her fur and talk to her, but was worried it would upset us both over nothing.  Knowing what I know now, I wish I had.

Gordon came home to pick her up at about 1:45.  He came upstairs, and I excitedly told our dog that he was home.  She perked up and her tail was wagging as she followed him into our room and back out again with a little hop.  I hoped it was a happy hop.  He let her outside and I went in the basement to get the leather leash.  She came back in and I thought we should get a picture.  Gordon wasn’t so keen on it and I tried to get the girls and dog situated and cooperating, but the dog kept wandering off and the girls couldn’t stay put either.  Gordon said we shouldn’t be fussing and making things a big deal when she was just going to get tests.  The dog was ready to go out with him, so I pet her and said, “Be a good girl,” and watched her climb up in the van.  Lucy and I stood in the doorway to the garage and waved until the garage door closed.

I called Gordon just after he left so we could talk during his drive to the vet about a half hour away.  I could hear the dog wandering around in the back and it took her a long time to settle and sit down.  Gordon kept laughing about how bad her breath was (it really was!  I thought her teeth must be rotting out or something, but the vet said her teeth were all in great shape.  Gordon commented to the vet that it smelled like something had died in there, and she said, “Well, she IS dying in there.”).  When they pulled in to the vet, Gordon said he’d call me back later.  At 2:48, he texted me:

Waiting for results

He included a worried, sweating emoji.  I was trying to calm myself by playing Tetris and half-joked back to him about looking for a bag to breathe into.  I kept trying to tell myself that whatever the case, it would be a relief to know.

Time seemed to drag on and I finally texted to find out how long before the results would come back.  No response.

Gordon called at 3:25.  “Hello?”  Nothing.  I listened for a minute, and could hear that the phones had connected, but he wasn’t speaking and I heard a couple of sharp breaths drawn in and let out in short, unsteady beats.  I realized it was Gordon crying.  And then I knew.

There are paw prints in the snow all over our yard.  It’s been getting warmer and while I know it’ll take awhile to melt all the snow, it breaks my heart knowing that when it does, her prints will be gone, too.

Our dog with her neighbor friend frolicking in the snow last winter

Love,
Grace

I’d Choose the Same

Dear Millie,

Happy Friday!  Do you have any plans for the weekend?  A garage sale, perhaps?  I still laugh about your signs!

Gordon is taking our dog to the vet today.  I’m not sure what to do, exactly, so I’m anxiously procrastinating anything else that needs to be done today.

You’re in trouble for two things: 1-) eating on my couch!  And, 2-) feeding our doggie Pop-Tarts!  Except that we eat on the couch all the time when the kids aren’t around, and the unfrosted edges of Pop-Tarts are pretty worthless.

Valentine’s Day!  Oh my.  I always have such lofty plans.  I think I need to stop doing that so that I won’t be disappointed.  I’d hoped to have the house covered in paper hearts and red and white everywhere when the boys got home from school.  We’d have a fancy dinner and just have a marvelously good time, complete with valentine trinkets and love notes.

I started the night before (after the boys all finished their class valentines [speaking of which, Truman was cutting his out a day or two in advance and I noticed he was cutting left-handed.  I asked him what the story was on that he he replied, “Oh, I always write with my right hand and cut with my left.”  Why not?] [Also, the boys had wanted to attach Starbursts to their valentines.  Apparently, the tape we used didn’t hold up too well because the day after Valentine’s Day, Truman opened up his backpack and pulled out a bag full of Starbursts and began eating them.  He guessed some *might* have fallen off the valentines he gave out.  I counted 17.  There were 23 kids he gave valentines to and each kid was supposed to get two.  I hope all of them at least got one!]) and it went downhill from there.

I’ve had a mailbox sitting in our entryway since about Thanksgiving.  I’d hoped to encourage the women at church to write little notes to the missionaries and servicemen/women from our ward.  A friend had an extra mailbox at her house and brought it over.  I never got around to painting it or getting little note-sized papers and also pens to organize craftily on a table at the church. Consequently, we didn’t get anything out for them for Christmas.  I ended up buying colored index cards and envelopes and putting them on the foyer table so that all the ward members could participate in sending a little love their way for Valentine’s Day.  I still have two of the envelopes in my car, needing addresses.

I just realized I still haven’t sent you our Christmas card!  Ha!  I was joking when I said you could plan on seeing it around Valentine’s Day, but I think I underestimated myself.  Ha ha!

Back to the mailbox.  My friend said she didn’t want it back, so I decided to spray paint it white and maybe get some red vinyl letters to put on the side.  What ended up happening was a colossal craft fail.  I never claimed to be a Banksy, but I also had no idea I could ruin a spray paint job.  I read and followed the directions carefully, and still ended up with dripping paint streaking down the sides and uneven coats.  By the time I finished it and brought it in the next day, the door wouldn’t open or close properly.  It looked really, really bad.  My idea for vinyl lettering was a great one, except that I don’t have access to vinyl letters.  I saw some gel clings at the grocery store and slapped those on.  It’s a sad-looking mailbox.

Kyle had taken brownies for his class party.  The teacher had sent home a list of items needed, and I detached the slip and sent it back and even messaged about whether Little Debbie cosmic brownies (which are processed in a facility where nuts are also handled) would be acceptable in their nut-free classroom (I can’t even tell you how sad I feel for families who have to deal with food allergies!).  Kyle returned with a box of brownies because apparently, another kid in his class had brought ALL of the treats requested plus some, and so most of his classmates didn’t want even more.  ?  My kids scrambled over the cosmic brownies (a rare treat at our house), and I tried to figure out whether the brownies I’d stashed in the mailbox would be enthusiastically welcomed or passed over.

I decided on chicken cordon bleu for dinner.  I made mashed potatoes in the Instant Pot (BUY ONE!!!) and timed things wrong enough that the chicken was nearly cold by the time I had everything served up on very fancy heart-adorned paper plates.

BUT.  I had found a valentine-themed tablecloth at Walmart that had activities on it and such.  We let the kids use markers to decorate it while they waited for dinner.  It was such a hit!  We’ve had company for different meals the last couple of days and they’ve also enjoyed doodling.  I wish I’d bought ten!

I also stuffed the mailbox (which they LOVED) full of little doodads for the kids.  We opened it after dinner and the kids were thrilled with playdough, stickers, brownies (yay!), and also the heart-shaped straws I’d forgotten we should’ve had for dinner.  Ha ha!  There was also a package from Mumsie and Pops that had valentines for each of the kids, a couple of my favorite children’s books, and a big bag of M&Ms (you should have kids so Mumsie will send you chocolate!).  I also included notes to each of the kids and told them things I love about them.  I’d meant to have one written for Gordon, but was going to spend a little more time on his note and ended up forgetting until you sent me your letter!

I loved your card!  You’re not a sister who can’t.  Good gravy.  That’s so cute!

I also loved the one at the end of your letter.  I did print it out and wrote quite the letter inside.  It was getting a little flowery and mushy as I basically told Gordon he’s my everything, so I also told him that the sun shines out of his bellybutton.  If you need me for poetic wordings, I’m your girl!

Valentine’s Day was, despite my craft and cooking fails, such a fun time.  The family evening prayer and the next morning prayer with the boys were both filled with expressions of gratitude for such a fun day.  My expectations often get in the way of enjoying things as they are and for what they are.  When I look back, it’s with a smile.  I need to do more of that in the moment.

I closed up Gordon’s letter with a quote, but I feel the same for my family, my life.

“And I’d choose you;
in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality,
I’d find you and I’d choose you.”

– Kiersten White, The Chaos of Stars

Love,

Grace

My Funny Valentine

Dear Grace,

I am just so distraught to hear about your dog. When I lived with you during those summers, she and I used to cuddle on the couch and watch movies. And when I ate Pop-Tarts I always fed her the unfrosted edges. I remember when you and Gordon first got her and she had that one floppy ear. She is the loveliest dog.

In other news, Abe and I are celebrating Valentine’s Day in our own weird, non-celebratory way. All day my students (who came to class laden with flowers and heart-shaped chocolates) were asking what Abe and I had planned for the holiday. I felt increasingly guilty when my answer was continually “Errrr . . . nothing?” My students were all shocked and dashed as they see Mr. Adams and myself as some sort of ideal-romantic-love beacon. So in order to assuage my own guilt at not planning some sentimental gift or date, I quickly made a card for my Valentine-hating husband. 

When Abe came to get me from work, he was waiting for me with a bouquet of pink roses and hydrangea. My favorite! We might not be the best at Valentine’s Day, but for us I think we did pretty good. Now we are watching Friends and eating sandwiches in the living room like we’re college roommates. It’s the best.

Although I am wishing I had some chocolates right about now . . .

Love Always,

Millie

 

P.S. If you need some card inspiration, I made a version of this one for Abe last year. Naturally, it was a big hit.   Image result for i love your butt let me touch it forever

Yellow Tulips

Dear Millie,

I happened upon the sweetest video.  You have to watch it. Must.  Right now.  Read the little description before it (especially if you don’t know what a golem is.  I didn’t!)

Gele Tulpen (“Yellow Tulips” in Dutch)

Love,

Grace

Hard Things

Dear Millie,

How’s everything?  I hope things are going well.

Our dog is getting old.  The average lifespan for a German Shepherd is 11-13 years, and in May, she’ll be at 13 years.  She’s getting frail.  She’s looking too skinny.  A neighbor stopped by and mentioned how skinny she was looking when she pet her, and I looked at a picture I have of her from the fall and the difference is startling.  I hadn’t realized.  Her bark is still robust, but her eyesight and hearing are going.  Just last week, she barked at the front door to come in and she sat outside right in front of the full-length window.  I opened the door and she just sat there, waiting and watching.  I said her name, and she didn’t budge.  I yelled her name, and she looked up and realized the door was open and came on inside.

She walks with her back arched, and has a difficult time getting up and down the stairs.  Sometimes, I think without realizing it, she walks on the tops of her paws when coming down the stairs.  Yesterday, she ended up coming down sideways.  It seems like she just can’t get both ends coordinated.

I am terribly distressed about this.  On the one hand, it seems this is just the natural progression of things.  On the other, we had her for two years before we had children, so in a way, she was our first.

I need to make an appointment with the vet for her, but I can’t do it.  I’m going to have to make Gordon go, but I’m worried about the outcome.  What if they tell him she’s suffering and then she doesn’t get to…come home?

What if they find something wrong but treatable and the treatment is costly?  How much is too costly, knowing she likely doesn’t have much time left?  But what if it’s costly and it does buy her some healthy, quality time?

I went to visit a friend the other day whose dad had just passed away.  We both cried.  Then we didn’t talk about her dad as much as we talked about cheap beach houses in North Carolina, peanut butter fudge, and her dogs who were so happy to get extra attention.  I couldn’t get over how BIG they were compared to how our dog looks–so small and frail.  During the course of our visit, she mentioned that one of them had been so sick last year and she thought it’d be the end.  He’d lost a lot of weight and wasn’t nearly as responsive as he’d been in his younger years.  They had to carry him up the stairs like a baby.  They did take him to the vet, fearing the worst, and found out he had two tick-borne illnesses.  They treated him and he’s perfectly fine!  THAT’S the kind of story I need.

I knew when we got her that eventually we wouldn’t have her.  I hate that she’s slipping away and I can’t bear letting her go.  I just hate the hard things.

Grace

Bats in the Belfry

Dear Millie,

I’ve never liked our fireplace.  From the realtor pictures and even the video tour, I didn’t really take any notice, except that the chimney impressively swept from floor to vaulted second story ceiling.  When we walked into the house to tour it for the first time, however, it was nearly a deal-breaker for me.  It’s visible from the front door, and with the plaster around it crumbling, the ghastly brass trim everywhere…it just looked dumpy.  Unfortunately, fixes for that sort of thing takes know-how and/or money, neither of which we have in excess.

The first winter we lived here, we decided to try out the fireplace for some ambience.  Gordon cleaned out the ashes (including, sadly, a dead little bird) and built a lovely fire.  Being desert-dwellers, neither of us knew whether we needed to have the chimney cleaned (I still don’t know), so we’ve only built a couple of fires in there.  Thank goodness for central heating, I say!

During the summer, Gordon and I were up after the children had all gone to bed.  We were watching Netflix on the sofa directly across from the fireplace, when we heard weird screeching sounds coming from the inside of the chimney.  Bats??  Blast!

We immediately turned to the internet and things quickly felt very dark and desperate indeed.

Over the next few nights, we kept hearing the screeching sound after the kids were all in bed.  We filled out an online request to have someone come take a peek and do some bat removal and also clean our chimney.  Now that I’m telling you about this, I realize we never did hear back from anyone about it.  Huh.

A few days later, we were outside at dusk when Gordon noticed birds flying around the top of our chimney.  I couldn’t hear them, but according to him, they made the same screeching sound we’d heard.  Yay for not being bats!

But, that also meant the top of our ginormous chimney was not capped and that anything could (and did) just come right on down the chimney.  The kids didn’t seem bothered (easier access for Santa and bigger toys!), but I didn’t like the idea that we had a family of birds nesting inside our chimney.

Meanwhile, the brick along the outside porch and walkway had been crumbling.  Gordon also wanted to see about putting egress windows in the basement and getting a quote for finishing it all up down there.  We lucked out finding a great contractor and we got quotes for all sorts of things.  I think we’ll be seeing him often through the years.  The brick out front is repaired and now we’ve moved on to the business of chimneys and fireplaces.

I didn’t even know there was such a thing, but I’m practically giddy about getting a fireplace with a remote!  We’re having it converted to gas, and I hope that’s a good thing because I wouldn’t know either way.  I’m glad to know we won’t be starting fires in our chimney and that all the bats (or birds) in our belfry will soon be evicted.

Well.  Maybe.

Yesterday after church, a couple stopped to talk with me.  Their adult daughter is Vanessa’s teacher in primary.  The parent couple have Kyle in their class.  They were joking about his unflappable character and then the mom said that Vanessa’s teacher said Vanessa is…”interesting.”  I laughed and she continued that her daughter has concerns about her, but was worried about approaching me about them.  Apparently, Vanessa often talks to characters who aren’t there.  I burst out laughing!  They were a little startled by my response, but I told them there was nothing to worry about.  When I got home, I asked Vanessa if she talks to invisible people at church.  She acted like she had no idea what I was talking about.  Then when Gordon and I were sitting with her, she started turning her head to the side and saying, “Shut it, Ferb!” And, “Not now, Plankton!”  We laughed so hard!

Instead of people realizing she’s trying to get attention, they’re convinced she’s got bees in her bonnet, bats in her belfry, and knots in her noodle!*

Hope you are the same.

Love,

Grace

*(Thank you to The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater for this lovely combination of crazy-talk.)

Lucy Gets Hungry

Dear Millie,

Happy Friday!

Lucy gets hungry.  She’s a resourceful girl, so she doesn’t trouble us about it too much.  Examples:

  • Today, I bought a giant bag of chocolate chips from Sam’s Club.  I had gone back into the garage to put stuff in the deep freeze, and when I came back in, she had melted chocolate on her face.  

Girlfriend ditched her pretzel, got herself a stool and a pair of scissors and helped herself to chocolate.  It took a few tries, but when a girl needs chocolate, don’t be thinking she’ll just give up.

  • Around Thanksgiving time, Gordon was downstairs passing through the kitchen.  Lucy had come down and went over to Grandma McAllister’s china cabinet.  She opened up one of the side doors, pulled out a cookie, shut the door and left.  Secret stash?
  • I came downstairs one morning and the fridge doors were both open and the bottom drawer was pulled out.  I asked aloud who had left it open and Lucy came sauntering around the corner eating a slice of bologna and said, “What?”  She’s two.
  • I’d made cookies for a missionary zone conference and while I was putting more dough on the pan, Lucy was helping herself to a couple off the cooling rack.
  • On Christmas Eve, Lucy came downstairs wearing a small backpack.  When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she opened it up and dumped out peanut M&Ms and a pair of scissors!  I figured Gordon had given her the candy since it was his, and that the kids had left the scissors out.  Nope.  She’d scaled the wire shelves in our closet to get the M&Ms on the top shelf.  She’d pushed a stool to the dryer and climbed on top to open the cupboard where we *safely* store the scissors.
  • A couple of weeks ago, Gordon and I were talking in the kitchen after church.  Lucy wandered in, opened her favorite side door on the china cabinet, and pulled out an old, discolored and shriveled something-or-other.  I honestly didn’t know what it was, but upon closer inspection (thankfully before she took a bite), I realized it was a slice of bologna.
  • Lucy doesn’t just take care of her own needs.  She cares deeply about her dolls and stuffed bunny family and Star Wars action figures.  There was a lot of leftover jello and chocolate milk after the Community Supper, so I brought some home for the kids.  I’m a bad Mormon and the kids rarely get jello (though now that they’ve discovered it, it’s a common request.  Maybe I should learn how to make it?).  Anyway, I found Lucy feeding her doll orange jello.  Very sweet.  I  also noticed one of her dolls was covered in chocolate milk.  I said that Lucy must’ve been trying to give her a drink, and Vanessa, while practicing her ballet “ultimate spins” in the living room said, “No, she’s giving her a bath!”  Sure enough, Lucy had one of her dolls sitting in a cup of chocolate milk.

Gordon is home!  He flew home Sunday and I’m so glad he’s back.  There were protests at the airport (LAX) and Delta’s system had shut down which resulted in lots of canceled flights and everything being done manually, so we were very fortunate his flights worked out and he made it home.  Late, but home.

It was after 10 and I had all the kids with me since my flight tracker had said everything was on time.  The kids were all tired and Truman was going nuts in the backseat.  He and Lucy are the most wild when they’re tired, everyone was antsy.  It was getting ridiculous back there and when I knew Gordon was picking up his bag, I turned and told the kids, “Hey, let’s all put on smiling faces and act excited when Dad gets in the car.”  Vanessa said, “Or, we could just yell, ‘Surprise!'”  Excited as we were to have him home, that was about all we could muster.

When we got home, we tucked everyone in and went to hit the hay.  We found that Han Solo would be joining us: Lucy even gave him a little pillow in there.

Ack!  Lucy just came upstairs from her nap (already??  She usually sleeps another hour!) and is covered in chocolate.  Where on earth…?  I can never find chocolate when I need it.  Anyway, I’m off to find the source!

Love,

Grace