Top Ten Lessons Learned from a 16 Month Old

Grammy and Papoo have been learning a lot from the 16 month old who lives at their house. Here are a few recent lessons. Every day is an educational adventure with a sixteen-month-old in the house. Here’s what he’s been teaching us lately.

10.  Clothespins are fascinating, so a wise grammy learn to check for them in her shoes before going for a morning walk.

9.  Grammy’s walking shoes are also fascinating, so when the shoes aren’t on the rug by the door, they are most likely in the empty spot on a low kitchen shelf. With a clothespin cleverly hidden inside one shoe.

8.  There’s nothing better than a rousing game of “I’m gonna get you.”

7.  There’s nothing worse than being told “No!” Even and especially when it’s for your own good.

6.  Baby gates are an invitation to start climbing.

5.  Being allowed in Grammy and Papoo’s bedroom to feel the soft, blue blanket on their bed is enough to make a grown 16-month-old quiver with delight.

4.  All food tastes better after it’s been thrown on the floor and sniffed by the dog.

3.  Making loud noises and screeching is oodles of fun for a baby. But when a grown up makes the same sounds, it’s very scary.

2.  The days when Papoo uses big machines right outside the living room window are very good days.

1.  Receiving a big hug and a slobbery kiss from a sixteen-month-old is a precious gift from God.

What lessons have you learned from a wee one lately? Leave a message.



Exciting Times on Our Gravel Road

This summer's adventure has been our dive into multi-generational living. We're still figuring things out, but these four ideas have made a difference so far.The Summer of 2016 will go down in history as a most exciting one. The Man of Steel’s basement project, with its main components being large dirt piles, big holes, and large equipment, has been an ongoing source of wonder for our three young grandchildren. (The above action shot, the action being the dirt pouring out of the bucket, was highly appreciated by the 3 1/2-year-old.) The Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) at Hidden Acres, the trip to Latvia to be part of a special needs camp, and family camp in Idaho each had their own exciting elements.

But, as the summer winds down I have to say that our adventures in multi-generational living, which began on May 20 when our daughter, our son-in-law, and grandson moved into our upstairs, leave all others in the dust.* All in all, the transition has gone well. The fact that the upstairs consists of three large rooms and a full bath that is completely their space, makes the arrangement easier. But, we’ve learned, and are still learning, much about how to live together in shared spaces: the kitchen, the laundry room, the dining room, and sometimes the living room.

Over the next few months, the daughter and I will be sharing our perspectives about what has worked, what hasn’t, and how we’ve resolved what doesn’t. To start things off, here are four systems we’ve put in place that make multi-generational living much easier.

First, a command center is a must. Ours is a giant whiteboard in the kitchen. It’s a monthly calendar where everyone posts their work and travel schedules. Once that’s in place, we decide who’s going to cook each night and plan menus. We also record financial reminders about what’s owed for groceries and utilities and payment due to the daughter and son-in-law for projects we’ve hired them to complete. Honestly, without this system, we couldn’t function.

Second, compile grocery lists. This one took a couple months to get in place, mainly because I was gone so much it was hard to plan menus. We now have 2 lists, 1 for our local grocery store and 1 for Costco, Trader Joe’s and a Mennonite market where we purchase hard-to-find baking ingredients. Everyone knows where the grocery lists are and they are encouraged to add items that are running low or used up. We visit the local grocery store weekly. I make the Costco/Trader Joe’s/Mennonite market run about once a month, usually after a visit to Dorothy since those stores are 45 minutes from our Gravel Road, but only 20 minutes from her.

Third, get a joint credit card for groceries. This card is used only for what’s on the menu and each family pays half the bill. This simplifies finances immensely.

Fourth, only one joint meal is served per day. That meal is usually supper, though depending on schedules, it is sometimes lunch. The freezer, fridge, and pantry are stocked with breakfast items and everyone serves themselves. The same is true for lunch, at which leftovers are also fair game.

From my point of view, these four systems are life savers. We’ll see what the daughter has to say at a future date. It could be interesting!

*Please note: The use of this idiom was deliberate in light of the name of this blog.

Do you have a multi-generational living arrangement? How do you make it work? Leave a comment.



Ten Ways Our House Has Changed in the Last Week

What happens to an empty nest when a baby and his parents arrive? These 10 changes at our house are just the beginning.Since our daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and dog moved in a week or so ago, our house has been in a state of flux. Here are ten changes we’ve made, most of them to accommodate the most adorable 14-month-old baby in the house.

10. Though our fireplace is unused, it is irresistible to 1-year-olds. So the Man of Steel temporarily blocked it off with a cedar chest turned upside down and crowned with a wooden storage box built by the Man of Steel’s grandfather in the 1940s.

9.  Other temporary baby-proofing efforts, which will eventually be replaced with proper gadgets, include wooden stools shoved against every bottom cupboard door, keeping closet and bathroom doors shut tight, and moving all live plants to the sun porch. Thank goodness it’s spring.

8.  The refrigerator is fuller than normal and empties faster. More because of the baby’s parents than because of the baby. Except for humus, which the little one devours in copious amounts.

7.  The laundry room is doing a brisk business. The baby wears cloth diapers. Need I say more?

6.  Toys are everywhere. Some are the boy’s. Some are the dog’s. Some they share. Quite nicely, I might add.

5.  Did you know red rocks red fit perfectly into tiny fists and are light-weight enough to be toddled from hither to yon? Which explains why the landscaping rocks outside the kitchen door are all over the sidewalk, in the grass, and on the cement ledge framing the herb garden.

4.  Our home now suffers from a spoon shortage. Because when a certain child has to come inside without a lava rock in each fist, spoons are a good distraction. By mealtime, all the spoons are on the floor or where ever they have been deposited with logic that makes no sense to anyone over the age of 14 months.

3.  A certain writer finds herself taking frequent breaks because her grandson insists she is the only adult in the house fit to play “I’m gonna get you” with him. While the writer’s novel is suffering, her grandson is not.

2.  The house is full of baby squeals, especially during a game of “I’m gonna get you.”

1. Those squeals are accompanied by an infectious smile that sets both the Man of Steel and a certain writer to grinning so much their cheeks hurt.

How has your house been changing lately? Leave a comment.

I Miss Your Dad

Mom doesn't converse like she used to, but last week we had a sweet, substantial thoughtful conversation.In her prime, Mom was a sparkling conversationalist, She easily handled a variety of topics with great knowledge and wit. Her favorites were teaching, gardening, quilting, cooking and baking, reading, history, neighborhood gossip, genealogy, and family.

These days, her unprompted contributions to our Wednesday conversations consist of complaining about her runny nose and asking for tissues, gossip concerning fellow residents, reminders that she needs new library books, smack talk while we play Rummikub, reports of cards and letters received from family members, and stories about either her childhood or mine.

Every week, I try to draw her out a little while we waited for our meals to arrive at Applebee’s. “Did you fly kites when you were a kid?” I asked last Wednesday, which was a very blustery day.

“No,” she said. That was all.

I soldiered on. “Did you ice skate?”

She nodded. “Once. I fell on my butt/”

I persisted. “Did you roller skate?”

“Yes.” She brightened. “I liked to roller skate.”

“DId you skate outside or at a roller rink?”

“At a roller rink. In Pipestone.”

“Your family didn’t have much money. How did you pay for it?” I asked.

She shrugged. “My brother Wayne took us, I think. He was always kind. And my brother Ralph was a good skater. He could even skate backwards as well as I could skate going forward.”

Our food came then, and we stopped talking. But maybe it set her to thinking, because on the drive home, she brought up a new topic of conversation.

“What year did your dad die?”

“1997,” I replied. “19 years ago.”

“That’s a long time,” she said.

“Yes, it is,” I agreed. “Do you miss him?”

“A lot.” She nodded.

“Me, too,” I said.

“But missing a husband,” she went on, “is different than missing your dad.”

“I’m sure it is,” I said. “And in a way, you lost your husband twice. Once to multiple sclerosis and again when he died.”

“You’re right, Jolene,” she said before going quiet again.

It was the most substantial, thoughtful, and sweet conversation we’ve had in months. I looked at her and smiled. She smiled back.

Top Ten Thanksgiving Traditions

What Thanksgiving traditions are you anticipating this week? Here are my top 10.Thanksgiving is all about tradition…at least at our house. Here are ten of our top traditions in the order in which they occur.

10. All the dog owners bring their dogs to keep the kitchen floor clean.

9.  Generations (4 this year) mingle together creating new links in the chain that stretch into the past we can’t remember and toward the future we can not see.

8.  Everybody brings appointed dishes for the meal…enough to feed a small army.

7.  Once people begin arriving with their appointed dishes, it is imparetive for everyone to talk at the same time. All day long.

6.  Except when chowing down handfuls of Fabulous Franklin Chex Mix to keep up our strength until the meal begins.

5.  Everyone worries there won’t be enough food because we all plan to eat too much.

4.  Certain members of the family guzzle Grandma Josie’s tapioca fruit salad. They are secretly pleased that some people don’t like it so the leftovers can be eaten for Christmas.

3.  After the meal, we play games and games and games and games…

2.  …after the chef pops the turkey carcass into a stock pot and sets it to simmer on the stove…

1.  …and until we’ve digested long enough to make room for pie. With real whipping cream on top.

What are your family Thanksgiving traditions? Leave a comment.

Is There a Writer in the House?

Our house was filled with 3 writers, 1 Man of Steel, and a baby for 2 1/2 weeks. Only 1 writer remains and she feels at home in a big, lonely house.This house almost always has 1 writer in the house. But for about 2 1/2 weeks, while our daughter and her family were here while the Man of Steel and Woman of Aluminum recovered, the writer population around here swelled to 3.

A Philo Phamily writers’ colony right here on the pharm.

As the days went by, the kitchen island sprouted notebooks and pens, the living room resounded with keyboard tapping, the voice of a young author reading her manuscript to the Man of Steel as he recuperated and the Man of Steel laughing at all the right places emanated from sick bay, the excited voices of mother and daughter discussing plot points for new novels tumbled over one another, and young parents sat together talking about how to better develop characters for an audio play.

Think of it as Little Women for the new millennium.

With fewer girls, more mature women, and a couple handsome men. Also a baby whose presence pulled the house’s inhabitants down from the rarefied air of art for art’s sake to fold diapers, change diapers, and play peek-a-boo. And the handsome man who’s a non-writer begging the authors to finish their next manuscripts because he can hardly wait to hear what happens next.

Heady stuff, as you can imagine.

Yesterday, the 2 young writers took their baby home to a neighboring state. Today, the Man of Steel is recovered and back to work. The 1 remaining writer was sad to see them go and good-bye. But as is the way of writers, she was not sad to say hello to an empty house. Because she knows the words inside her head require external silence and time to labor alone if they are ever to come alive on paper. If they are ever to be read by another author and revised. So their timing is perfect enough to make the Man of Steel’s laughter ring out–music to a writer’s ears–when he reads the next manuscript and begs for a new one.

Yes, there’s a writer in this lonely house. And she feels right at home.

Top Ten Lessons Learned from a 2-Year-Old

boy-695825_1280Last week’s post listed several lessons the Man of Steel and I learned during recent visits with our two youngest grandbabies, ages 5 months and 8 months. This week’s post is all about what we learned during those visits from our 2-year-old grandson who turns 3 in a few weeks.

10. Grandparents who want to buy a brand new car can rationalize the purchase because of the LATCH child seat feature. It’s all about keeping the little ones safe.

9.  Ladders are the most important thing.

8.  Grandparents can achieve rock star status by taking a 2-year-old to Home Depot and hanging out in the tool aisle.

7.  While hanging out in the tool aisle, a 2-year-old can teach his grandmother to recognize ball peen, roofing, and tack hammers, as well as explain how they are used.

6. Every moment is a teachable moment.

5. The outdoors in an amazing classroom.

4.  The sweetest thing in the world is holding a small child’s hand.

3.  Intergenerational relationships are a precious treasure.

2.  Each smile from a 2-year-old is a reason for celebration and great joy.

1. Saying good-bye to a 2-year-old grandchild is like resurrection. The next time you meet, the relationship you’ve developed will come alive again.

What have you learned from your grandchildren? Leave a comment.

Party Time at Camp Dorothy

family, birthday, Camp Dorothy, grandmaHey-ho, Camp Dorothy fans. This is your friendly camp activities director here with the promised update about the camp namesake’s 87th birthday party. First off, the camp activities director wants to give credit where credit is due. So readers should know that the birthday bash was not the brainchild of the camp activities director. Rather, the event was planned and executed to perfection by the camp director’s older sister.

Speaking of older sisters, the above photo catches older sister Dorothy and her younger sister Donna in a rare display of affection. As in they are actually touching. Only a side hug, to be sure, but still a big deal because we are not a family to engage willy-nilly in any sort of touchy-feelyness.

So the photo is quite a coup. Though the photographer had plenty of time to prepare for taking the picture. Because the sisters, one with her walker and the other on the arm of her nephew, evoked memories of Tim Conway’ Little Old Man routine as they moved into side hug range.

The camp director digresses. Back to the party, held on Labor Day Sunday, which was a rousing success. 30 people, including the camp’s namesake, four generations of family, and several friends, were in attendance. The birthday girl was the oldest party goer at age 87. The youngest was her great-grandson 5 months of age. She enjoyed an afternoon filled with conversation and, as far as the camp director could see, never stopped smiling.

Once the party was over much of the crowd–including Camp Dorothy’s namesake–went to her son and daughter-in-law’s house for supper. The birthday girl made a beeline for her favorite chair at their house, sat down, and made full use of her “queen for the day” status, expecting her children and grandchildren to wait on her hand and foot. Though we drew the line at cutting her toenails.

Queen Dorothy was worn out when her daughters took her to Vintage Hills and tucked her in bed for the night. The next morning she was smiling and ready to go when her oldest daughter picked her up for breakfast at her son and daughter-in-law’s house. She stayed through lunch, playing countless games of Uno and several rousing rounds of Catch Phrase.

Finally, smiling and sleepy, she called it a day. The camp director visited her a couple days later and found her still smiling. Then the camp director pulled out a package of thank you cards and announced it was time to get to work. Another Camp Dorothy update will be forthcoming when the cards are done, and she starts smiling again. Don’t hold your breathe. It could be a while.

Top Ten Things to Love about Growing Up in the 1960s

Parade-Hoey-StrattonI am a child of the 1960s. Not the hippie, flowerchild variety. But an actual my-elementary-school-years-spanned-the-decade variety. Thinking back on those years, here are 10 things that made those great years to be a kid.

10. Year after year, food manufacturers created amazing, space-age convenience foods like Tang, Pringles, Tab, and Dream Whip.

9.  Walt Disney on Sunday nights. American kids were sure Uncle Walt was talking directly to them when he introduced The Walt Disney Show every Sunday evening.

8. NASA’s space program was a wonder to behold. I was in kindergarten or first grade when John Glenn orbited. By junior high, men were walking on the moon.

7. In the 1960s, the whole town showed up for high school basketball and football games, music concerts, and school plays. Without the distraction of cell phones, iPods, and tablets, the audience’s entire attention was focused on the kids.

6. A nickel bought a big candy bar. A quarter bought a bagful.

5. All the kids in the neighborhood gathered on summer evenings to pay Kick the Can until porch lights came on–the signal that it was time to go home.

4. Summer slumber parties in the backyard. The thought of child abductions or other dangers never crossed our minds. Or our parents’.

3. Weddings. The most glamorous wedding was my ballet teacher’s because her bridesmaids wore gold lame gowns. But the most fun weddings were when my older cousins got married and our parents were so busy talking that we younger cousins could gorge on cake, mints, and nuts to our hearts’ content.

2. Real letters from friends and family in the mail. Long ones. Several times a week.

1. Living within 90 miles of all of Mom’s family and within 150 miles of Dad’s and knowing I belonged to something bigger than me, bigger than the people who lived in our house, something big enough to keep all of us safe.

Did you grow up in the 1960s? What did you love about being a kid in that decade? And be sure to stop by next week for a look at what wasn’t so great about growing up during those years.


Write, Jane, Write!

Harding County milesProgress has continued on my mystery novel set in the wilds of northwest South Dakota since the last Gravel Road update about Jane and her excellent adventures. Of course, every good mystery novel is replete with twists and turns, and this one is no exception. What are the latest twists and turns?

The first is this.

My agent, a wonderful woman and mom to 3 lovely little girls, had planned to read it on vacation. But because that vacation included entertaining 3 lovely little girls, so she didn’t have time to read anything. Which turned out to be a good thing.

Because of the second twist.

My daughter did read the book and returned it with the most marvelous feedback. Feedback that, if implemented, will improve the novel immensely. Feedback that shows she could be a professional editor…and as a literature major she has the credentials. So if you’re looking to hire someone to shape up your manuscript, just let me know. But I digress.

Back to the second twist.

The feedback was so good, I emailed my agent and said, “If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t. Wait for the next draft which will incorporate the feedback from my daughter.”

On to the third twist.

My daughter’s feedback is as unique as she is, consisting as it does of items like the following:

  • Beef up the scene at the dump
  • Start the butterfly thing earlier
  • Get out of Jane’s head and into dialogue more often
  • Make the bad guy seem gooder (yes, I know that’s not a word) early on

And so on. My goal is to have this revision done by the last week of August when my daughter and her family come for a visit. So I can entertain the baby while she reads through it. Obviously a doubly self-serving goal, but worthwhile none the less.

Which leads to the fourth and final twist.

When I am deep into revision zone, my little inner voice pipes up every now and then with its favorite public service announcement:

Stop playing around and get back to work.

I stop and feel guilty for a moment until the realization dawns on me.

This is my work.

And I keep writing.