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Exciting Times on Our Gravel Road

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.



Absorbine Junior for a Fantastic Friday

Absorbine Junior for a Fantastic Friday

Absorbine Jr is more than horse or human liniment. It's also a bug repellent and a sexy and promising senior citizen perfume.Today’s post first appeared on Gravel Road in late June of 2013. But around here, gnat season is getting an early start. If you want to stay ahead of the bugs, this Fantastic Friday offers an easy and mighty fragrant way to do it.

Our shady neighborhood has been invaded by summertime’s unholy trinity: mosquitos, gnats, and deer flies. The invasion makes my morning walks a challenge and weeding the flowerbeds painful. If it wasn’t for a tip we learned when gnats crashed our daughter’s outdoor wedding reception 3 years ago, I would be a prisoner in my own home.

So what’s the tip?  Absorbine Junior.

Skeptical? So was I at first. But a little Absorbine Junior dabbed behind the ears, across the forehead, under the chin and across the back of the neck kept the nasty, naughty, gnatty wedding crashers away for a couple hours.

Still skeptical? Check out this story about Absorbine Jr.

The stinky stuff may have started as a horse liniment that graduated to human liniment. But that’s only one of it’s charms. I apply it to face, legs and arms every morning, and I feel like Moses parting the Gnat Sea during my morning walks. It’s not quite as effective when standing knee deep in weeds in a flowerbed, even when you’ve dabbed your shirty silly with the stuff, but it helps.

Don’t ask how I know this.

As you can imagine, muscle aches are a thing of the past, too. Of course, my aroma these days is akin to senior citizens on parade. But who cares? I’m going to be a senior citizen in a few years, and this is good practice. With a little cultivation, Hiram may think Eau de Absorbine’s kinda sexy.

Absorbine Junior. Don’t leave home without it.

Muffin Mysteries for a Fantastic Friday

Muffin Mysteries for a Fantastic Friday

When the biggest mystery in the house is muffins in the microwave, does it mean the residents of the house have memory problems?In the four years since this post first appeared on Down the Gravel Road, memory issues at the Philo house have only gotten worse. So much worse that this Fantastic Friday’s muffin mystery is one I don’t even remember. Which is why it’s worth solving a second time.

This morning, I was up bright and early. At 6:15 I left the house to walk, my back exercises, Bible study, and breakfast already completed. Ten minutes later, my phone rang.

By the time I fished it out of my pocket and untangled the iPod ear buds wrapped around it, and I inadvertently pressing several buttons, the caller gave up. The screen said it had been Hiram, so I tried to call back. But somehow I hit the mute button and had to hang up. Eventually he called back, and after explaining I really hadn’t hung up on him twice, he remembered why he called in the first place. Which is a miracle in itself, as the rest of the story proves.

“Did you put muffins in the microwave this morning?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered, and then added. “And I ate them. For breakfast.”

“Okay,” he said. “So these in the microwave are mine?”

I pondered the question for a moment.
I didn’t remember putting more muffins in the microwave.
But the older I get, the more I forget what I’ve really done.
The older I get, the more I confuse what I only considered doing with what I actually did. And the older I get, the more reality seems like a day dream and the more my day dreams feel like reality.

That’s when I realized Hiram and I have been married for a long time, and he’s rubbing off on me. As my internal dialogue confirms, though I have spent the last 35 years pulling him out of the anti-memory-time-and-space vortex where he lives, growing older is gradually sucking me into it with him. My days as household memory queen are numbered. Maybe even over already.

Hesitatingly, I answered. “I don’t think I would put a second set of muffins in the microwave. And my stomach feels full, so I ate mine.”

“Okay.” His voice remained cheerful and unperturbed. “They must be mine. I just don’t remember putting them there.”

I laughed. “We’re pathetic.”

He agreed, and we both hung up. I slipped the phone back in my pocket and felt something long and stringy wrap around it. I pulled the phone out again, along with a tangle of iPod ear buds.

Where in the world did those come from? I wondered. Then I stuffed them in my pocket and walked down the road cheerful and unperturbed.

Just like my husband.

Finding Beauty on this Fantastic Friday

Finding Beauty on this Fantastic Friday

After a frustrating week, I searched my memories for the days' hidden beauties and found them.The red buds are blooming in our neighbor’s ravine again. They are as achingly beautiful as they were at the end of April last year. Twelve months ago I wrote this post, and though I feel better than when this post appeared in April of 2015, the words written in it are as true on this Fantastic Friday as they were then.

Finding Beauty in a Not Very Easy Week

The week just past was not an easy one. Last Sunday, I was finally home for a good long while after months of speaking engagements and Grammy duties, with no book deadlines looming. Don’t get me wrong, all of the above are good–even great and blessed–events. But they were wearying, too, and I naively thought that the week would be devoted to creative activities that rejuvenate me…like finally getting back to poor, patient Jane and her languishing mystery novel. That didn’t happen.

Because I had forgotten that the first several days after being gone
are devoted to catching up on everything that piled up in your absence.
Grocery shopping.
Once those were taken care of,
it was  time to respond to people I’d told,
“Contact me a few days after I get back, and I’d be glad to help.”
All that took until Saturday.

Which left me as frustrated as the crazy, two week allergy elimination diet I began on Sunday has been leaving me hungry after every meal. (More on the diet tomorrow.) And I was tired. Bone tired. A wee bit out of shape. And whiny because the weather’s been rainy and cold for days. Something had to be done. So Sunday afternoon, I sat down and racked my memory for the beauty hidden in my not-too-easy week.

Once I started looking, beauty was everywhere,
in the cherry blossoms in our neighbors’ yard,
blossoms left untouched by a nip of frost.
in finding the exact watch Mom wanted to replace her old one at the first store visited.
on the heavenly red bud trees blooming in the ravine along our road.
in the forgiveness of our church Connection Group
when I totally forgot about the potluck we were hosting.

Most beautiful of all,
most heart-breakingly beautiful of all,
in the kindness of staff members interacting with a resident in Mom’s memory care unit,
as they encouraged him, though his mind is dimmed by disease, to play his trombone,
as they hummed the birthday tune to him until the notes brought back his memory,
and he played the tune straight through,
with vibrato
and rhythm
and perfect pitch.
In his fellow residents giving him a rousing round of applause,
and asking him to play it again…
and again…
and again.

A miracle.
A miracle of grace.
A miracle of beauty.
A miracle of unequaled beauty almost overlooked,
though hidden in plain sight,
and waiting eagerly to be found.

And to think,
I almost missed it.

Erma Bombeck Did Her Own Housework, Too

Erma Bombeck Did Her Own Housework, Too

2 Saturdays ago Katie Wetherbee & I were at the Accessibility Summit. This Saturday Creeping Charlie & I were in the rhubarb patch. That's the author's life. A week ago last Saturday, Katie Wetherbee and I were at the Accessibility Summit at McLean Bible Church near Washington, DC. In the morning we put on our fancy duds and facilitated a workshop called How to Become a Special Needs Ministry Master Chef, based on our book Every Child Welcome. After that we hung out at our book table.

Which turned out to be the party table in our part of the Exhibition Hall.

I can’t speak for Katie, but for the first time in my life I knew what it was like to sit at the popular table in the high school lunch room. People visited our table all day long. They signed up for the email newsletter, asked to take pictures with us, and bought books. Lots and lots of books. So many that several titles sold out, and I only had to lug home 5 of the 60+ books I lugged to DC.

It was pretty heady stuff.

Then I came home on Monday, put on yoga pants and a sweatshirt, and spent the rest of the week doing every day stuff. Unpacked and started the laundry. Cleaned the kitchen. Caught a cold. Got a haircut. Paid the bills. Grocery shopped. Started a diet. Cooked low fat meals.

Then another Saturday arrived.

There wasn’t a party table in sight. Just Creeping Charlie in the rhubarb to pull and quack grass in the flower beds to hoe. Cilantro to sow. House plants to move to the sun porch. Grass to mow. Three pans of buttermilk brownies to bake and Rice Krispie Treats to make for Sunday’s fundraiser for my mission trip to Latvia. Just me and the Man of Steel working side by side. He didn’t ask for a picture with me. But I didn’t ask for a picture with him either.

Such a come down from the Accessibility Summit.

To be honest, this author’s life is pretty mundane. Lots and lots of weeks of solitary writing, waiting for those rare moments when the right words combine to say exactly what you want. Doing housework alone and yard work with the Man of Steel. Dotted with those unexpected weekend stints at the party table. But I’m in good company.

After all, Erma Bombeck did all her own housework, too.

Cardinal Song for this Fantastic Friday

Cardinal Song for this Fantastic Friday

Spring is slow to come, but the cardinal's song gives hope that it will yet come.Walking outdoors is one of my favorite things. Except when it’s cold and windy. So lately I’ve had to talk myself into walking outside in the morning. This post from 2013 proves this year is just like years gone by. But more that that, today’s Fantastic Friday post explains why walking outdoors is worth the cold, the wind, and the internal battle that get a person’s feet out the door.

The Cardinal Says It’s Spring

These April mornings,
When my walks begin.
I need a pep talk to push my feet
Out the door and down the lane.

The grass is brown.
The tree branches grey,
The wind is cold,
The landscape bare.

Still the cardinal,
bright red with promise,
Sings words to warm my frozen, winter soul.
“It’s spring! It’s spring.”

What says spring to you? Leave a comment.