A Hippo in the Bathtub

A Hippo on the Bathtub

In the past couple of months I have broken a bone (toe); nearly set two fires (one with an iron and a sheet, the other involving incense, candles and a butane lighter); dinged my car; smashed a large piece of plate-glass; walked into the side mirror of a van and bruised my shoulder–a van always in the same spot that I have walked passed a hundred times; banged, nicked, burned or otherwise injured myself in too many other ways, yet here I am plugging away, with gratitude for no serious outcomes.

A few weeks ago I dreamed we had a full-sized hippopotamus in the bathtub. It was as mean as I’ve heard hippos are, and we were absolutely required to keep it and take care of it.

Chloe is far from being a hippo, but we have had our challenges and struggles over the past year. She’s nearly 10, a prepubescent tween with some attitude. But she also cracks me up on a regular basis, she’s doing well in school and her behavior has improved immensely. Last week I sang the Mozart Requiem Undead with Panoramic Voices at the Bass Concert Hall, and took the risk of getting tickets for her and Gary. The concert was longer than I anticipated and he said she did great.

Did I mention attitude?

Did I mention attitude?

I did bribe her a bit: I gave her a little quiz to help her pay attention during the concert. Some questions were silly but required math: “If each member of [the group] Roomful of Teeth has 30 teeth, how many teeth are there in Roomful of Teeth? Some required careful listening, like finding actual names in the Latin text, like “Rex,” “Donna,” “Gloria,” and, stretching, “Christ(y)”and “Kyrie.” I told her I’d pay her a dollar for each correct answer, and she got eight out of 10, taking her loot in Robux rather than cash. As a friend said when I told him: “You have to know their currency.”

I interpret the hippo as being our enormous and daunting responsibility raising this kid. But when I googled “Hippo in a bathtub” I was pleasantly surprised to learn there’s an actual song by Anne Murray, plus lots of cartoon images.

Wish our hippo were cute and bubbly, but I like this image. Image from http://www.thedadproject.com/?p=868

Wish our hippo were this cute and bubbly. Image from The D.A.D. Project.

The Day I Didn’t see JFK

The day I didn’t see JFK was the day I took the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

Recent news and discussions about standing for the national anthem and other shows of patriotism brought back memories of my naturalization ceremony.

My parents and other family members became citizens in about 1958, five years after our arrival from England. I received automatic citizenship at that time with my parents, but when I turned 15 I had the opportunity to go back and take the oath on my own at the Federal Courthouse in Toledo, Ohio.

Toledo Federal Courthouse, site of my swearing-in

Toledo Federal Courthouse, site of my swearing-in

My parents took me out of school on a Friday in October, 1960. I remember little about the ceremony, but afterwards we learned that John F. Kennedy was making a campaign appearance in Toledo later that day. We went to the announced location, where a crowd was gathering, and waited. And waited. And waited. Like many other candidates, JFK was running very late, and there was no announced ETA.

Problem was, my high school had a football game that night, and if we stayed any longer I’d miss the game. We usually didn’t have championship football teams, but that game would determine the season league championship.

Since it was my day, my parents let me decide whether to stay or go, although I’m sure they were secretly, breathlessly, hoping I’d choose history over football. I gave it careful thought; I was very torn. I chose the game.

My team lost.

If I had it to do over again, of course I would have stayed. The great irony is that I’ve had zero interest in sports since high school. Ask my husband. (Maybe it was the heartbreak of that loss.)

I was going to include a shot of my naturalization certificate but it says on the front, “IT IS A VIOLATION OF THE U.S. CODE (AND PUNISHABLE AS SUCH) TO COPY, PRINT, PHOTOGRAPH, OR OTHERWISE ILLEGALLY USE THIS CERTIFICATE.” The photo is terrible, anyway.

Instead, here’s a shot from the yearbook, the year Norwalk High School’s football team was 6-1 in the Northern Ohio League and Shelby was 7-0.

The almost NOL championship team, Norwalk Ohio, 1960.

The almost NOL championship team, Norwalk Ohio, 1960.

Strange summer, and where did it go?

School has started. It’s been the wettest year on record in Austin. Everything is a bit out of sorts, and our odd summer is behind us.

The best news is how different life is after a year with the granddaughter. She’s happier, more confident, more fun and much more cooperative. We laugh more than we yell, for which I am grateful.

Chloe had a week of art camp at her school, then Girl Scout camp on Lake Travis, South Padre Island with relatives, and we took both grandchildren to north-central Arkansas.

For our 20th anniversary at the end of May we visited friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, then headed northeast to Hot Springs and Fayetteville, Arkansas. We “took the waters” in Hot Springs at the one bathhouse still open, Buckstaff, in the same manner as it was done 100 years ago: bubbly hot mineral water, hot-towel wrap, steam bath, sitz bath, needle shower, all the while drinking the natural mineral water the area is famous for. If I lived there I do it once a month.

Stained glass ceiling in Buckstaff Baths, Hot Springs

Stained glass ceiling in Buckstaff Baths, Hot Springs

We also discovered the most beautiful gardens near Hot Springs, Garvan Woodland Gardens, with a fairy garden, meditation spots, art installations and breathtaking blooming hydrangeas. It was a perfect way to celebrate our anniversary.

garden water fall

Meditation spots


Garvan beautiful


Garvan bell tower sunny

Fay Jones bell tower (He was the patron saint of Arkansas architecture, and is best known for his design of Thorncrowne Chapel, near Eureka Springs.)


Garvan hydrangeas





Garvan fairyland 3

Garvan fairyland 6


After a long, wet drive through the Ozark National Forest, we spent a couple of pleasant days in Fayetteville. The Botanic Garden of the Ozarks also boasted hydrangeas, as well as poppies, nasturtiums and whimsical sculptures.

Jill BGO

Me at lily pond in the Botanic Garden of the Ozarks

Lily pond

pink foxglove closeup


kids on bench sculpture

We had to ask a worker to remove his jacket from the bench to take the picture.

boy handstand sculpture



I love poppies

I love poppies

We visited the downtown Farmers’ Market, the bookstore that goes on forever (Dickson Street Bookshop), ate great Mediterranean food at Emelia’s Kitchen, walked around the U of A campus, and toured the very odd Terra Studios, with even more whimsical sculptures and art, plus the ubiquitous glass bluebirds of happiness, made on site, cranked out all day long by some poor glassblower.

U of A clock tower

U of A clock tower. The campus is in the heart of downtown Fayetteville.

Another work by Fay Jones, who established the school of architecture at the U of A.

Another work by Fay Jones, who established the school of architecture at the U of A.


Terra wall

Terra Studios

Terra sculpture wall

Terra entrance

Bluebirds of happiness

Glass bluebirds of happiness, which are sold by the gazillion and apparently what keep Terra Studios running.

Wanting a more woodsy getaway, we booked a cabin on the Little Buffalo River in July and took both grandchildren. The Ozarks are incredibly beautiful and we had some good hikes. We spent a morning touring Mystic Cave and Crystal Cave. (I learned after we returned, I did all this with a broken toe. On July 17, playing with Chloe in the condo pool, I kicked against her and hurt my toe. After we returned from Arkansas–two weeks later–I had it x-rayed and found out it was broken. With proper care it’s almost healed.)

Our "cabin," Arkansas House, in Jasper.

Our “cabin,” Arkansas House, in Jasper.


Exterior of the Museum of Junk in Jasper

Exterior of the Museum of Junk in Jasper


Beautiful Ozark woods

Beautiful Ozark woods


Gary, Chloe at swimming hole

Gary and Chloe at our swimming hole on the Little Buffalo River

Chloe in Jacuzzi

The kids discovered the combo of shampoo and a Jacuzzi in the cabin.

The kids discovered the combo of shampoo and a Jacuzzi in the cabin. (Chloe above, Bryan below)


Bryan's head above water

Bryan’s head above water


Standing in the drips at Natural Bridge cave.

Me standing in the drips after a hot hike to Natural Bridge cave.

Mystic cave pool

Mystic cave 10


Mystic and Crystal caves

Mystic and Crystal caves (the “squid.”)

Iconic Arkansas image, Hawksbill

Iconic Arkansas image, Hawksbill

Now we’re getting back into the rhythm of early rising, dog walks after taking Chloe to school, and dedicated art days for me. I have paintings and other projects that have been dormant all summer.

I’m also singing the Mozart Requiem Undead with Panoramic Voices and Room Full of Teeth. Performance is Friday, September 16 at Bass Concert Hall in Austin. So the next few weeks will be crunch time with lots of rehearsals. The world premiere was in April, 2014, and was spectacular. Tickets are going fast and it will probably sell out. Don’t miss it!


Of Lost Items and Burning Beds

The fact that I keep losing things–keys, shopping lists, mail, phone, glasses–I attribute to the distractions of being a parenting grandma. But nearly setting Chloe’s bed on fire rests solely on me.

It wasn’t even forgetfulness or lack of mindfulness. I knew the iron was on the bed.

After stitching around the edge of a piece of needlework, I decided it needed pressing. When I iron a single piece, rather than drag the ironing board out I use the nearest bed. I plugged it in, rested it on Chloe’s bed, and while waiting for it to heat up popped into her bathroom, telling myself the whole time to remember the iron was on the bed in case I got distracted or interrupted. By the time I stepped back into the room–no more than half a minute and 10 feet–I could smell it. The iron burned through the sheet and left an impression on the mattress pad.

Sheet with iron-shaped hole.

Sheet with iron-shaped hole

Mattress pad with sheet imprint

Mattress pad with sheet imprint






I went to Target to get a new pad and bottom sheet, knowing they sell open stock linens, and of all the colors that would have gone nicely with the remaining bedding–aqua, pale blue, yellow or paprika–Chloe chose gray. I still can’t bear to look at it, an ugly reminder of my stupidity, but she likes the gray, and maybe the reminder is not such a bad idea.

New gray bottom sheet, which I hate.

New gray bottom sheet, which I hate.

In my defense: the printed sheets, purchased at JC Penney, are a polyester/cotton blend. They’re soft and silky and comfortable, but I strongly suspect if it had been cotton it wouldn’t have burned through so quickly.

Let’s Do It In The Road

I almost never reblog but Nancy hit another home run and I want to share this with more people.


Not literally of course.

But this week, I read yet another article about things you should not do in public. Obvious stuff – like texting in a restaurant, letting your kids run wild in the grocery store, talking loudly at the movies.

I agreed with everything on the list.

But I thought it was a shame that all I read and hear is about the shit you shouldn’t do in public.

Someone should compile a list of shit you really should do in public.

I think it should be me.

Here’s a start:

Talk to strangers.  OK, so maybe not if you are eight. But adult to adult? My husband always talks to the people in front and behind him in line at the supermarket. And everywhere really – at the post office, at the bank, at the gas pump. You know what he gets out of it? All…

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And My Little Dog Too?

I’ve been over-committed much of my life. When my kids were small I did room mother, PTA, neighborhood association, League of Women Voters and sang in the Springfield (VA) Community Chorale, now known as the Northern Virginia Chorale.

Now that I have a school-age grandchild, guess what: PTA and school events, condo board, church board, and I sing in Texas Choral Consort (however, for only one program this year, the Mozart Requiem Undead on September 16.)

Yet I consider myself an introvert and crave time for my art and craft work–painting, making postcards, knitting, stitching, as well as always being behind on my desired reading, journaling and movie-watching.

But if I have more than a day or two of unexpected “free” time I get restless. Obviously I need to find a balance between “doing” and “being.”

The last couple of weeks of the school year are especially nutty. There are a several occasions that I need to be two or three places at once and I’ll have to split the time in order to cover everything. Oh, and my birthday is this week and one of the busiest days. This is what it looks like:


Chloe added the birthday greeting to the dry-erase board.

Chloe added the birthday greeting to the dry-erase board.

I’m working with a therapist to figure out this apparent need to be needed, to lower my stress and increase satisfaction with my life.

Our dog Junior is so sweet and gentle that someone recently suggested he’d make a great therapy dog. And he would–he never barks, never shows aggression and senses when someone needs to sit quietly and stroke him. He’s the most loving and well-behaved dog I’ve ever had.

So I looked into therapy dog certification, which takes both time and money just to get certified, not to mention the commitment to provide the service (as a volunteer) once he’s certified.

Then I decided not to turn Junior into a furry version of me, and just let him be his sweet self.

He's perfect just as he is.

He’s perfect just as he is.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

Junior face

Can’t Believe I Pulled This Off

People often tell me I’m a hero for what I’m doing with my granddaughter. I don’t feel heroic; I’m just doing what needs to be done and grateful I have the wherewithal to do so.

But yesterday was so above and beyond I’m a little stunned myself.

We had planned for weeks to have a smaller dinner party last night. Chloe was going to go to her mom’s, but she wanted to stay and we agreed if she (a) helped and (b) was unobtrusive.

I planned to make Rachael Ray’s chicken thighs marinated in red wine, and had the chicken in the marinade Friday night.

I had a brunch to attend Saturday morning. When I left Chloe with Gary, she said she had a headache and was back in bed. I thought maybe she was tired because she was up at 5:30 a.m. I went to the brunch, which was lovely. It was a member appreciation event for KMFA classical radio. There were mimosas, crepes, flowers on all the tables, a panel Q&A with the announcers, and a short recital by a pianist who was quite the showman, Michael Schneider. I chatted with some people I knew afterwards and headed home.

I could hear Gary talking to Chloe as I walked toward the front door: “Can you make it to the bathroom? Here comes Grandma,” and as I walked in the door she threw up all over the bedroom floor.

I gave her sips of ginger ale and coke, which she kept throwing up, and she had a 102F fever; before the day was over diarrhea hit. About 1 o’clock I told Gary we should postpone the dinner, for obvious reasons, but also because I didn’t want to expose our guests to whatever she had. One in particular has had severe digestive problems and this was the last thing she’d need!

He agreed and made the calls, asking for callbacks to confirm. One couple did so, but he didn’t hear back from the others.

Wondering if these folks might show up, and needing to cook the chicken anyway, I proceeded on the notion that we may still have guests. The house was fairly picked up, but I hadn’t set the table. I had on shorts and a t-shirt, but at least I had on makeup since I had gone to brunch.

As 6:30 neared and still no word, I started fixing kale to go with the meal, not knowing how much to prepare. At about 6:40 the phone rang at the gate and Gary went out to greet them and explain the situation. I told him to make sure it was their choice to come or go, and scrambled around clearing up clutter and putting (thankfully clean) place mates and silverware on the table, telling myself “be gracious no matter what, be gracious,” but feeling very ungracious after spending the afternoon caring for a sick child.

The guy hadn’t looked at his phone all day. When he pulled it out, sure enough there were two voice mails and a text from Gary. We didn’t have their home number. How anyone could not look at their phone all day long, especially when you have dinner plans, is a mystery. They did repeatedly insist they would be happy to reschedule. I said they needed to help us eat up the food and, after pouring some wine I went back to tearing up kale, putting it and bread in the oven. (The recipe calls for cooking the chicken on bread but I’ve made it on a bed of brown rice and I like it better, and serve bread on the side. Problem was, it had been awhile and I couldn’t remember how I prepared the rice, so it was a little soupy, but as my mother used to say, “it’ll eat.”) Chloe went into the bedroom with headphones and a laptop.

It turned out to be a pleasant evening. I liked the couple very much. Gary plays golf with the man, and he discovered they met the other couple, old friends of ours, on a cruise, so he had cooked up this sort of “reunion.” The woman was very kind, and when the guys were talking golf and she asked if she could do anything to help, I said “No, but come and chat with me while I finish up,” and we got to know each other a bit. She is a former teacher, and he, I learned, was born in the Soviet Union, both topics for further inquiry. They loved Junior, which makes them fine in my book.

When I checked on Chloe during the evening she was asleep with headphones on. I did slip out for a few moments while the others visited because the poor neglected dog hadn’t been out since about 3 p.m.

We’re going to try scheduling a lunch next time and hope we can get all six of us together, with all our travel schedules and responsibilities.

After they left, Gary and I cleaned up (and I took the dog out again). I put a futon mattress on the floor next to Chloe. She was up all night with diarrhea, but I got nap this afternoon. Chloe’s fever is down and she’s eaten a bit today. I’ve changed the sheets, and both the washer and dryer are full. I just realized I haven’t showered since Friday afternoon so that’s next on my agenda. After I walk the dog.

I will consider that medal now.

I even remembered to put flowers on the table.

I even remembered to put flowers on the table.

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