Busted by the Elf…



… and by excellent grammar.

Having a November birthday means Chloe is flush with cash in December. She had wanted an Elf on the Shelf for a while. At 10, she still believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.

I think the Elf is a scam, and at $30 each I would never buy one, but she had the money and wore me down until I agreed to take her shopping (after trying to talk her into ordering one online). We planned for a weekend, but by Tuesday she was so anxious about missing the “deadline” for the Elf to arrive that I took her after school, after first calling the nearest Walmart, where, I was assured, they had them.

They lied. The next stop, Target, was out. At this point we went back home for further research. The J.C. Penney at the mall assured me that they did indeed have them in stock. By this time it was nearing 5, but we were on a mission. The traffic to and from the mall was blessedly manageable despite my worst fears.

We snagged the last boy elf. Chloe didn’t like the girl because she was too tarted up (my word). The plain blue-eyed boy suited her.

If you know nothing about this scam, um, kids’ delight, here’s the story: someone started a family tradition of having an elf appear in the house as a “scout” for Santa, since he can’t watch everyone. Every night the elf would fly off to the North Pole, return and land in a different location. It couldn’t be touched by humans; doing so would nullify the magic.

These very smart people marketed their little game, wrote a kids’ book to go with it and put it all in a glossy box, pretty much selling out every Christmas (after which they probably spent New Year’s in Tahiti).

Chloe named her elf “Max” and wrote his name on the “adoption certificate” included with the book. Using tongs, she immediately dropped him, catching him by the foot. The “treatment” for regaining magic was for him to lie on a red plate dusted with cinnamon.

My nightmare began. Chloe left Max notes and little treats. Each night, before I could go to bed, I’d write a reply; eat, hide or dispose of the treat; and find a new secure spot for him. (One night I stupidly put him within the dog’s reach, but he left Max alone.)

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Writing notes and finding new locations continued nightly until December 18. I was careful to use a printing style completely different from mine, and like Marigold in the comic “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” Max wrote rather formally and never used contractions. He also answered questions vaguely (did he know certain other elves? Did he remember her friends from her old neighborhood?). Chloe showed some skepticism, asking me repeatedly if I was moving Max, if I was writing the notes. I was as evasive as Max, but basically denying everything.

As I was driving us home from church on the 18th, she kept at me, insisting I tell her the truth, and I spilled. Of course she was devastated and felt betrayed, and of course I felt horrible. She asked me about Santa as well, and I told her we weren’t having any more conversations about it.

We were invited to a Solstice party that afternoon, and I insisted we go even though she was heartbroken. I told a friend, a very smart, warm-hearted grandmother, who said some reassuring words to Chloe. On the way home she brightened, telling me she was kind of relieved and had guessed it was me because “Max” didn’t know the answers to some of her questions.

And she knew it had to be me because Max used such excellent grammar.

She still believes in Santa. By next Christmas she’ll be 11 and we’ll deal with it before then, but for now the subject is off-limits.

Max and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he's "out" he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!

Max (right) and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he’s “out” he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!


St. Gillian?

People tell me I’m a hero, or even a saint, for taking on the responsibility of raising a grandchild.

Of course I’m neither. I’m doing what a grandmother does if she’s able. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, it’s tear-my-hair-out sometimes. Some challenges are so great I don’t know how to manage them, but it has also brought more laughter and joy into my life. There are support systems for the challenges, and if we didn’t have Chloe we wouldn’t have Junior, so it’s also brought the sweetest dog ever into my life.

My comfort animal and nap buddy.

My comfort animal and nap buddy.

Mostly, as I said, it’s what you do. I wake up earlier than I ever thought I’d need to in retirement and just put one foot in front of the other.

A 10-year-old girl can be mean, even cruel. But I hope by this time in life I’ve developed enough confidence in my abilities and a thick enough skin to laugh most of it off. And sometimes cry. Walking the dog is usually for thinking and meditating, but sometimes it’s my private crying time.

Another thing that keeps me humble is reminding myself of all the things I’m bad at. I’m a decent cook, fairly intelligent, good at taking care of myself and others. But there are some things I simply have not mastered, so just for today let’s celebrate the incompetent and mediocre:

Things at which I am terrible:

  • I am lousy at parking. It’s become a joke with Chloe when I take her to school. I park on both a slight slope and a curve so I end up either on the curb or three feet away. As I get out I say, “Ace job of parking, if I say so myself.” She of course rolls her eyes.
  • Inflating tires and using a gauge to check pressure. I’m more likely to deflate the tires.
  • Can’t do separating zippers, especially on a child. I have to get behind her and do it as if I’m zipping my own jacket.
  • Battery enclosures or anything you have to match up little slots and snap different parts together. Vacuum cleaner cover, air purifier cover, various appliances that come apart, require three hands.
  • As an artist I would think I could decorate cakes, but I can’t. Even three hands wouldn’t help. Chloe is way better with a pastry tube and fondant than I am.
  • Flower arranging: well I don’t arrange flowers. I trim the leaves and stems and jam them in a vase to arrange themselves.
  • Understanding handicap in golf. My husband has explained it to me several times and it won’t stick. My brain cells just won’t accept it.
  • Gardening, sadly. I’d love to have flowers and vegetables, but one reason we live in a condo is because neither of us has a green thumb.

That’s probably enough self-criticism for now. I am pretty good at self-care: healthy eating, massages, pedicures, exercise, regular medical care and plenty of sleep. Making time for music, art, knitting and reading. Travel when we can get away.

And I am really good at tenacity, determination, and love.

I also cannot figure out in Photoshop how to extract the halo from the background, and my version is too old to get online help that works. Ah well.

I also cannot figure out in Photoshop how to extract the halo from the background, and my version is so old it doesn’t have the tools shown in online help. Ah well. The halo is tarnished anyway.

The Wolf

More than one person is wondering, if not saying aloud, why did I wait so long to go to the doctor after two weeks of coughing?

The short and easy answer is I kept thinking it would be better the next day. Magical thinking. It was just a tickly drainage cough and I didn’t really feel bad, except for interrupted sleep.

It’s not about money. Medicare and our Humana Medicare Advantage Plan (thank you, Government, for working well) mean that’s not an issue.

The other reason, as I told someone in an apology email after twiddling around with an RSVP for much too long: Grandmas just soldier on. It’s not conscious self-sacrifice; it’s just what we do.

Mostly, it’s time. Every day seems to get eaten up with errands, appointments, meal prep, shopping, child care, and my one essential nap. If I have one activity in the morning, it breaks up the day sufficiently that I don’t get to my own things: art, writing, knitting, reading. It’s more efficient to use those broken-up moments do a load of laundry, unload the dishwasher or walk the dog.

I should have gone to the doctor late last week, after a week of coughing. My Friday was totally open, but I just couldn’t give up my only free day that week. So I enjoyed a day of painting and futzing around doing what I wanted.

A few days ago I wrote:

If I am not the shepherd of my hours,

the Wolf of Time will steal them like helpless lambs. 

Interesting I should use that analogy, since Chloe is in her "wolf" phase right now.

Interesting I should use that analogy, since Chloe is in a “wolf” phase right now.

By Monday I decided I needed to see a doctor, and the earliest appointment with the ENT was Thursday. I could have tried my primary doc, but again that magical thinking had me believing I’d be better by then and I could cancel the appointment.I ended up seeing a P.A. She did a thorough exam and workup and prescribed a steroid, antibiotic and cough relief. 

What started as a tickly drainage cough morphed into a respiratory infection. I skipped allergy shots for this week, which the P.A. agreed was probably a good idea.



After a year and a half of shots I’m wondering when this will get better in this sopping, humid, never-gets-cold-enough-to-kill-off-the-allergens environment. A move to the desert? But I’m English! I couldn’t live in the desert. Last time I was in New Mexico, the mountains outside Albuquerque were on fire, the humidity was in the single digits and I woke up every morning with a nosebleed.



I’m having a recurring fantasy: a cabin or cottage on a lake, river, stream, creek or beach, even an island. Provisioned with staple foods, firewood and household needs. No internet, phone for emergencies only.

I’d pack up food for simple meals, a couple of bottles of wine, art supplies, a laptop, comfortable clothes and shoes, and disappear for a few days. I’d probably take the dog for company, since he can’t talk. Four or five days, a week at most, would be enough for me to come back refreshed, missing the daily hubbub. At least I would intend to come back. Hee hee.

This would do

Either of these would do…*


I’m not unique and I’ll bet everyone overwhelmed with parenting experiences something similar. Rabbi Evan Moffic’s blog expresses similar feelings but concludes that life is for being with people. He quotes Mary Oliver’s “A Dream of Trees”

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees

A quiet house, some green and modest acres

A little way from every troubling town,

A little way from factories, schools, laments.

I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,

With only streams and birds for company,

To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

And then it came to me, that so was death,

A little way away from everywhere…

I would that it were not so, but so it is.

Who ever made music of a mild day?

Easy for you to say, Mary. This grandparenting/parenting gig is hard. It’s getting better, certainly. Chloe’s behavior has improved immensely. Every school day last year began with yelling and arriving late. This year I don’t even have to wake her or remind her to get ready; we get out the door with no yelling and haven’t been late once. She’s doing well academically and seems to enjoy her teachers and classmates. She loves art and does wonderfully imaginative drawings. She told me the other day she probably would have quit art a long time ago if it wasn’t for me. I asked why. She said “Because you encourage me and let me have lots of art supplies.”

She’s almost 10. We’re on the bridge between Santa Claus and puberty. She spends too much time playing online games and watching videos. Her favorite radio station in the car is KISS-FM, with its breathy, sugary, romantic cotton-candy pop music. But she’s teachable: we talk about the songs that are all about codependence and neediness versus the ones about girls’ empowerment. She’s getting the message.

My therapist reminds me that my age and relative lack of stamina and energy–despite my being in pretty good physical condition–make it tougher to handle parenting. But I told her what I lack in stamina I make up in GRIT, determination, tenacity–whatever you want to call it.

I’m in for the long haul, wherever that takes us with this challenging, interesting young woman-to-be. No retreat.

* Photo credits: Cabin in the woods, beach cottage


Happy Birthday, Junior!

Our granddaughter moved in with us in August of last year. In early October, I was browsing Facebook and saw this picture, posted by my daughter (Chloe’s mom):

Dirty brown dog.

Dirty brown dog.

Since we had Chloe I was considering getting a dog, and after this brief exchangejunior-fb-post

I agreed to take him, and he joined us a few days later, on October 11.

Cori knew he had been abandoned and, when she opened her car door one day, he jumped in. He was brown when she got him, and she cleaned him up. He’s obviously a blue-heeler (Australian cattle dog), and so sweet and well-behaved I cannot imagine why anyone would abandon him. He was sleeping on a dirty mattress and living off the land. He did have a slightly outdated rabies tag, and when I called the clinic in Lampasas they told me it had been a walk-in rabies clinic and they had no other information. But the date was August, 2014, which leads me to believe he was born in early 2014.

When I took him to the vet soon after we got him, I learned he had heartworm. By then I was in love and, nearly $1,000’s worth of treatment later, he tested negative and was put on medicine. The doc told us you can’t be sure how much heart damage has been done and to keep him as quiet as possible for several months. Hah. He has been lively and active and seems very healthy. The vet guessed he was about two, so I arbitrarily set today as his birthday.

I’ve had some sweet and wonderful dogs in my life, but he’s the best:

  • He was perfectly house-trained.
  • He rarely barks.
  • He loves to play and be around other dogs.
  • When I take Chloe to school and pick her up, kids gather around him and pet him and he’s always calm and friendly.
  • He is affectionate and wonderful company. He loves visitors (he’s a terrible watchdog!) but if the noise level gets too much he retreats into a bedroom.
  • Because of him I get plenty of exercise (One day I had 16,000 steps on my phone!), and find dog-walking to be my meditation time.
  • He’s a warm nap companion, but when it’s both of us in bed he sleeps under the bed. (When Gary’s away he sleeps in the bed.)

Gary was out of town when I agreed to take Junior; when he came home I had an “oops” moment when I had to tell him it was a done deal. He was a little taken aback, but now he loves to play frisbee with Junior, and you ought to hear him cooing and baby-talking and belly-stroking. He even does clean-up!

Happy birthday to my sweet boy. Best doggie ever.



Who couldn’t love that sweet face?





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.

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