One evening last week, my son, Jimmy, and I were playing Scrabble in the family room. “Do you hear that?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Do you think it’s---“

“Sounds like it,” he said. 

The scratching noise on the other side of the basement door continued while we finished our game. The door is on a wall next to our kitchen and is the only way in and out of our concrete basement. When I finally eased it open a crack, I screamed and quickly closed it.  A skunk was sitting on the top step.

It wasn’t the first time we’d had skunk in our basement. Five years earlier, we’d had three of them down there. Our crawl space ends with a six foot drop to the floor, and three skunk/lemming hybrids had walked right off the edge only to find that they couldn’t get back. They, too, had scratched on the door, scarring it with their claws.

Dan, the critter man, had come and boldly gone where none of us dared go to set a trap with a tranquilizer hidden in a ball of food. When he’d returned the next day, we got the good news/bad news report. The good news was, he wouldn't have to carry a skunk in a cage through my home. The bad news was, they were all still loose in our basement.

I don’t know whose brainstorm it was, but finally a plank was positioned so they could walk from the basement to the crawl space and out of our lives. We could do the plank thing again as soon as the skunk left the steps, but before that could happen, things took a nasty turn.  

I was getting ready for church around 9:00 last Sunday morning when I smelled skunk. It was intense and got worse fast. Then, Jim called me into his room and asked if I smelled the other foul odor in the air. It was a different bad, but too mixed with skunk to identify. And, oh yeah, had I heard the commotion in the attic over his bedroom the night before? He described thumping and clawing and screeching noises that went on for several minutes. I hadn’t heard a thing from my upstairs bedroom.

Church was out of the question since we smelled like skunk, so we stayed home to air out the house, and thank goodness we did because it wasn’t long before Jimmy called me back to his room to show me the blood that was dripping from his tongue and groove ceiling.  Forget loosening,, heart strings were snapping with each gagging breath I took..

I called Dan, the critter man, and told him what was happening. He joked that even Steven King wouldn’t want any part of this, but quickly came to our rescue. He searched the basement, but couldn’t find skunk anywhere and reasoned it must have gone from the top step to a nearby beam and back to the crawl space.

But he’d found something else worth mentioning. The skunk hadn’t been able to go to the basement floor because the sump pump wasn’t working and there was about two feet of water down there. Additionally, it was rigged with no ground wire and in his opinion, was an electrocution and fire hazard. Swell. 

He was aggravated that none of the measures he had recommended the last time we had skunks had been applied. Things like attaching a wire mesh barricade so nothing could fall into the basement again. Or properly screening crawl space access so nothing could get under the house. I told him I would have seen to it if he’d given me the instructions and assured him that I’d see to it now.

Once he’d removed the plywood that serves as a door to our attic, we all knew where the putrid odor was coming from. Something had died up there and he could see it wedged in a space about six inches high between the attic floor and downstairs ceiling. 

He grabbed a Skilsaw from his truck and he and Jimmy went back into the attic. They would have to cut away wood to reach the dead critter. When my son emerged, he was carrying a plastic trash bag with a skunk in it. Somehow, an animal not known for its climbing prowess had made its way from the basement to the attic and into a six inch space where it had impaled itself on a nail or screw and writhed to death on the ceiling above my son’s room. Heroically, the next day Jimmy went back into the attic with a bucket of bleach water and a brush and scrubbed what was left of the skunk from the boards.

Mild weather has allowed us to air out the house these last few days, and as I write this, an ozone generator in my son’s room and another in the attic, are doing their best to rid us of two of the most noxious odors on earth.  

It’s still possible that the judge will award me this property, but no matter. I may choose to go even if I can stay. One of my sons and his wife and children are here, but I have children and grandchildren in Texas whom I love and miss. One of my daughters is headed to New Hampshire in the fall, and the other will be in the Portland area. Jimmy’s not sure what he’ll do next, and I’m still raising a cat and dog (though I refuse to homeschool them).  

While I was fretting over leaving here, I told my three youngest that I felt like I needed to stay so they had a home base until they were finished with college. One of my daughter’s answered, “Don’t worry, Mom. Wherever you are is where our home base will be.”

Those are the heart strings that matter. 

 
 
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No house is without its problems, but a century old house has a century's worth of problems. As soon as my STBEx left, I began to realize how poorly maintained our property was. Add to that the normal wear and tear of time and use, and my children and I were bombarded with challenges. 

First to act up was our dishwasher. Isn't the water supposed to stay inside the door? The kitchen sink leaked, the disposal ground to a halt,  and the bathroom fan stopped working. Okay. Bad timing, but nothing out of the ordinary. Right? Then, an irrigation faucet broke and we had to cap a geyser. I felt a heart string loosen.. I love my home, but…

Winter rains came and washed a different set of problems our way. The not-so-handyman we’d hired to finish trimming the guest house had not properly sealed the two steps that led to the bathroom,  and muddy water flowed down the sloped ground, under the steps, across the bathroom floor, and into the garage. Another heart string loosened. I love my home, but, but…

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Hoping to warm our way through winter as inexpensively as possible, I bought two cords of wood, turned down the furnace, and fired up the wood stove. All was warm and well until the afternoon a cloud of smoke filled our home and coated everything with soot. The chimney sweep I hired said the wire cap at the top of the chimney was clogged and the whole works hadn't been properly cleaned in quite a while. I’m pretty sure that hadn’t been part of my job description in the past, but I added it to my new and growing list of chores.  

Spring showers brought more seeping water, and another heart string loosened. I love my home, but, but, but…

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Summertime equaled sunshine and baseball and swimming pool woes. Our pump quit working, but my daughters coaxed it back to life. The wood deck had long needed attention,, so we repaired loose and broken boards as best we could with my lady hammer and screwdrivers. 

As Autumn follows summer, winter, too, will come, and winter 2013-14 brought record breaking cold. Heartless, bitter temperatures froze and cracked our well pump and burst several pipes. We were ten days without running water.  
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The day after our pipes were fixed, our 27 year old furnace died , and we dressed in layers and kept a round the clock wood stove vigil for 45 days. Installation of a new furnace required removing the attic door and cutting a larger opening. A promised new door never came, and a piece of plywood remains.. Next day, the wallpaper on our downstairs bathroom ceiling filled to bursting with water. Turns out, the furnace guys had jostled the condensation duct causing accumulated water to seep from the attic to the bathroom ceiling below. I was starting to feel picked on..  

Again, heavy rains washed muddy water down the slope, through the guest house bathroom, and into the garage. According to my STBEx,  the sump pump outlet had long had a habit of shorting out during the wet season. Gee, thanks for the better-late-than-never-I-suppose heads up.  Another, and even another heart string loosened. I love my home, but, but, but, but...

Ceiling lights and fans stopped working, and a window pane never more than barely installed fell out and broke. The board we covered it with matches the pane where a snowball left a perfectly round hole. And for good measure, our washer and dryer gave out within a month of each other.

Okay, God, I see where you're going with this , but, but, but, but...  I still love my home.  

And then...


 




 
 
I love my home sweet home - a turn of the century Queen Anne farmhouse built on three gently sloping acres. Its front porch is gateway to a house that grew willy-nilly over the decades, which sort of explains why my daughters can only access their bedroom through the main downstairs bath. Built-ins and wood floors and french doors with skeleton keys are reminders of an era past..
Halfway up the drive, a one room guest house is tacked on to the back end of the garage, and across the way, over the fence, and through the grass, a playhouse with front porch and a mailbox of its own is tucked under a tree. My three youngest children made it their own for the years that such things mattered.
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The original barn still stands, home to a barn owl who trades lodging in the second story hay loft for all the rodents it can eat. A smaller structure squats in the shadow of the barn - part chicken coop, part garden shed, and so ‘primitive’ that others would have bulldozed it if I hadn’t stood my ground. 

To the south, a neighbor's vineyard borders our property, and I often sit in the gazebo next to our pool and gaze across rows and rows of grape vines to the verdant hills beyond. I do so love this place.

But, the path from love to covet can be a short one, so when my STBEx filed for divorce 2 years, 10 months, and some days ago, I knew what had to be done. I hadn't endured thirty difficult and lonely years for the sake of the people I love only to see it end by fighting over real estate. So, I loosened the first of many heart strings that bind me to my home and offered to sell it as part of our settlement. I included it in my first proposal, as well as my last, offered at our trial on January 16, 2015. We are still awaiting the judge’s ruling.

 I've spent many a day and night wondering how God would prepare me to leave my home, but He finally, surely has, and like all of His plans, it’s a one-of-a-kind humdinger.

Here's how it began…    




 
 
And why take ye thought for raiment?  Consider the lilies of the field, 
they toil not; neither do they spin: 
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, 
and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, 
O ye of little faith?

Matthew  6:28-30 KJV
      Triplets. Three times the blessings; three times the needs. 
     My son, the only boy of the set, had hand-me-downs galore from his four older brothers and didn't mind a bit wearing what had survived their tortures. 
     But for my daughters, there were no saved boxes of girly fashions for even one of them, let alone two.  They had received some new clothes for Christmas, but my list of their needs outnumbered our resources: coats, shoes, tights, pants, shirts, nighties, and dresses.. I could whittle away at it - shop the sales, welcome friends'  hand-me-downs, and hit the thrift stores, but it would still be a stretch.  
     Then, came The Moment. You know, the one that illuminates the past and defines the future?  It struck like a typhoon, knocking me off my feet and leaving me gasping for breath and clawing for daylight. It was early January of the year 1999, and I had discovered my husband's betrayal that would compromise our future financial life and unravel, irrevocably, my already precarious sense of security. 
     As a school-my-own-children, stay-at-home mom with a high school education and seven kids ranging in age from seventeen to three, I was devastated. Disbelief, hurt, anger, fear, helplessness, defeat, each took their turn wracking my world. 
     Because the big picture was just too big to comprehend even if I had been allowed details, I focused on the minutiae of the life I did know - my list. How could I afford these things now when everything had changed? Where would the money come from? Who could I ask for help? I had never shared the true state of my marriage with anyone. How could I start with this information? 
     I spent the following dark hours pacing and fretting, and finally, near dawn,  fell asleep on the couch. 
     The house was still, no one had yet risen when a gentle tapping on the door roused me. I opened it to find a woman I only vaguely recognized standing on my porch with two giant plastic trash bags, one in each hand. 
     "I hope I didn't wake you," she said, almost in a whisper.  "I don't know if you remember me, but our boys were on the same baseball team last season. I was sorting through my daughter's clothes last night and for some reason I thought of you and wondered if your girls could use these things."
     In my dazed and groggy state, I took them from her, thanked her, and watched her drive away. I couldn't remember her name (Linda, maybe?) and I had no idea how she knew where I lived.
     I did remember visiting with her one afternoon in the stands. She and her husband had been blessed with one son, and though they had wanted more children, she hadn't become pregnant for many years. Then, just as their boy had reached adolescence, they'd been shocked to learn that they would be having another baby  - a girl, one year older than my triplets. She had told me how much she loved having a daughter and was a little embarrassed to admit that she'd spoiled her with more clothes than any one little girl could ever wear.
     One piece at a time, I took those clothes from the bags, realizing with growing amazement that each was an item on my list. Several pairs of hardly worn shoes, at least a dozen pair of tights, sweaters and jackets and coats, pants and tops, nighties and dresses, so many dresses. Everything in pristine condition. Everything two little girls could want or need.
      I sat on the floor surrounded by a near-stranger's generosity and wept hot,roiling tears of fear and relief. In one moment, I had learned that I had no champion on this earth. In another, God had reminded me that even in my peril, He would provide. 
     My list had been His list, too.
 
         
 
 
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My Gramma, my sisters, and 4 year old me, smiling in the background
     I have been on a quest.  It has taken me down countless grocery store aisles, through scores of recipe books, and wandering the faintest lanes of my memory as I've searched for the perfect bowl of oatmeal.
     It has taken much longer than I ever imagined, but I've learned this along the way: no sticky globs of oats will do, and spare me broth without hearty substance. Those can never compare to my Gramma's gift of spinning simple ingredients into silken perfection.     
     She died the year I turned twelve, but like her oatmeal, my memories of her are warm and sweet and seasoned with a dash of saltiness.   

     Her kind words and  gentle touch I well remember. “Honey, did you get enough to eat?” she would ask as she softly brushed her fingers across my hair. 
     Add to that a whispered tale of the time she wrestled another woman to the ground defending the honor of one of her eight children, and that was my Gramma.   
     For years, I hoped that if I used the right brand of oats, I could duplicate her results - but no. 

     If I followed the right directions, I would surely find success – but again, no. 
     If I tried with all my might to be like her, perhaps I could make her oatmeal – but even then, no.  
     All the while, as I was persevering through countless attempts and as many failures, my heart was slowly grasping the secret that would satisfy my memory; I loved my Gramma and so I loved her oatmeal. Finally, I understood that it was never about the way she made it, but that  she made it, and served it to me with a piece of nearly burnt toast and a loving presence that transformed her humble offering into a feast for a little girl’s heart.  
     I made a bowl of oatmeal this morning. I don't know if it was perfect.  I was thinking of my Gramma and all I could taste was the love. 
 
 
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     Patti always signs off with 'Age is just a number.'
     And she's right. The number that matters to me when I think of her is 46 years of friendship. I met Patti in junior high, and unlike other fleeting relationships, ours has endured through high school and beyond. Blonde and petite, she has always been a force - full of energy, fun, and an unwavering sweet spirit.    
     She was my ride pretty much everywhere during our teen years, and though I don't remember ever offering her gas money (so sorry about that Patti) or remember her asking for it, I could never forget her cars. 

      There was the little white Nova with rubber water-bumpers on the front and back that were designed to absorb impact - look out Larch Mountain, here she comes! 
     Her next car was a very yellow convertible that had been used to ferry Portland royalty in our Rose Festival Parade. Petite as she was, she'd have to push the seat up as far as it could go just to reach the pedals, and even then it would've been a stretch without the sky-high wedgies she wore. She'd put the top down, and we'd Rose-Festival wave at our imagined admirers on Halsey Street which ran straight through our stomping grounds and right by the high school. 
     Next, came the shiny red convertible in cherry condition when she bought it, but not so much when she was finished with it. In one memorable car after another, she drove us through the eight-track tape years, taking us everywhere we wanted to go and plenty of places we shouldn't have gone. - Rock and roll music to the world! - and never mind 'ten years after' - forty years after, I remember every day of it.   
     Our senior year, we worked together at a dry cleaners. Most nights we were left to blow the boiler down, count the till, and lock up shop, but before we did any of that, one of us would walk across the parking lot and fetch beans and broken shells from Taco Bell, leaving me with an affection for that combo to this day. 
     She was my first roommate after graduation and then again a few years later. After that, our lives diverged, her's going one way, mine going another. Both of us went on to make our own questionable decisions and to suffer the consequences, each in our own way, but during those years that we were weaving in and out of each other's lives, it was always her who reached out to me, making sure I knew our connection was still there, that she was thinking of me.
     With that same spirit, she has nurtured her family, having been blessed with the man of her dreams, children, and grandchildren.  
     Over the years, she has sent me pictures of her yard in its full blooming glory. She has a green thumb, tending her flowers like she tends her friendships - faithfully, purposefully, lovingly. 
     I love you, Patti. Thank you for the years of care you have given me.
   

 
 
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I'm so pleased to have an article featured in the Better After 50 e-magazine. It's dedicated to all my magpie friends.

http://betterafter50.com/2014/02/gray-hair-wine-chocolate-and-friends/
 

 
 
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     My oldest son, Brent, and his South Texas Jazz Trio will be playing at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, January 29. 
     I won't be there to hear him, but he has given me music to last a lifetime. Scales, and scales, and more scales; Chopsticks and Little Brown Jug; Christmas carols and church hymns; etudes, sonatas, and concertos mastered by hours 'sitting on a piano bench.'
     The black Kawai that he pounded the daylights out of for years, breaking so many strings that the company finally sent him a complete replacement set and told him not to contact them again, still sits in my home, mostly quiet now, reminding me of Zechariah 4:10 -

                    "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord                                                         rejoices to see the work begin..."                                        

     I will be praying for Brent and his wife, Jessica, as they travel from San Antonio to New York today and for a clear memory, sure and flying fingers, and tons of joy as he and his band wow Carnegie Hall on Wednesday evening.


http://southtexasjazz.com

       



 
 
     Ooh baby, it's cold outside! The temperature fell on Thursday night and so did the snow, blanketing our world outside with millions, billions, even trillions of one of a kind (so they say) snowflakes.  My three 18 year olds pulled out their ski clothes, bundled up, and along with several of their friends, entered the winter wonderland right outside our door. Until the sun set and even a few minutes longer, they sledded, built snow men, snow ladies, snow hockey players, and even snow polar bears. Reveling in the fun of it all, they tracked slush in and out and back into my house and left piles of damp clothing on my wood floors. Not finished yet, they struck out the next morning with renewed vigor to enjoy a freshly fallen layer of snow. 
     But, nothing being purely one thing or another, that cold-enough-to-snow weather turned dastardly, and sometime in the wee hours between Saturday and Sunday as the temperature plummeted to a measly 4 degrees, our pipes froze and the housing of our well pump cracked, leaving us without water. 
     Yes siree, 10 days without running water. But, thanks to the kindness of family and friends, we were able to shower every few days and to lug home bottles of water for drinking and brushing our teeth. Paper plates, pizzas, and pot pies kept us fed, if not satisfied, and we even managed to keep our Christmas tree from dying of thirst. Still, our spirits waned as the days wore on; the reality of 4 adults, 2 toilets, and an assortment of other numbers, was, well, you do the icky math.
     Hallelujah! One week before Christmas, the plumber arrived and fixed 4 burst pipes, restoring our water. That night, we bathed, we showered, we ran the dishwasher, washed the clothes, and gratefully used water in all the ways we had before taken for granted.
     Then, 24 hours later, it was gone, gushing from some busted pipe we couldn't see. 
     Now, we wait for our plumber with more anticipation than children wait for Santa Claus, hopeful that on Monday, 2 days before Christmas, we'll have the early gift of water.

 

KarenGrace Reflections of an Invisible Woman