Friday, July 30, 2010

The New White House Security

Before I begin this post, I have to say that I had way too much fun coming up with titles for the post. Rather than just stick with one, I've decided to incorporate all of them throughout.

Sure, a lot of people loved seeing an animated viking "train" a fictional dragon. But have you ever seen someone train a fully loaded skunk? I've accidentally discovered how easy it is to do. First, it helps to live next to a field (if you can call the giant weed patch next to us a field). Then, just leave food in bowls for your outdoor cats, and eventually you'll have nightly visitors.

Kent heard one chowing down at 2:00 a.m. under our balcony a few weeks ago. Then on Tuesday night, I walked home at 10:00 p.m. and came within a couple yards of a white striped "cat" on our front porch before I realized what it was. I slowly backed away with it eying me, and made a safe escape. Tonight, we got another visitor on the deck. #1 and I watched it amble around, under tables and benches, barely taking notice of Brownie the cat lying and watching from literally a foot away. Now I'm wondering if there is

TREASON WITHIN THE WHITE HOUSE. (Okay, that title is a little weak; but what do you expect this late at night?) MY CONSPIRACY THEORY is that Brownie alerted the neighborhood skunks to the free food at the White House. All you have to do is lay around all day and the people deliver food and water for free. Maybe I'm seeing THE WELFARE SYSTEM IN ACTION on my own front porch. I haven't yet figured out what Brownie gets out of the deal. Maybe he's worked out some sort of protection contract with the local skunk mafia.

That brings me back to my original title. Upon my discovery Tuesday night, I started wracking my brain for creative ideas to rid ourselves of these little guys. My memory kept coming back to this hilarious post by my friend Charlotte, which I am using without her permission, but I'm pretty sure she won't mind. (Seriously, when you finish reading my post, click over to hers. Funny stuff.) As I thought about it--again, late at night--I wondered if I truly wanted to get rid of the skunk/s. I mean, if they're roaming around my yard all night, that seems like a pretty cheap security system, doesn't it? Some intruders might risk dealing with yapping dogs, but I don't think anyone would be dumb enough to cross a skunk.

Wednesday morning I talked some sense into myself and we stopped leaving the cat food out all night. Our two resident welfare recipients were pretty put out and meowed at us the following morning until we returned their bowls. The skunks are still visiting, but I hope they move on soon. On those nights that the kitchen trash must be emptied before bed, I am simply petrified of walking to the big trash can. It's almost like being in a suspense film: walking quietly and slowly so I don't startle "anyone" while my instincts (ha!) tell me to just run and get it over with. Maybe I should start tossing bags of cat food into the field to encourage them away. THIS SITUATION REALLY STINKS.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Neighborhood Kids

One of the things I love about my neighborhood is all the great kids. With my kids--and their friends--getting older, I really enjoy having lots of children playing at our house. Honestly, once I was outnumbered by my own kids, adding a dozen more to the day didn't make a big difference. (I don't usually have that many here at one time, although it's happened on occasion.)

My own children like to play elaborate games of House or School or City. Recently, they divided themselves and their friends into various members of the community: librarian, storekeeper, postal carrier, pet store owner, parents, etc. All the "business owners" set up shop around my house and then they all frequented each other's businesses. #1's version of Wal-Mart in the front room was very creative. However I didn't appreciate losing some of my actual groceries when they cleaned it up. A month later we found my strawberry jam and whey protein stuffed behind #4's bed.

The kids also have fun playing outside. #5 and his friends like to play in the dirt, so they were happy when I outfitted them with trowels and hand rakes and they dug a nice hole for a tomatillo plant. Running through sprinklers and riding bikes are also favorite activities. Brownie the Cat likes

the neighbors who come to brush him or read to him. (I love this picture of #3's friend who found a picture book about a cat and decided Brownie wanted to hear the story.)

Part of what I love about having all these kids around so often is that I know where my own children are and what they are up to. It's not much extra work for me because they all entertain each other, and everyone is

good about cleaning up and going home when I tell them it's time. Truly though, I really enjoy most of the neighbor kids for their own personalities. I have fun being silly with them and I hope they will always feel comfortable in my home and want to hang around through their teenage years.

From what I've seen, the teens in our neighborhood are a tightly knit group that is welcoming to newcomers. They are out in small groups almost every night playing night games. My own kids talk about when they will be old enough to join in. Lucky for me, I already am.

Last night I met with my piano-playing friends to figure out some duets we can play together. When I arrived, one mom was on the phone with her teenage son who was trying to buy ammo for his Airsoft gun. He was frustrated that the store would sell him the gun because he's over 16 but not the ammunition because he's under 18. He eventually returned to his house and complained about it while the four of us moms listened. Then he and his friends decided to abandon their planned Airsoft war and start a game of Capture the Flag.

I pointed out that we moms are all old enough to buy the ammo, and one other mom jumped on that idea. We all drove to Wal-Mart and bought the Airsoft pellets (without being carded), and then "delivered" the ammo to the boys.

When we found them, we yelled, "Hey boys! Guess who IS old enough to buy ammo!" The whole group of boys just stood there staring at us. I was kind of disappointed at their lame reaction. We drove past and then flipped a U-turn. When they saw the minivan turn around with the moms waving the boys' own Airsoft pistols (and one rubberband gun), these boys took off for cover. Yes! That's the reaction we wanted. We hopped out of the van and cornered them in the back yard. After a few minutes, we called a truce as they told us about their confusion at figuring out who was coming for them until two of the boys recognized it as their family's van being driven by their own mom. It was great! We handed over the containers of pellets, which they happily agreed to trade for lawn work. Then we ladies hopped back in the van, reminded them that curfew ended in three minutes, and took off.

It's nice to know I'm not too old to play with the neighbor kids.

P.S. Today as I read about Airsoft laws, I realize we shouldn't have been brandishing these toy weapons in public--even late at night--because they look real. I can see how Airsoft would be fun to play on a course with everyone wearing goggles, but I do not encourage anyone to play with these guns in a neighborhood. Water fights and Capture the Flag are just as fun and much safer.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Celebrating the Fourth

(This is one of those posts for posterity. Feel free to skim through the details and just view the slideshow if you like.)

I really loved our extended weekend holiday, which was perfected by three days of cool summer weather. This year, the temperatures invited us outside instead of chasing us to indoor air conditioning.

This perfect weekend began Friday evening as Kent and I celebrated our anniversary a day early. Our friend, Diana, loaned us a picnic basket, and following an evening movie, we packed a dinner of rotisserie chicken, bread and cheese, Amano chocolate, raw veggies from our garden, etc. We found a dimly lit knoll at a local park and enjoyed our late dinner as the stars emerged. We had an hour to reminisce over the past 17 years of courtship and marriage--we've now known each other for half our lives!--before a group of young adults interrupted our solitude with a game of paintball. So goes living in a college town.

We spent all of Saturday outside working in the yard, with little breaks for a bike ride and walk on the river trail. In the evening, we went to our friends, the Millers', yard for their neighborhood block party where the kids competed in slow bicycle races and a sidewalk art contest. Kent and I played bocce and rode a tandem bicycle, both for the first time. When night fell, the teenagers set off grocery-store fireworks until we all turned our chairs to watch the Stadium of Fire explosions a couple miles away. I have fond childhood memories of gathering with neighbors to eat and set off fireworks, so I am glad to have this same tradition for my kids--and all I have to do is show up with a salad and brownies!

Following Church and dinner on Sunday, I invited my children to watch the rebroadcast of the Freedom Festival's Patriotic Service. The program was different than those of past years. It involved a lot fewer speeches and a lot more music and singing, as well as a guest soldier who told his story of being one of only a few to survive an ambush in Afghanistan. I liked the service enough that next year I may even attend it in person.

Our holiday tradition changed this year. For the first time in 15 years, none of us adults felt like going to the Grand Parade. Instead, I went for a morning bike ride and Kent and #1 set up flags around the neighborhood with the Young Women. #5 somehow also ended up along for the ride and was very happy to get a stick of gum from the driver of the truck he rode with. My parents dropped in for a quick visit as we packed the van to meet for a picnic with Kent's parents. I enjoyed the leisurely morning so much that I couldn't imagine how we got out the door by 8 a.m. every other year for the parade.

In breaking with tradition, we decided to check out what Orem City offered at the Scera Park. The crowds at noon were small (everyone was still milling around Provo after the parade), so we found a lovely picnic area and strolled as we liked through the displays. The men stayed behind to rest and play cards while Grammy and I took the kids to an outdoor pageant about our country and others gaining freedom. At the pageant's conclusion, the children shook hands with and thanked a current Airman and Marine who are recently home from deployment. We then visited the Days of 1607 Colonial Village. #4 helped stoke the blacksmith's fire. The village cooper helped the seven of us make a wooden bucket. (We couldn't figure it out on our own, and I'm still not sure how he did it by himself.) The local doctor showed us his tourniquet and saw for taking off limbs. #3 and I learned about using canons in warfare, which is truly impressive stuff! (It took a crew of 12 men to get off four canon shots per minute.) #s 1 and 2 learned to tat, and the four youngest were rewarded with lemon drops after sitting through a lesson at school. The festivities also include a tour through Ellis Island and taking the test and oath of citizenship, but that experience will have to wait for next year as the men were restless to leave the park before we finished with the village.

We let the children change into swimsuits and headed to one of our favorite magical places up the canyon. It is a little neighborhood in Pappy and Grammy's ward called Springdell. There, the houses sit in a horseshoe around a pond and playground and the neighbors gather in their front yards to chat with whomever is strolling past. Our friends, the Bratts, have invited us to their home there a few times, but they were out of town for the holiday. I had forgotten that some other friends we had met on our December Mexico work project, the Pattens, also live there. They invited us to sit and indulge in homemade ice cream and conversation with them. The kids splashed around in the ice-cold pond for two hours until the whole neighborhood seemed to sense it was bedtime and all the visitors packed up to return home.

It is weekends like these that I live for: having alone time with my husband, visiting with extended family, worshiping with my ward family, and dropping by to chat with friends. I love the summertime, and I love my home in this grand country.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Look What #5 Can Do!

In addition to collecting stray and abandoned pets, our porch collects old, broken bicycles. All last summer our children bugged us to fix their bikes, and Kent and I managed to procrastinate the chore. A couple weeks ago, Kent pointed out that we are robbing them of one of the joys of childhood and we should cough up the money and make sure they each have a working bicycle.

Some friends of ours teach their children bike maintenance, and the kids make money fixing neighborhood bikes. They hauled our bike collection over to their garage and made some minor repairs. Surprisingly, only one of the bicycles was not worth fixing. I can strip it for parts, though. The repairs cost less than half what I thought they would, which was pleasant news (though it adds to my procrastination guilt).

Tuesday morning we had four functioning bicycles waiting for my kids to ride. Since my kids' legs have grown considerably longer than the last time they could ride these bikes, I suggested that #1 help everyone figure out which bike now fits whom...and I went back to my gardening. (Yes, in years past I've prioritized my gardening hobby over fulfilling a basic element of their happy childhood. But I've repented!) Twenty minutes later, I looked up to see #5 riding down the sidewalk!

Last year he had a toddler bike with training wheels--one where the pedals are part of the axle of the front wheel. Other than that, he's had no bicycle training. Needless to say, I was impressed. #1 would balance the bike while #5 climbed on, and then she ran to get him started. Wednesday evening I spent some time with him at the church lot teaching him to stop without crashing to the ground, and to start on his own. The church's long, straight sidewalk bordered by grass on either side, and the big, empty parking lot provide the perfect arena for learning to ride a two-wheeler. Now #5 is independent on the bike, and is as proud of himself as I am of him.

Explanatory note: For those of you who clicked on a photo to enlarge it and noticed that #5's bike is pink, I ask, "What do you expect four older sisters to hand down to their only brother?" At least he's riding in his Batman pajamas instead of a princess dress! I did buy some black spray paint to make his bike more masculine. If you are concerned about my procrastinating habits affecting my little guy's manhood, feel free to come over and complete the painting project any time.