The Dipstick…

I kept track, glancing at the sticker stuck on the inside of my windshield every once in a while. The date on the sticker read 6-09-20. Don’t know why I’m secretly pleased when I get past 6-09-20 and my time is not up yet, like it’s a contest. It’s not. Still it pleases me nonetheless.

Had it not been for COVID this winter/spring/summer/fall (geesh) the Jeep would not have made it to 6-09-20. Lucky to make it to 5-1-20 because we would have tacked on a couple thousand miles with a trip to northwest Iowa in mid-April. Hubs brother Jimmy was diagnosed with acute leukemia and given days to live. We certainly would have driven to see him before he passed away, plus attend the funeral and visit with the family. (It’s odd-what a difference it makes when you don’t participate in the visitation/funeral. You’re left hanging without closure. Even more odd, knowing this, I want no service for myself. Maybe denying others closure? Don’t know or understand that either).

Runs quite a bit better with the right amount of oil…

There were federal mandates about attending funerals. Basically the whole country was shut down. Who knows how many restaurants, gas stations, motels remained open? Plus we’re at that ‘vulnerable age’ and told to stay home at all costs. So the days ticked by with the Jeep tucked in the garage and rarely driven. I went to the grocery store about once a week, which felt like part vacation, part-if I leave my house I’m gonna die.

Finally, by September, 3 months later than usual, the Jeep was due for a oil change. Made an appointment at my dealership which is about 15 miles away. I grabbed my book and headed to Chelsea.

Drove through a service door, turned the car off and waited for the tech (Matt) to get my information. “What ‘cha in for?” (5 to 10 which I didn’t voice out loud) “I made an appointment to have my oil changed and my tires rotated. One of my tires has an issue. The right rear has a slow leak and my husband adds air every couple weeks, especially if the Jeep sits for a few days.” (Pandemic) “Ok, that’s going take some time, maybe an extra hour. You gonna wait or are you leaving it?” “I brought my book, I’ll just wait.”

I wander through the door to the customer waiting room, watch 3 minutes of those twin brothers who remodel. Lost interest and turned to my real time filler, John Sanford. (Only because I’m done with my Jack Reacher series. I’m so homesick for Jack. I feel like he’s my best bud who just moved across the country-without me. More on Jack later). After 90 minutes, Matt says my car is done. I have a coupon for a discount 4 pack of oil changes I slap on the counter. “Well this is gonna cost you more because the Jeep uses a semi-synthetic oil, and 6 quarts instead of 5.” “Umm, I got the last packet of 4 without any additional cost. What’s up with that?” He didn’t even try to explain his reasoning. Just tallied up my charges for the day. Ka-ching.

Gave me a copy of the service sheet to sign and hands me my keys. I walk out to the Jeep which is still dripping water from their complimentary wash. Nice. Turn the key and the ‘low tire’ warning starts flashing. Shut the Jeep down, walk back into the service department where Matt is sitting in the back office but the door is open. “Hey, my low tire warning light is on again.” “Don’t worry about it. After you drive a few miles, it will reset. Nothing to be alarmed about.” “Ok but it wasn’t on when I drove in today.”

Walk back to the Jeep, start it and realize it’s after 2 o’clock and I haven’t eaten today. (No I’m not one of those crazy people who say, oh I just forgot to eat. Trust me, I never forget to eat, but the car dealership is on a very busy road. Either I walk to a Big Boy (without sidewalks on uneven surfaces which is like expecting/accepting I’m gonna fall) or play ‘frogger’ trying to get to McDonald’s or Coney Island across the road. So I didn’t eat while I waited and waited for the car.

I go through the drive through, order, pay, get my McDouble and park the car and eat. Call the Hubs and let him know I’ll be home shortly. Start the car and listen to the low tire warning again. Drive a half mile to the stoplight, take a right and ease on to 94 west. As I merge, doing about 60, two more warning lights pop on. My red battery light and a big gold A with a circle around it. (This is a default button which turns your engine off when you are stopped/idling at a light. I detest it and disengage it every time I start the car. I learned to drive during the time where cars stalled frequently from rough idling, popped clutch, you name it. This gas saving device just conjures up bad memories for me).

About a mile ahead is an exit which goes right back to Chelsea and the dealership. So far I’ve driven about 4 miles since the oil change. I limp into town and about 2 blocks from the service door when I lose my power steering. (Another memory of some of the older cars from the 50’s I drove as a kid where turning the wheel took some effort). I wait for the automatic door to raise and smoke is pouring out beneath the hood. Stinks to high heaven. I turn it off and Matt-my dude lumbers up. I hand him the keys with, “when I arrived for a simple oil change and tire rotation my Jeep was running great with 26,000 miles. Now I have 3 warning lights, no power steering and it’s billowing smoke. Fix it.”

Matt holding the tiny part necessary for the Jeep to run…

Forty five minutes later he brings me a small black circular (broken) wire thing and says, “this is an O-ring on the bottom of your new oil filter. It’s not supposed to be broken. Oil was leaking out all over your engine.” “I want a picture of that O-ring to send to my husband.” He obliges. He stands there for a couple minutes then says, “it’s gonna take awhile to check everything out and make sure there’s no damage. I’m gonna give you a Jeep Wrangler for the weekend while we work on the Cherokee. Call us on Monday. And I’m reimbursing your payment for the oil change. It’s free. So you still have 4 left on your plan.”

Whoopee.

Jeep Wrangler’s are not for great grandmas. They’re high, huge, no room inside and the door feels like it’s made from tin. Or maybe aluminum foil. I didn’t dare to park in the garage for fear it was too big with the truck beside it. We drove to get an ice cream cone, otherwise it sat in the driveway for the duration of the weekend until Monday when I got word my Jeep was ready.

Not my cup of tea, but then I’m not 35…

Matt assured me the Jeep was fine and still had 3 quarts of oil in it when I brought it back. They washed the engine numerous times with degreaser and taken it out for several test drives over the weekend. Hands me the keys and says, “you’re good to go. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Umm, there’s no paperwork?” “Ah, no, you want something?” “Yes I do.” Brings out a service sheet that says customer brought in a car with steering issues and smoking. “No, this isn’t going to work. I need documentation stating a brand new oil filter failed and leaked 3 quarts of oil out, interrupting my power steering after I’d driven it 5 miles. Total.” “Well that’s gonna take me awhile.” “Fine, I’ll wait.”

What’s the big deal? Isn’t the broken O-ring protecting the dealer because it was a faulty part? (Actually Hubs thinks the oil change guy just tightened it too far). With a second service sheet explanation in my hand a half hour later I start the Jeep and drive away. Sounds good, doesn’t smell or smoke and I notice the dealership has tacked on about 50 miles since I dropped it off the second time. Doubt if anyone was carousing around but merely testing it after degreasing, driving, rinse and repeat on Saturday and Monday.

We went out for supper for our anniversary a day late and drove to Lansing and back (maybe 75 miles cause I needed a sports store for a pair of New Balance shoes). Jeep’s running great (so far) and I’m hoping no permanent damage was done. But feel at least I’ve got the documentation needed if things with the Jeep go haywire that’s it’s not my fault. Crazy but sometimes it’s the simplest things…

Looking for Recommendations…

We’ve all seen them on our newsfeed. Someone moved into a new house and needs a local plumber or electrician. One friend started off with, “my hot flashes are killing me. Actually killing me.” I need recommendations for sheets that are literally forming ice. (Hahaha, I remember those days mostly because I’ve been cold my whole life except during menopause which lasted a long miserable decade).

Beautiful maple but will soon be bare for 6 long months..

But recommendations and opinions (except on my blog, love the comments. The comments are consistently better than what I write) are not something I’ve ever asked from a whole group of people/strangers before. I guess I could have just blipped out 2 sentences on Facebook and called it good, but that’s no fun.

First day of fall and already I’m dreading what comes next. It’s not like the changing seasons make a huge difference in my life. I’m a homebody. I love being home which is why the 6 month (so far) Covid lockdown in our state hasn’t impacted my life very much. Weather permitting I get outside every day to walk for an hour. That alone helps my mood, my outlook, my overall health and peace of mind. But the key words here are “weather permitting.” Another 60 days and my outside activities will be seriously curbed for months. Ugh. Just the thought causes my smile to droop the other way.

Never been a lover of winter. Freezing temps, wind and snow, it’s all so unappealing. Winter in Michigan lasts forever. One of the real downers is how many cloudy days we get. Sometimes days and days in a row. Not as bad as winter in northwest Iowa where I grew up but it lasts longer here. Iowa is colder with more wind, (but also gets much more sunshine though it may be 19 below) Michigan might win on the snowfall totals. Whatever. I truly detest it. Not kidding.

Why do I live where this is the norm for months every year? Ugh…

So Hubs and I are mulling over leaving before the worst weather Michigan has to offer hits for months without ceasing. Which is from November through April. Again not too much of a stretch. Really the most offensive months are January and February. But we don’t have a clue where to go. Money plays a role or we’d just go for the best weather in the world and hang my walking shoes in Hawaii for a couple months. We don’t need perfectly, warm, always sunny weather for the duration, nor a fancy condo facing the ocean or gulf.

Just decent accommodations (probably an over 55 RV Park rental) with milder weather than our northern states. I’m ok with temps in the 40’s at night, 60’s or 70’s during the day. Some flurries won’t kill me, but not snow that stays on the ground for 2 months straight and has the flexibility (and coloration) of hardened steel after a week.

We don’t want to fly or we’d have to rent a car for the duration. We spent time in Arizona 2 years in a row (though not for 2 months) which seems to be one of the more popular spots for folks in the Midwest. Hubs brother and his wife winter in Arizona, but we’re 800 miles further east than they are. Is Michigan even still considered the Midwest? Shouldn’t be, we’re in Eastern time zone. New Mexico, Arizona, California are just too far west for us. They’re has to be warmer, affordable places but not 2,200 miles away. We’re about 1300-1400 miles from Texas or Florida.

Nothing sinister about us. We look semi-trustworthy, right?

So we’re looking for a decent rental for 2 adults for 2 or 3 months. Since we stay in a lot I’d need a functioning kitchen. Could be southeast or southwest but within 1500 miles of lower mid Michigan. The important part is south which means warmer. We’d rather be in a smaller city or on the outskirts. Pool, community room, laundry facilities, somewhere to walk would be advantageous. I think John would like to go deep sea fishing if there’s a big body of water within a few hours.

So friends gimme some suggestions. Anyone know of an area in the south with mild winter temperatures with a decent ‘over 55’ rental unit in a large park? We’re semi-civilized, can speak in 3 or 4 word sentences and completely housebroke…

Life with Meniere’s…

My hearing loss was a sneaky bastard. Tantalizingly slow and subtle for the first 5 years but when tallied up after 2 decades has been significant. The pandemic has been a good reminder of how out of touch I am in my silent world. For the hearing impaired, having the entire population wearing masks has made life almost intolerable. I never realized how much I depend on reading someone’s lips until everyone’s mouth is covered. My life really is an oxymoron. I’ve lost a profound amount of hearing since 1998, so it’s safe to assume my world should be a quiet vacuum. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Craft project with Graham a few years ago. Don’t cover up that mouth!

That’s how I first realized something was going on. I had no idea I was suffering from a hearing loss. I noticed my head was never quiet anymore but couldn’t distinguish why. It started at night, in the dark, lying in bed when I couldn’t get my head to hush. No, not the regular shit that bothers you at night. You know like a big tax bill looming, one of the kids going through something tough, or I was worried about my parents. This was different. There were real noises actually inside my head. A chain saw, a dentist drill, a huge electrical wire that has snapped to the ground and pings loudly every few seconds, the sound of a TV station after they’ve gone off the air (at midnight, yes this might date me somewhat) with just that snowy sound, or the sound of that big rush of air when you walk through a tunnel at a football stadium.

This is what every TV station looked like after midnight in the 50’s & 60’s…

Plus I developed this creepy, abnormal fear of the dark. I knew our house like the back of my hand and had no problem going through the halls, up and down the stairs, or to the bathroom without the lights on. Not anymore. Didn’t think a thing about it as I was meandered my way through Meijer one day and bought a half dozen night lights, sticking them in outlets all over the house. I didn’t realize these were all clues something odd was going on. With me.

Come on, I was cute here right?

Hubs was on the ball. He noticed something was off. (Well I was giving off some pretty spectacular clues). “Turn the sound up on the TV, I didn’t hear that.” Or “how can our 16 theatre complex get completely remodeled and not update their lousy sound system?” “Nothing’s wrong with the theater’s sound Denise. Maybe you ought to go to Doc Anderson and see if everything’s ok. You’re acting weird. And what’s up with the night lights all over the house?” (These clues were not very subtle).

Muskegon’s movie complex. They actually had good headphones for me to use…

Well Doc Anderson checked me out and sent me to an eye, ear, nose, throat guy who diagnosed me with a hearing loss in my left ear. But he wanted me to see a doctor in Grand Rapids who specialized just in ears. Dr. Daniels’ first suggestion to combat all the noise in my head was to introduce white noise at night. Something I could hear so the screaming in my head was less noticeable as I was trying to fall asleep. Quite simple really, run a fan every night. It did help a lot in the beginning. (Several years later however, as my ability to hear was leaving faster than Jeff Gordon could take a lap at Michigan International Speedway, I could no longer hear the fan. But the Hubs was so used to the noise he couldn’t sleep without it.) Oh the irony. The noises got louder as I lost more hearing. (Part of this was my brain compensating for not being able to differentiate some sounds, so it just made up new sounds for me to deal with. Thanks brain).

The fan I no longer hear and Hubs can’t sleep without…

Just as I was adjusting to wearing a hearing aid to help hearing in my left ear (2 years), the hearing in my right ear took a nose dive. Oh come on! Let the pity party begin. I was in a major slump until I was driving home one December day about 5:30. The sun was setting and the western sky over Lake Michigan was cotton candy pink with some accompanying clouds and sun peaking through. It just took my breath away. For the first time I thought, thanks God that it’s my ears, not my eyes that are failing. That was the turning point right there.

But my head issues weren’t done revealing themselves just yet. I was about 5 years into my walking habit. Walking west for a little more than a mile, turning around, walking 2 miles east, another turnaround for a mile, down my steep hill and home. Well this day I had just passed Johnson’s point (almost a mile away) overlooking Muskegon Lake, swinging my arms with nice, long, easy strides. A flock of seagulls were above my head, heading to the big Lake, not even a mile away by air (for this landlubber it was another 2 miles, most of it without the aid of sidewalks). I continued my fairly fast clip, looking up, following the birds flight plan for a few seconds. When I finally tore my gaze away I found myself far off the beaten path. I was yards off the sidewalk. How the heck did that happen?

Cordless headphones, the only way I can hear the TV…

Dr. Daniel’s had a pretty good idea what was causing this improper addendum to my hearing loss. I remember the exact day because I looked so stinking cute. (This has happened twice in my life so it was duly noted, never again to be repeated. Once was a school picture when I was 7. The other was that day in the doctor’s office. I was quite slim and wearing a cute denim overall). Doc had me stand in the middle of an exam room with my eyes closed, arms stretched out in front of me and walk/step in place. After 40 steps I had made a complete circle. What? Then he had me lay down flat on a table on my back which had really become difficult for me in the preceding months. If I didn’t have a pillow under my head, I immediately got dizzy and nauseous. After those disturbing feelings stopped he moved me until my head was completely off the table but he was holding my head in his hands. Slowly he dropped my head back a few inches with my eyes open. My eye balls started fluttering like the old digital clocks, except at the warp speed of a machine gun. So nauseating. Ick. Gently he sat me back up and held my shoulders steady until I stopped swaying.

Grateful for such beautiful sunsets…

“You have Meniere’s Syndrome, which accounts for some of the constant racket in your head. Meniere’s causes a fluctuation of fluid in your inner ear which can cause dizziness, vertigo, balance and being unsteady on your feet. You may go weeks or months without symptoms, then without warning the side effects can hit you pretty hard, making you nauseous and very difficult to distinguish what other people are saying. It’s chronic. Ease up on your salt intake.” (If I eased up on salt any more I would be down to individual grains per day) “Plus your last hearing test has taken a huge dip. In a few years you might fit the criteria for a cochlear ear implant. For now I think we should give up the hearing aid in your left ear, because your hearing is down considerably. The aid just amplifies all the noise you already hear. Let’s concentrate on getting the best hearing aid for your right ear which is still above 70% in understanding what people are saying to you.”

Blown away.

Depressed and alone.

I hate this.

Eventually Neese got her “groove” back but it took awhile. The more hearing I lost, the smaller my world became. Rooms full of people made me turn around and walk in the other direction. Malls, restaurants and large crowds were avoided. I couldn’t hear, understand or participate anymore. Better and easier to just stay home.

Happy I can read to great granddaughter Jovi…

I’ve noticed a few changes with Meniere’s. My balance is definitely worse in the last couple years. Some of it probably aggravated by my 2 knees, both without much cartilage. Since my replacement in 2019 and fall 5 months later, I’ve accepted safety over pride and adopted a walking stick in the mornings. I love the stick and know there’s no way I can walk without it, but I feel like my steps are lopsided, hesitant, jerky and horribly uneven. Not smooth at all. I can imagine what folks driving past me must think-freaking old broad is drunk or higher than a kite at 8 am. Already had some edibles. Yikes.

Life with Meniere’s as I scurry towards my 70th birthday means:

* Never standing up and trying to walk immediately. I need to pause and get my balance before moving anywhere.

* Never going higher than the second step on a footstool. After looking up while I’m decorating the Christmas tree I know I’ll be dizzy and my balance will be way off for at least 2 days.

* Avoid laying my head on a flat surface.

* Skimming my fingers along walls, railings, furniture when moving through the house.

* Asking Hubs to hang onto me on the step stool when I wash windows outside.

* Coming to a complete stop at all streets I need to cross. Slowly turning my head both ways for oncoming traffic.

* Avoid walking on uneven surfaces at all costs.

But 90% of my life is good. These are minor inconveniences which annoy me, but don’t really cause much hardship in everyday living. If I’m careful and vigilant about what and how I’m doing something. Knowing and respecting my limitations, which has been an eye opener. Still I hate the way I think I look when I walk (which doesn’t make any sense). Why should I care?

Words to live by Neese…

I need to adopt, accept and abide by a couple of quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt. She said, “you wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” And, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Now that’s better…

Longevity…

The word longevity popped into my head recently and hasn’t left the premises yet, but I’m ok with it. I was thinking about how long ago Hubs and I got hitched. It wasn’t a whirlwind romance of 3 months consisting of 90% lust and 10% love. We dated (and broke up more than once) for a long spell, but it wasn’t getting any easier mostly due to my overbearing parents. So we opted to tell no one and simply eloped in a neighboring state where our marriage license would not get published in the Sioux City Journal. The reason? Most of our home town read the Journal daily. Mom and Dad would discover our diabolical plan early enough to intervene (again) or would get a phone call after the first newspaper hit the front porch of almost anyone in town.

Prom, 1966…

I don’t think we spent 50 bucks on blood tests, gas, marriage license, fee to the Elk Point, South Dakota judge who met us at the courthouse at 6:54 pm on a Monday night, September 22, 1969. We were walking back out of the joint by 7:03, legally bound by the institution of holy matrimony. (My lavender dress was one in my closet and had been worn several times, nothing special so it didn’t set us back anything. Hubs had to dress decent for work at Channel 4, so he wore something already in his closet with a sports jacket). You can chalk up another $50 for the fancy supper after our elaborate ceremony with our 2 witnesses (mum’s the word) before heading to Sioux Falls for a 2 day honeymoon, which was spent trying to garner enough courage to make that dreaded phone call to mom and dad. One night we went to the Macamba Club, listening to Stan Kenton (yes we sprung for a terrific band. Really, no one besides our witness and friend Dale knew where we were, and we had every intention of heading to the Black Hills, but lacked money and time. I don’t remember why they let me in the door of the Macamba Club, I was just shy of 19. This was a regular bar and you had to be 21).

Free picture a couple months after eloping, 1969…

Using your keen math skills tells you in a few days Hubs and I will notch anniversary number 51. (I know, I can’t believe it either. I’m way too young right)? Most of the years have flown by in a blur-but that’s looking at them in the rear view mirror. At the time some of those years slogged along painfully slow, held down by insufficient funds, too many bills and dead end jobs. But we persevered. Always.

My favorite with 6 years under our belts, 1976…

But when ‘longevity’ niggled in my brain it really wasn’t OUR marriage I was reminiscing about. I was thinking about our little one-stoplight-town in northwest Iowa, where we both grew up. While I was one of the firsts my age to get married, soon after we celebrated our 50th, the line behind us was crowded with classmates, acquaintances, friends, relatives, waiting in the wings to hold their own milestone anniversary party.

Davenport, 12 years and a complete family of 5, 1982…

I know we’ve made huge strides in the last half century to lengthen our life expectancy but when I was a kid it was highly unusual for couples to celebrate 50 years of marriage. (My parents made it to 62 years, John’s parents celebrated 58 years together). Those who made it had a real cause for celebration. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I think we ought to give credit where credit is due, don’t you? I’m just gonna state the obvious. It was the water in Rock Valley. Duh.

25 years and going in the hot tub, Jackson, 1993…

I haven’t checked any state by state comparison statistics on marriage and divorce but I gotta believe northwest Iowa is (or was) below average in the divorce column, at least when a marriage was initiated in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s. Marriage longevity could also be pinned by our fondness of Taverns, but I’m gonna stick with our drinking water. We all consumed the water and they’re might have been a few folks who didn’t eat taverns growing up. What? (We might want to check the divorce rate among those couples). I know of no one who didn’t love Taverns as a kid. I think I’m on to something here.

Could the lowly Tavern help your marriage last longer?

I’m not trying to prove any kind of bizarre points on the sanctity of marriage. I firmly believe not every marriage is made in heaven and have nothing against seeking a divorce if it’s not working and is never gonna work. My biggest beef/bitch/gripe about marriage oddly enough, is the actual wedding (not the exchange of vows). The engaged couple spend months searching for the perfect venue, purchasing a big enough diamond to bump the bride’s weight up a size (to her dismay), fine tuning a delectable menu, trying on dress after dress for the most exquisite gown, flowers, 3 story high cake, tuxedos, reception, honeymoon. And then many go their separate ways after a couple/few years or even months. If couples put in as much effort in the first 5 years of real marriage as they do on the one outrageously expensive day to ‘get’ married, the divorce rate would plummet. But I digress.

They tore down the beautiful courthouse in Elk Point, but we wanted to acknowledge where we eloped, 40 years before, 2009…

It’s been heartwarming to see some of kids we grew up with as they start celebrating milestones of their own, some with golden anniversaries and many with 40 or more years. Celebrating with the same spouse they started out with all those decades ago. Did any have misgivings/cold feet/doubts before the wedding? Can’t say I did. I just assumed everything was gonna work out ok. However I’d be the first to say, I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for the first 5 years. They were tough. And we knew each other well. Probably should have waited a couple years to get better established and a couple more to have our first kid. But we can’t do that. No way, because in that one moment and only that moment Shannon became a person. Then Joshua, then Adam. No, there’s no way I’d ever consider changing those events in my life. Who would want to?

50 years in and still plugging along…

I think congratulations/well wishes are in order for all of us mired (maybe not the best word choice, but hey it fits) in the institution of wedded bliss for decade upon decade. Much like getting older, marriage is not for sissies. Keep reminding ourselves, it’s a journey not a sprint. You don’t want stop before the finish line. Keep moving forward. Most of it good, some of it not, but in it for the long haul. With God’s help…

Water Boy…

We’ve been in our house 5 years after spending 21 in North Muskegon, 160 miles northwest. We encountered many changes once the dust settled. We moved in October, compelling us to ‘take care of the imminent business at hand’ on our new crib’s insides before fretting about the outside. New paint, flooring, appliances, window coverings, storm doors, enlarged a bedroom and took the bathroom down to the studs. That’s how we spent our first winter.

I love this clump river birch. My hummingbirds perch in it…

During the frigid days when the ground wasn’t covered with Michigan’s disgusting, white stuff, John stared at the front and backyard with equal parts of horror and dismay. (He hates weeds and is very particular about his grass-which was seriously lacking) The backyard had an evergreen privacy fence on the east side, a long row of burning bushes reaching heights of 15 feet lined the north side. There was no grass to speak of. It resembled a downtrodden cow pasture-sans cows.

Nothing helped curb appeal as much as removing the old blacktop…

The front yard was worse. The original attached one stall garage had been converted to a family room years ago, but the 50 year old faded, cracked, pot holed, wide black top driveway remained, which accounted for about a third of our front yard. Unruly scraggly bushes, as tall as the roof line ran along the east side of the house. Nothing in the front yard besides a tired 50 year old maple which was hollow and threatening to fall over if someone sneezed. The storm door had blown open months before we bought the place and was hanging on by one screw in one hinge. It had hit the house so hard there was broken glass everywhere. But having the storm door open gave a much better view of the front door-which was painted purple. Adding to the curb appeal were dull blue shutters accenting dingy windows. Exactly why this house appealed to us remains a mystery.

I snipped until there was nothing but roots left for John to pull out…

The front porch was a slab of cement with 2 weird sized steps, one of which wobbled. (At least 200 of our pre-school trick or treaters tripped while trying to manage the second step because it was a couple inches higher than the going rate). The yard was full of ruts, pot holes, bare spots and weeds. We just turned a blind eye to the mess and concentrated on turning the house into a home for the first 6 months.

Hopeless step wobbled when you went up and down…

We had our yard ‘to do list’ ready as soon as the filthy, stinking snow started melting. First Hubs got quotes for the black top removal, replacing it with a new concrete drive, adding fill dirt so he could start growing grass. He got quotes for the sidewalk, steps and railings. We wanted to start fresh with a new porch but it’s literally attached to the house so it had to stay. We just replaced everything connected to it. Then hired a friend of ours to take down the old maple in front and trim the one in back.

My ‘weeping larch’ though he seems quite happy and well adjusted…

By mid March the tree was down, the stump was ground out, new topsoil smoothed out awaiting grass seed. In late March we had our new driveway, sidewalk and steps. Hubs then started getting quotes for an in-ground sprinkler system.

New driveway and sidewalk made a huge difference in curb appeal…

Luckily one of the neighbors wandered over and asked about all the lawn services showing up at the house. John said, “I need a sprinkling system installed if I want grass this summer.” “Umm, you can’t have in-ground sprinklers in this neighborhood,” Pat said. After Hubs picked his jaw off our grass-less, weed infested yard, he asked how that was possible? Or legal? “Oh the township promised they would charge everyone the same flat rate for water/sewer. But the stipulation is that no one has an in-ground sprinkling system.” Odd right?

Ugh, the backyard when we moved in…

Good to know before we signed the dotted line spending a couple grand on an illegal watering system. No matter how bad it was gonna look, first up was getting rid of the weeds, (leaving the yard looking depressingly barren), tossing on some crabgrass preventer and grub killer. (He really hates moles, and they love grubs).

Added to the deck, plus railings, new steps and fire pit…

Next we yanked out every ugly shrub from the side yard, ordered tons (6?) of river rock and edged from the driveway east to the back fence. The never ending wheel barrel of rocks were moved into place with 2 shovels and four arms. Took a week of back-breaking work but boy did it look nice. Bought some unusual dwarf shrubs, a paper bark river birch, a weeping larch, an Alaskan pine and we were in business. As soon as the Hubs figured out how to keep the lawn and all the new additions alive-by watering everything by hand. Something he’s not done in 25 years. But he was retired and had the time.

A lot of stones to move by hand. The only part that doesn’t require watering…

I would venture he’s on sprinkler number 20 in five years and finally thinks he has a winner. He’s fussy. This sprinkler is made by the company he used with our in-ground sprinkling system when he had to buy new heads constantly. He uses a soaker sprinkler in my pachysandra bed and a different kind of sprinkler in the backyard. I can remember our first decade of marriage when he’d stop at K-Mart every spring and buy a new hose for 99 cents. By the end of the first month it would have sprung a leak from a crack. I swear it was made from ceramic. But here’s the thing. The hose was guaranteed for a year. He’d bring it back and get a replacement. This was like a garden hose courtship ritual every year. He’d buy the crummy hose, get it replaced 3 or 4 times before fall. All for 99 cents and 4 trips to K-Mart.

Best ground cover ever. Pachysandra stays green all winter and flowers in the spring

I’ve gotten quite familiar with the neighborhood sprinklers (people who water faithfully) not the actual gadgets. There seems to be 3 different types of sprinklers. One guy thoughtfully looks over his front yard. Meanders slowly to pick up the sprinkler which is off but already attached to a hose. Lugs it over to the perfect spot, walks ever so slowly back to the faucet (he’s a lot younger than me), turns it on and peers over his masterpiece for a couple minutes, nodding. Job well done and heads back in the house.

The back entrance was pitiful. We extended the deck with better steps…

The second type is ‘the anal sprinkler’ (her yard is pristine. Hubs hates her though they’ve never met, and is insanely jealous) who wakes up and has her sprinkler going by 6 am. She does the bendy thingy with the hose. Refuses to walk over and shut off the water while she moves her sprinkler for the umpteenth time. She just muscles that sucker like she’s wrestling the devil himself and sets it exactly where it needs to be to give every blade a good drink.

Jovi and grandpa fill the bird feeders and give the squirrels ears of corn…

Then there’s the Hubs. He sneaks up on the sprinkler from behind, plucks it from where it’s been nestled for a couple hours while it’s spraying every which way, covers a few feet of landscape in a certain direction, sets it down to judge his location choice. In four years of sprinkling (in his defense last summer was almost perfect. Almost every time the grass needed a drink, God provided) he’s never walked in the house after moving a sprinkler-where he’s not drenched. (Reminds me of our boys when they were toddlers decades ago. Summer was so alluring they had the hardest time coming into the house in time before they peed their pants. The proof of waiting too long was always visible). Hubs is wet from his ankles to his chest. I don’t know if he doesn’t notice it’s spraying him instead of the grass. Maybe it feels good (it has been really hot) or he’s totally immune to cold water. But in our yard everything gets a periodic soaking from the hose-except me…