Archive for September, 2008

Been here before

Andrew just defied me – for the umpteenth time.  It had to do with dishes; specifically improperly washed dishes.  Our policy is that if the person emptying the dish drainer finds dishes that aren’t really clean, he sets them on the stove and the person who didn’t wash them right the first time has to re-wash them.

Andrew was doing the lunch clean-up, which means he was putting away the dry dishes from breakfast.  There were a couple of casserole dishes that had been set aside for some minor speck of crud that someone had missed.  Since Andrew had done the supper dishes, and since we only use casserole dishes at supper, in all likelihood Andrew was the guilty party.  However, that could not be proven without consulting the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

So Andrew informed no one in particular that he would not be washing those extra dishes.   And I informed him that he would.  And he replied that he wouldn’t.  And I told him he would.  Etc.

I finally told him that I didn’t care WHO had left them dirty; HE was doing the clean up and I wanted it ALL cleaned up.  Period.  And he said, “I’m telling you that I’m NOT going to wash those dishes, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Now, when I was growing up, a kid simply didn’t talk to an adult that way without getting his block knocked off.  Although I am strongly tempted to knock off his block and a few other items of his anatomy, so far I am resisting the temptation.  Instead, I walked away, because I knew that if I stayed in proximity to him, I would hit him – very, very hard.

When I calm down, I will probably go wash the stupid dishes.  I have been here before.  I think I have worked for pay in about five different jobs in my life, and I have only been fired once.  It was when I was unable to force those I was managing to do what they were supposed to do.  No one will fire me from this parenting job, and resigning is not an option.  However, I GREATLY resent the fact while I DO what an authority tells me to do because I was told to do it, other people don’t.  It is one of the many things about life that is simply not fair.

In which I become a letter-writing machine

A new item must be scheduled into my day:  letter-writing.

I have a friend in prison, and my goal is to write him once a week.  I usually do that on Sunday afternoon, along with taking a nap and finishing the adult laundry.

I also have a daughter in college, who likes to get snail mail from home.  My goal is to write her twice a week.

In a couple of days, I will also have two children who will be away from home for five weeks on a mission trip.  My guess is that they will like to receive mail, as well, so I plan to write each of them at least once a week.

Now, the daughter in college can read my blog, so it is a bit challenging to think of things to write to her that she hasn’t already read.  The two mission trippers will not have internet access, so I can recycle blogged news into letters for them.  The same is true for the prisoner, but I have decided that I would be able to keep up with the writing better if I had a set time of day to do it.

Initially I plan to try 12:00 noon.  I should be able to crank out a decent letter in 30 minutes, shouldn’t I?  And if so, I could still eat lunch at 12:30 when the kids do.  Well, with the planning done, now all I need to do is follow through.

Oh, rats! (a commentary on decluttering)

When I declutter, I end up with a few items – usually small – or rarely as much as a grocery bag’s worth of stuff for the thrift shop.  When Scott declutters, it’s a whole ‘nother animal.  I tackle things like one small drawer, or one cubic foot of closet space.  Yesterday, Scott began tackling the garage and the shop.

I became aware of the situation when Andrew came running into the house hollering for my camera.  You must understand out out-building configuration to fully comprehend the situation.  We live in a house.  Attached to the house is a one-car-sized portable building that was once used as a garage.  It sports lovely green indoor-outdoor carpet, and we initially used it as a playroom.  It’s now a glorified storage area and ping-pong arena.  We still call it the playroom.

Directly behind the house is a smokehouse.  It is the final resting place for things like sleds, split wood, potting soil, and sunflower seed for the birds.  We call it the smokehouse.

Along the driveway is an old, crooked, wooden, divided building with a tin roof and gravel floor.  If you drive small, fuel-efficient foreign cars, you could conceivably park one in each side.  However, we tried that once and had to do $1000 in repairs to a car that a pack rat invaded and tried to destroy.  There are wooden doors on this building, but they don’t close very well (leaving foot-wide gaps), so we don’t close them at all.  We use it as an open, two-stall storage area for relatively indestructible things like the grill, lawn chairs, charcoal, odd pieces of plywood, and bicycles.  We call it the garage.

Directly behind (but not attached to) the garage is portable building #2.  It’s a little barn-looking building with a wood floor, a loft-ish shelf at the back, and a tiny workspace on one side.  We park the riding mower, push mower, and weedeater in there, along with rakes, extension cords, gas cans, a few quarts of oil, weedeater twine, shovels, and tomato cages.  We call it the lawn building.

At the far back edge of the property is our size extra large portable building #3.  I’m not real good with estimates, but I’d guess it might be ten feet wide by 20 feet long, with a large shelf at the back.  The former owners used it as a large shop, and we use it for (you guessed it) some tools and a lot more junk.  Up on the shelf, it houses things like the baby crib, a few sentimental baby clothes, and other paraphernalia of early childhood.  The two workbenches along the right wall accommodate Scott’s tools, and the rest of the space is filled with (in my opinion) stuff that we need to throw out but with which My Hero is unable or unwilling to part.  From time to time, these have included such treasures as dining room chairs with broken off legs, a washing machine that leaks, a couch with ripped upholstery, etc.  Occasionally someone tackles cleaning out this building, but within 90 days, no one can tell one ever tried.  We call it the shop.

On our property, unused, unwanted items of bulky size generally move first to the playroom, where they rest for a year or two, then out to the shop, where they decay for another year or two.  Then, when Scott’s out of town, Jessica and I drag them back down to the place where there would be a curb if we had one, and someone usually hauls them off by sundown.

All that to say that we have been in possession of two unused twin size mattresses.  One of them I can’t even remember the story on, and the other was one that our local urinarily challenged member had soaked.  I was in favor of burning mattress #2 or taking it to the dump, but Scott felt that we should save it.  Why?  I have no earthly idea.  It was a cheap mattress that had been given to us in about 2000, and it stunk to high heaven.  So, it went out to the garage.  Yes, the garage, the two-stall, open, doorless, gravel-floored garage where our Cadillac had been ransacked by rats.

So when Scott embarked on his grand decluttering project, he and Andrew first tackled the garage, from which Andrew came running to get my camera.  “Mom!  You won’t believe it!  There’s a rat IN my mattress and I’ve GOT to get a picture!”

Did I really even WANT such a picture?

I was working on banking stuff and I just gave him the camera and kept plugging away.  A few minutes later he was back with two pictures, which he insisted on showing me.  Yes, indeed, a rat had nested into the mattress, and she was suckling two babies as her photo was snapped!  Good night!

Scott placed a huge blue tarp on the driveway right in front of the garage, and dragged the two mattresses onto it.  In addition, he piled some old bikes (or maybe parts thereof), at least one dead computer monitor, and who knows what all else into a heap on the tarp.  He announced, “I have a special trash pick-up coming on Wednesday.  We need to put all our junk on this tarp, and they will haul it off.”

Of course, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  However, I am just thankful that Scott’s willing to clear some of his out!  After all, I have half a grocery bag for the thrift shop and he has about five cubic feet for the trash man – so far.

Blessed beyond belief – and sheep head

Scott and I have known Rick and Colleen for almost 20 years.  We met them when we attended the same church in Little Rock and we have stayed in touch through their many 20+ and our two moves.  They have served as missionaries in Panama, Switzerland, and South Africa, and are now living in Louisiana, where Rick is working as a pharmacist, and Colleen is enjoying being a grandma!

For three days, they are gracing our family in person with their friendship, wisdom, and experience – all of which are in the superlative category.  We are honored to be able to “sit at their feet” and learn, consider, and be challenged.  Wow!  What God has put into these two people is really amazing.

On a significantly less spriritual note, I mention Sheep Head.  It’s a Swiss card game that is extremely cerebral.  In fact, it makes Bridge look simplistic.  Imagine a game in which four people play with only the 7s, 8, 9s, 10, Js, Qs, Ks, and Aces.  All queens, all jacks, and all diamonds are trump.   10s are higher than Ks.  Clubs are highest, them spades, diamonds, and hearts.  Trump cards aren’t necessarily the highest point cards.  Partners are re-determined each hand, but some hands there are no partners.  You never know till the hand starts.

I wrote out a brief chart to cheat with, and even in a trial hand where we all showed all our cards (for teaching purposes), I was still hopelessly confused.  I think if I played it repeatedly, I could probably get it, but I confess that something in my brain rebels at the idea of four different suits being trump at the same time.

Andrew’s been in seventh heaven, having Mr. Rick and especially Ms. Colleen here.  He thrives on adult attention, interest, and hugs.  He wants to cook breakfast with Ms. Colleen tomorrow.  “Would you like scrambled eggs and biscuits?  Would you like to make them?  I’ll be glad to help you!”  It’s his way of making her feel welcome.  = )

I’m so glad they were willing to come stay with us.  We are blessed beyond belief.

Proof that I’ve lost my mind = )

Being of partially sound mind and relatively sound body, I have officially given my permission and blessing for both Jessica AND Josiah to go on an AIM mission trip – at the same time.  In early October, they will leave the house and be gone for about five weeks.

What was I thinking?  I will have to go back to being a real homemaker.  I’ll have to do all the ironing, make bread, do a lot of the dishes, vacuum the second floor, sweep the porch and walk, mount the bike rack, keep score at Scott’s ball games, do the sheets and towels laundry, and make Scott’s lunches.  Not only that, I will be home alone with Andrew for many, many days.

Actually, I am very happy for the big kids, and I think they will be able to give a lot and learn a lot that will positively impact the adults they are becoming.  It’s a superb opportunity for each of them to push harder and fly higher to reach their unique potentials.

I’m also looking forward to deepening my relationship with Andrew and getting into some new academics with him.  However, I’m NOT looking forward to being his one-woman entertainment committee.  I will get some breaks while he’s at gymnastics, so that will help me maintain my sanity.

The strangest thing is that after having the kids with us all these years, you’d think I’d be thrilled to have a little time off from fulltime momhood.  Instead, I miss them.  I miss Katie now and I’m already missing Jessica and Josiah in advance!

Misplaced brain

I have decided that the scariest part of this season of my life is not the hot flashes, or children the moving out, or the mood swings.  It’s got to be the constant feeling that I am losing (or recently lost, or am about to lose) my mind.

Case in point:  today I was scheduled to attend a one-hour TV department training meeting at church, beginning at 10:00 AM.  Actually, Josiah and I were both supposed to attend, but he had two AIM presentations and so could not go.  I would be going alone, which was fine.  I have known about this meeting for six weeks, and it has been on the calendar that whole time.

After a lot of yard work and some house work, I sat down to tackle a pile of desk work at 1:00 PM.  I know it was 1:00 PM, because I looked at the clock, and as I turned my head back toward my monitor, I happened to see on the calendar “10 – P, Jo TV dept mtg.”  I had completely forgotten to go!

I called our director and apologized profusely.  The only reason I could think to give him was that I had misplaced my brain.  Either that or it was turned off.  In any case, I am fervently hoping (and I guess I should be praying) that sometime in the next few years I can both relocate my brain and consistently keep it turned on – at least when I’m awake.

Three sizes fit all

Every now and then, I have an idea that turns out to be really smart.  A couple weeks ago, I acted on one of those thoughts, and boy, has it ever been nice.

The topic would be leftover dishes.  Unlike some families, we do endeavor to save and eat our leftovers.  Well, at least we put them in the fridge, label and date them, and either eat them or throw them out seven days later.  The meats and carbs generally get eaten, and the veggies often get ditched, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that I have a whole cabinet in the kitchen crammed full of leftover dishes.  I am not exaggerating.  Many years ago, I swore off round leftover dishes, because they take up too much space, both in the cabinet and in the fridge.  Also, because we have so MANY sizes of the little beasts, at one point I even labeled the tops and bottoms with matching numbers, to try make things as little easier.

Then a couple years ago, I found some cheap Zip-Loc leftover dishes that I really liked.  We used them for quite a while, but eventually, the lids started cracking.  When I then bought some new Zip-Loc leftover dishes, which appeared to be exactly like the ones I already had, it turns out the Zip-Loc folks had very slightly re-engineered their lids, so that they would not quite fit the previous bottoms.  This was extremely.  To make matters even worse, a few months later, the tops and bottoms were re-engineered a second time, so that there were now three types of tops and bottoms, all the same size, and all of which looked like they’d fit together perfectly.  However, no matter which bottom you put the peas in, you’d have to try ALL the suitable lids to proved that NONE of them fit before losing your cool and dumping the peas into another bottom and trying again.

In addition to all that, there’s the matter of sizes.  We had small square shallow, and small square deep.  We had oblong small shallow and oblong medium shallow.  We also had square medium shallow, as well as the ever-popular oblong medium deep.  Then there were those few odd-sized larger ones that are rather difficult to describe.

With Katie in college, when the other three kids went to an AIM Family Camp for three days last month, it was a very quiet, very empty house.  Also, with 2/3 of my dishwashing crew in absentia, I found myself doing all the dishes at every meal.  One evening Scott offered to help by putting away the leftovers.  In so doing, he experienced a pea event similar to the one just described, and while the kids and I are well-accustomed to that tedious procedure, he was not.  Furthermore, he was decidedly not being entertained.  After three tries for a lid, he fairly threw a misfit back into the cabinet, muttering something like, “. . . have too many stupid leftover dishes around here. . . ” under his breath.

Turning from my Palmolive water, I said, “You know, I have thought about throwing them all out and buying new ones that are all the same.”  To which Scott replied, “You won’t hear any complaints from me!”

Now, I have learned in 21 years of marriage that there are times to strike while the iron’s hot.  This was clearly one of those times.  In less than a week, I was home with some $25 worth of containers; all the same brand, and in only three sizes:  square shallow and square deep, which both use the same lid (how fun is THAT?!?!?), and oblong shallow.

Jessica and I had a ball sorting out all the old ones.  We actually matched a lid to every container, and the mismatches went straight to File 13.  The complete pairs were then packed into 13-gallon trash bags and stored in the cellar in case the kids want them when they move out.  I didn’t used to make plans based on “when the kids move out,” but life has progressed to a point that I must accept the fact that such events may be in the not-too-distant future.

Now my leftover cabinet is happy and so is my husband.  Furthermore, putting those puppies away is a snap.  If it’s a square, you put a square lid on it, and if it’s a rectangle, you put a rectangular lid on it.  No searching, no trial and error, no frustration.

I should get a point!  Now I wonder which mess I should tackle next.

The station

It’s not there any more.  In its place is a corner lot, nicely manicured with a curving concrete walkway and benches.

My grandfather for many, many years owned and operated a Phillips 66 service station on West Florissant Avenue at Euclid.  As a child, when we would visit my grand parents in St. Louis, I always enjoyed being taken down to “the station,” which was old, full of tools, and smelled of gasoline.  Grandpa sold lots of fuel and serviced lots of cars; there were usually several sitting parked around waiting to be repaired or picked up. It was a busy little business.

In his later years, Grandpa gradually retired, turning the running of the business over to someone else.  Then I think he sold it.  However, the last time I was in St. Louis, maybe six years ago, the square white building still sat on the corner.  I can’t remember a lot of details from that visit, but I do recall asking the old man who was there if he had known my grandpa.  “Of course I did!  Everyone knew Charlie!”

This trip, I wanted to once more drive through the parts of town that meant something to me as a kid.  On our final morning, we went looking for the station.  We were coming from the west, and due to construction on I-64 just east of our hotel, we ended up zig-zagging all the way through town on a lengthy and circuitous route.  Yes, it did involve a stint on Manchester.  = )

Eventually we intersected Kingshighway, which took us to West Florissant, directly opposite the monstrosity of Bellfontaine Cemetery.  As we turned right, I scanned the buildings to my right for the familiar white station on the corner, but I could not find it.  There was the “Euclid” street sign.  We were at the right intersection.  There couldn’t be another “Euclid and West Florissant across from the cemetery,” could there?

My dad had told me that he had looked at the intersection on google and the building seemed to be gone.  He was certainly correct.  I parked and got out to look around.

Throughout the years that Grandpa had the station, the surrounding neighborhood had deteriorated badly.  Bums, slums, trash, rundown tenement-type houses; you get the idea.  It was a part of town where you would not walk alone at night or even in broad daylight.  That’s why I was so confused.  The lot where the station had sat was now a lovely little courtyard, and the houses on the street behind the station, Rosalie, looked not only habitable but inviting.  In fact, it looked like the couple of blocks right around the former station had been remodeled into nice condos.  The yards were well-kept, and there was only one dilapidated home on the block.  Its windows were boarded, some of ite bricks were missing, and junk was strewn all over its porch.

“That,” I announced to the kids, “is how all the houses around here looked the last time I saw them.”

While it was sad that there is now not one shred of evidence of my grandfather’s 40 or 50 years of livelihood on that corner, it was encouraging to see that someone has worked so hard to improve that little piece of St. Louis.

I wish I had had my digital camera last time we were there.  It certainly never occurred to me then that I wouldn’t be able to photograph the old building on my next visit.  Carpe deim.  Seize the day.

Manchester Avenue

I have a decent, but not stellar, sense of direction.  On our recent trip to St. Louis, I was the designated driver to take the boys (in the van) to the science center and then to the zoo, while Scott took Jessica (on the Metro) to a Sunday afternoon Cardinals game.  I knew my assignment would not be difficult, because we had been to the science center two days earlier, and it was only about ten minutes from the hotel.  All I would need to do was to get back on I-64 headed east and take the Forest Park exit.  Simple.

So off we went.  Down through the lobby, out to the van, out the parking lot, and out onto the main drag.  But where was the freeway entrance ramp?  Hmmm. . .  Someone must’ve moved it.  It had certainly been there last night.  Oh, well, no big deal.  Here was Manchester.  It would take us back around to the freeway.  All we had to do was make a left.  Left turn lane, left turn signal, and away we go.

And go.  And go.  And go and go and go.  I have never seen these buildings before.  Where is the freeway?  And which way are we headed on Manchester, anyway?  Surely east.  We’re going the same way we should be going on the freeway; it’s just not four lanes.

Josiah is – as always – up to his eyeballs in a book, but I ask him to look at the map and try to navigate me.  I know we’ve brought the city map in the van pan, but no, it isn’t the city map.  It’s the Metro map!  Aaargh!  Scott needs the Metro map and I need the city map, but evidently they got switched somewhere along the way.  The Metro map does show all the streets, but they are all grayed out and most of them have no names.  Instead, only the bus routes are brightly colored and labeled.

I tell Josiah we’re on Manchester and that we’ve just passed whichever street it was.  He can’t find Manchester on the map.  I tell him to look for I-64, which runs east and west.  Then find the Richmond Heights area of town (where our hotel is).  He can’t find I-64.  He says none of the (admittedly very few) street names on the map match any of the names I’m calling out.

It’s an overcast day, and there’s no telling if we are heading east, which we should be, or west, which we definitely should NOT be.  If, in fact, we ARE headed west, we are driving away from the science center and will eventually end up back in Fenton!  Ah, well, it’s a grand adventure.  Josiah informs me that he thinks we’re going the wrong way, but my innate sense of direction tells me that we’re really okay.  If we just stay on Manchester eastbound long enough, we’ll hit Kingshighway, which will take us to Forest Park.  Since Manchester more or less parallels I-64, we are just taking the more scenic and more highly stop-lighted route.

Having gone several miles down Manchester and finding ourselves in a old monied residential area, Josiah all but insists that we turn around.  As a compromise, I pull off into a neighborhood and locate a woman my age out walking her dog.

“Excuse me, but I’m a lost tourist.  Can you tell me the best wat to get to Forest Park?”

She thinks a moment and replies that the only was she knows to get to Forest Park from here would be to get back on Manchester, continue in the direction we’d been going, eventually get on I-44, and take the Forest Park exit.  I thank her but decide that I-44 is way south of where we wanted to be.  Instead, we will simply turn around (much to Josiah’s relief) and take Manchester all the way into town.

Yes, we have driven some six to ten miles out of our way to the west on Manchester.

Making a U-ie in the road, back we go, and this time, Josiah is able to match up a street every now and then.  We trundle first through nice neighborhoods, then slums, and finally an eternal industrial area.  At long last, I saw the familiar Barnes Jewish hospital off to my left and head for it.  It sits catty-corner to the souteast corner of Forest Park, just a couple blocks from the science center.

When I finally park at a curb a short hike from our destination, it’s been 45 minutes since we left the hotel.  Both boys are rather disgusted with me, but I am actually rather proud of myself.  Anyone can do things the easy way, but I have successfully managed to stretch a 10-minute, 4-mile drive into a 45-minute, 20 mile excursion.

I am pretty sure that I have now seen EVERYTHING there is to see on both ends of Manchester Avenue, plus a double feature of its mid-section.  I can also testify that getting to the science center was NOTHING compared to parking at the zoo. . .

We’re still saving money, right?

We seem to be in a habit of buying cars from friends (three at latest count), and our current van falls into that category.  I happen to know that the friend from whom we bought it is also one of the three readers of this blog, and for that reason, I thought about not mentioning this situation.  However, it’s so darn blog-worthy that I will proceed and trust that the former owner will simply appreciate the comic relief the van is providing.

In fact, all of our cars have always been purchased used.  We like it that way, because it’s hard for us to justify paying out the really big bucks for a new car; especially since we are rough on vehicles, we live in the country, and they sit out on the driveway all the time.  We figure that we could pay $30,000 for a new car, or we could pay $8000 for a used one and hopefully spend something less than the remaining $22,000 in maintenance costs while we own it.

Now, every time a vehicle needs a repair – and when you own five of them that are 10, 10, 13, 13, and 22 years old, those times occur rather frequently – it seems to come to an average of $220, which means that we could fund 100 car repairs for the amount we’re saving by not buying our vehicles new.  I am pretty sure that even with months like this past one, we’re not there yet, and with each repair, we look at each other and say, “Well, it’s just the cost of driving used cars.  We’re still saving money, right?”

So just before Katie went to college, her car needed a spare tire.  Then the Ancient of Days Camry needed a battery.  Then the van’s driver’s window died.  The back windows had died a long time ago, and since they only open about 3/4 of an inch anyway, we didn’t bother getting them fixed.  However, the driver’s window is a pretty high priority, so Fred (20 miles away in Ozark) fixed that.

Then, while we were in St. Louis, we ate at Steak n Shake, and when we got in the van to go back to the hotel, it wouldn’t start.  It was a long story, but eventually after much prayer, and for no other logical reason, it suddenly started.  We thanked God fervently, and it continued to start fine for the rest of our vacation.

We drove four hours home, unloaded, and I got back in the van to take Andrew to gymnastics.  Guess what?  The van wouldn’t start.  Inconvenient, but we simply drove another vehicle off our personal used car lot.  When I returned home, Scott was under the hood, trying all things mechanical.  No luck, but the next day it started.

A day or two later, it wouldn’t start.  I was getting frustrated.  Fred said if I brought it in and he could get it to NOT start, he could test it out and find out exactly what was wrong.  It started, so we took it to Fred, leaving it with him for over a day.  He tried it hot, cold, wet, dry, inside, outside, hood open, hood closed.  He took it for test drives.  You name it; he tried it.  Over 40 times.  It started every time.

He said he was 80% sure it was the starter, because in cases like this, that’s what it almost always is.  He could replace the starter, and that would probably fix the problem forever, BUT it COULD fail to start the next day and “you’ll have to love me, because it’s an intermittent problem and if I can’t duplicate it here, I can’t be 100% sure that that’s what it is.  No one can be positive of what the problem is if it won’t fail so that I can test it.”  I conveyed this information to Scott who said he thought we should have the starter replaced.  This made good sense for another reason.  In cold weather, when you turn the key, it makes this hideous metal-grinding-against-metal noise and doesn’t turn over.  You turn the key a second (or in VERY cold weather a third) time, and it vrrrooms to life.  It has done this for the three years we’ve had the van, so the grinding noise no longer bothers us.  It just scares new passengers.

Fred replaced the starter and we brought the van home.  I was greatly relieved.  As a wife, I have a high need for security, and knowing that our main family vehicle would not leave us stranded was a comfort to my psyche.

Sunday we drove the van to church, as we always do.  For various reasons, we were late leaving, and the parking lot was almost empty when we got in the van. . . and I turned the key. . . and the van wouldn’t start.  That would be our new $200 starter that wasn’t starting.  Scott said, “I can’t BELIEVE this!”  I just got out and let him deal with it.  A friend pulled his SUV over and offered to jump us.  The dash was all lit up and chimes were ringing, so it didn’t seem that the battery was dead, but we had no better ideas, so he jumped us and, lo and behold, the van started.  Hallelujah!  You can bet we did not stop anywhere on the way home.  I even told Andrew, “Pee now, or hold it.”

Scott examined the van Sunday evening and said that he thought I’d have to jump if off the Camry in the morning.  He’d be leaving first thing Monday morning for a quick business trip to Columbus, so I’d have to deal with the van.  He advised jumping it, taking it to Wal-Mart, and asking them to test the battery.

I am not a totally ignorant person when it comes to cars.  I used to do some minor car repairs in my single days, and it’s been about that long since I have jumped a car.  I said, “Does Josiah know how to jump a car?  I really don’t remember the specifics, except that you have to connect positive to positive and negative to negative.”  Scott replied, “Yes, Josiah knows how to do it.”

Skeptical, I got up early Monday morning, before Scott left, pulled the Camry up to the van, recruited Josiah, and asked him to jump it.  “I don’t know how to do that, Mom.”  Well, it was the blind leading the blind, and we came pretty close to the ditch.  Scott had told me that on the van (where the battery sits front to back), the terminal closest to the dashboard was positive.  So we had the jumper cables with their red and black wires and handles, and we had the BRAND NEW (mentioned above) Camry battery with one of its terminals encircled by bright red felt.

The Camry was running, and I held the handles apart while Josiah made the connections.  He got three of them done and then handed the fourth handle to me.  “Oh, no you don’t.  That’s a manly job!”  I stood way back, which didn’t give him any more confidence, and he hooked the last one on.  Blue sparks went everywhere.

Josiah:  “It’s sparking.  Oh, my!”

Me:  “Uuhhh. . . what happened?”

Josiah:  “I guess they touched something.  It’s. . .”


Josiah:  (jumping backwards)  “We’ve gotta disconnect it!”

Me:  “Turn off the car!!!”

He did and the smoke continued.  It got worse.  He grabbed the leads off the Camry and held them aloft.  Then he took the leads off the van and dropped the cables on the gravel driveway.  I had had it.

I went in the house and hollered at Scott that we needed some help.  He (I think with great effort) managed to avoid rolling his eyes and came to our rescue.  I told him what we had done, and how I KNEW we had done it properly.  Van positive with the red wire to the Camry red (positive), etc.  Scott leaned over the Camry’s brand new battery and said, “See these marks here?”  I couldn’t see them, and I had my glasses on.  I guess I need new glasses.  “They’re marked (+) and (- ), for positive and negative.  You had them switched. ”

I protested that that could not POSSIBLY be the case, because the Camry’s positive terminal was clearly marked with red felt.  He replied, “It may have red felt around it, but it says (-) right here (pointing).”  Now somebody vindicate me, please!  Isn’t red positive and black negative?  Has THAT changed since I was growing up, too?!?!?

So Scott got it hooked up properly, jumped the van, and it started.  He told me that the battery was three years old and maybe it was dead.  Maybe we needed a new battery.  Have Wal-Mart check it.  And if the battery was indeed dead, then Fred should have figured that out and not charged us nearly $200 for a new starter we didn’t need!  Scott left, and as I had not yet even showered, I left the van running for thirty minutes, then drove it to Wal-Mart, where they did indeed diagnose a “completely shot” battery and charged me $75 for a new one that they would replace for free if it turned up dead on their doorstep (with a receipt) in less than three years.

I drove away from Wal-Mart a revived and confident woman.  With a new starter AND a new battery, I was good for three years, no matter what.

That evening, I had to take Andrew to Springfield for a birthday party. Explaining why is beyond the scope of this post, but I decided to maximize my time by going first to Sam’s to load two cooolers and most of the back of the van with food, THEN dropping Andrew at the party, and finally rewarding myself with some alone-at-the-library time before picking him up.  Andrew enjoyed being my helper man and he single-handedly did a great job of packing all the groceries into the van and returning the cart.  Meanwhile, I hopped into the van to get the air going.

The van would not start.

You read that correctly.  It would not start.

I was sitting in the Sams’parking lot, nose in, cars parked all around me, with a brand new starter and an eight-hour-old battery, and the van wouldn’t start.

Andrew was due at the party in ten minutes.  I wanted to cry.

Instead, I took a deep breath, prayed, and told Andrew to get in.  I tried several more times to start the van, to no avail.  I called Scott.  He was in Kansas City, about to board his plane.  I told him the situation and asked him to pray.  He did, and then he asked me what I was going to do.  I had no idea.  I knew I could call Jessica (40 minutes away) to come get us, but then what would I do with the van?  It was 5:20 PM.  Fred was closed.  I told Scott to just pray for us, and I would figure something out, but that if this was going to be the new norm, I was ready to look for a new van.

I got out and propped the hood.  Scott had suggested jiggling the wires to the battery, which I tried to do, but of course they were tight as drums, having just been installed that morning.  I got back in the van and tried several more times.  Nothing.  All the dash lights lit up, but no click, click, click, click, no rnnnn, nnnn, nnnn, nnnn, nnnn, nnnn, nnnn, and most assuredly no VRRROOOM.

Andrew said, “I won’t complain if I’m late.”

I thought, “I just hope we can get home.”

I beat on the dash, jiggled the PRNDL handle and turned the key.  It started.  Boy, was I thankful!

I took Andrew to the party, late.  I just dropped him and left the engine running.  I drove through Wendy’s and got myself some food, and sat in the parking lot and ate it with the engine running.  I went on to the library and sat in the car for a few moments wondering what to do.  I had an hour, but I couldn’t leave the van running for an hour.  Someone would drive off with it and all my Sam’s!  I turned the car off and immediately tried to start it.  Three times.  = )  No problem.

After the library, I parked (nose out) at the pizza place and picked up Andrew.  It started.  I am typing this blog 24 hours later, and so far, it has started consistently.  However, on the way home from the gym tonight, the brake light started coming on every time I pressed down significantly on the brake.

Scott just called from Kansas City and asked how my day was.  “Well, I’ve had a little van trouble; the brake light is coming on all the time now, and I can’t find any brake fluid in the shop.  I’ll go get some tomorrow and see if that helps.  If not, maybe there’s a leak in the hydraulic system?  I guess we’d need to take it back to Fred. . . ”

But for now, we’re home, we’re safe, and just think what we can do with our $20,000!

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