Incidentally, accidents do happen

We were loading some grands into the car for a long weekend at our house when one of the girls handed me an envelope containing cash. “Mom says this is for accidentals.”

I asked if she meant incidentals and she said, no, she thought her mom said it was for accidentals.

Naturally, your first thought is: I wonder what they plan on breaking? Furniture? Dishes, maybe?

Hopefully, not one of their bones.

Or one of my bones.

But this isn’t a group that tends to wreak havoc.

That said, there are components of our larger group that would put my mind at ease if they did arrive with small claims policies in tow. Flashbacks of certain individuals falling off the porch rail, scaling trees and running barefoot on aging, uneven sidewalks swiftly come to mind.

I texted our daughter asking how wild she thought the weekend would be that she needed to send money for accidentals.

She texted that it made sense now. When she handed off the envelope, the girl had said, “You mean this money is for if we break something?”

Her mom said, “I guess, or if you want to go out for pizza.”

Breaking the back on a sofa is one thing and getting pizza is another. You’d think some clarification would have been in order.

Not long after the kids unloaded at our house, a basketball game commenced in the driveway. Naturally, this was followed by an injury.

I compared the injured ankle to the uninjured ankle. They looked similar, although the injured ankle was hot pink and starting to puff up a bit. The money for accidentals would not have covered a trip to the ER, so I declared it an incidental.

We put ice on it. Ice is free. (There would still be money for pizza.)

Ten minutes later the kid was back in the game. It truly had been an incidental.

Score one for Grandma.

Someone asked the difference between an incidental and an accidental.

“Why? Are you planning something?” I asked.

No, she just wanted to know.

There is actually a lot of overlap. Neither an incidental nor an accidental is planned, but an incidental usually has minor consequences while an accidental has more serious consequences. An incidental usually results in relatively small expense, while an accidental often results in significant expense.

There was yet another incident in which an old, heavy blind above a double-wide window fell and left a small knot on someone’s forehead. There was no significant expense involved as the better half rehung it in the brackets, announcing it wouldn’t fall if people used the correct technique for raising it.

A lively discussion ensued as to whether we should replace the old window blind or instruct everyone who enters the house on correct technique for raising it.

We were unable to classify the event as incidental or accidental, although the child clobbered by the blind classified it as painful.

We came to a consensus that what really mattered was that we still had money for pizza.



I hope you enjoy the Memorial Day holiday! The National Monument of Remembrance Act passed in 2000 asks all Americans to stop what they are doing at 3:00 pm on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who died while in service. Our family has made this a tradition. We live free due to the sacrifice of others.

My dad always said he had the “perfect childhood.” My mother grew up in the same area, in the same time frame, and would just roll her eyes. They both came from large Nebraska farm families during the Depression. My dad loved being outside. He loved going without shoes all summer and checking trap lines on the way to school in the fall and winter.

This is a picture of a community threshing crew. Everyone in this photo, with the exception of two hired hands, is a relative or neighbor of my dad’s family. Little did the younger ones in this picture know that WWII would be waiting for them. The man circled on top, was  one of Dad’s cousins named Lyle Merrill. He was killed in 1941 flying over France. The next one circled is my dad. No shirt, good tan lines. He served in WWII. The one circled in front of my dad was John, one of my dad’s four brothers. John was killed in WWII on Mindanao Island in 1945.

Ordinary people doing ordinary things, called into service by their country. Some gave all. On Memorial Day, we pause and remember.

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A pig, a horse and a sheep walk into a surprise party

Our youngest grand announced she wanted a surprise birthday party when she turned five.

Her wish came true. It was a farm theme party with a barn door made from a red plastic tablecloth, popcorn wrapped in cello bags and green tissue for corn on the cob and Rice Krispie treats labeled hay bales. Three large plastic horses, a plush pig stuffie and an old saddle rounded out the décor.

The birthday girl, wearing her fluffy pink pig costume went on an “errand” with her dad to Tractor Supply. The rest of us then received an all-clear text saying, “The pig has left the building.”

We slipped in, found hiding places and waited. The front door opened, they walked in. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas and grandpas, jumped out yelling, “SURPRISE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

The pig froze. Absolutely froze. We all froze waiting for a response. The pig didn’t respond, didn’t oink, smile, wiggle her tail or say a word. It looked like she was going to cry.

Who would approach the child, now traumatized by the surprise birthday party of her dreams? Mom. That’s who. That’s always who. Mom held her close and softly explained what was happening. Still no response.

Great. The child may need therapy. At the very least she will never again go to a Tractor Supply.

Isn’t that how it goes? You finally get what you always wanted and discover you didn’t really want it after all.

Then someone said, “Look! Presents!”

The birthday girl slowly, carefully, hesitatingly opened a gift. How could she know what might jump out of the gift bag? Her color gradually returned. She began to thaw and return to life. Ten minutes later she was threatening any cousin who would dare blow out her birthday candles before she could. Taking no chances, she blew them out after the first “Happy Birthday to . . . “

What a relief. It looked as though she would be OK. Then someone said, “Every family birthday party this year should be a surprise party.” (We are slow learners.)

One of our sons-in-law announced he’d like a surprise birthday party. Then he made the mistake of falling asleep on the couch.

Someone suggested a Go Navy theme surprise party. He is a West Point alum and Army veteran. When he woke up, we told him our plans. He said we were all uninvited.

I happened to know our girls were planning a surprise anniversary party for us. I told them we didn’t want one. They said, “Surprise! You’re having one anyway.”

I said, “OK, but—Surprise!—it  needs to be at our house and the theme will be Patch and Repair.” I made it clear the patch and repair would not be on us, but a work party to remove roots from an 85-foot pine tree that toppled in high winds.

I texted our son and said, “Can you bring a chainsaw to our surprise anniversary party?”

He didn’t even question why, just said sure.

My better half likes surprises. This will be a great one.

My birthday is six months away. My surprise for them is that I plan on being out of town.

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Step away from the ‘fridge and nobody gets hurt

A reader named Alice emailed, saying her grandchildren seem to think they are the “Food Expiration Date Police.” They go through her ‘fridge and try to throw away expired food.

I emailed Alice back saying we must be related. We have food police in our family as well.

A granddaughter will forage in the ‘fridge, pull something out and say, “Grandma, did you know this cheese expired?”

“I don’t see anything green growing on it, do you?” I ask.

“No,” she says.

“Then it didn’t expire; it just joined the ‘aged cheese’ category.”

Now, if the roles were reversed and I were to say, “The ice cream has expired,” they’d all grab spoons and clamor to test it for themselves.

With the wide variety of expiration dates, “best by,” “sell by” and “use by” cautions, it is hard to know who and what to believe.

Food experts contradict other food experts and manufacturers waffle on whether the cautions mean it is about to go bad, it has gone bad or you’re going to be sorry you opened it. It gives new dimension to “food fight.”

Some of the grandkids hail from the “Fast Pitch” school, while we are of the “Wait and See” school. There’s no real school; my expertise (or lack thereof) comes from regular consumption, a loathing of wasting food and an innate fear of anything made with mayonnaise sitting in the sun on a picnic table.

I adhere to the dates on fish, chicken and pork, but am skeptical of the expiration dates on canned goods. How does anyone know the exact date something vacuum sealed goes bad?

Expiration dates on chips and crackers are dubious. After all, the main ingredient is usually salt.

I’ve yet to meet a mustard or vinegar that went bad. Is it chemically possible?

Then there are the foods you desperately want to go bad, but don’t. I’ve been waiting two weeks for a nasty-tasting salsa to spoil so I can justify pitching it. The salsa hasn’t expired, but it has surely worn out its welcome.

Store bought pasta sauce is easy to diagnose; it crosses the finish line growing a fuzzy mold. Ditto for sour cream, ricotta and cream cheese.

The shelf life for yeast seems suspiciously short, but when you make a bread that has to rise three times, it’s too much work to take a chance.

The husband has a wide latitude when it comes to questionable foods.

He will pour half and half in his coffee, announce it appears curdled, say we need more, and then drink the coffee.

The man is our canary in the mine.

The “use by” and “best by” dates don’t mean the product has literally expired and is inedible, but most often indicate when the food is at its peak freshness.

My better half and I are past our peak freshness.

We hope nobody throws us out.




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At Mom School class is always in session

The problem with moms is that they’re old from the first day you get one. The moment you lock eyes with your mom it is clear she is larger than you are, older than you are and smarter than you are (at least for a few years). She doesn’t drool and never sticks her thumb in her eye.

Eventually, you begin noticing other things, too—how your mom can ride a bike without training wheels, cut her own meat, and sometimes dress up so fancy that you hardly recognize her.

Naturally, you look up to a woman like that. She’s an imposing presence. This complex creature can love you tenderly one minute and put the fear of God into you the next.

A mom is doctor, nurse, first responder, chief cook and bottle washer, housekeeper, teacher, coach and comforter. From a child’s vantage point, it looks like she knows everything about everything. It is hard to imagine there was a time when your mother wasn’t a mother. You assume your mom was always a mom—that she was born a mom.

One of my favorite cartoon panels is a mother with two small children seated at a bar. The mom is wearing a sleeveless shirt showcasing an upper arm tattoo reading, “Born to Raise Kids.”

The thing is, nobody is born a mom. Becoming a mom is the ultimate in on-the-job training. Sure, you can read all the experts, you can even do motherhood by Google, but the experts and Google don’t know your children. Nobody knows your children like you do.


Motherhood is a never-ending process of discovery. In most cases, slowly but surely, a mother learns how to read a child.

Moms develop a sixth sense that can tell from across a room when a child doesn’t feel well, or watch a child walk in the door and intuitively know something is wrong.

Mom School happens one day and one season at a time. It’s a branch of education you’ll never be awarded a degree for or walk across a stage in a cap and gown and hear your name called out for completing the course of study. Mama cum laude never happens. Motherhood is a course of study that never ends.

Our babies are all grown now. They have become moms and dads. But I can still tell from across the room when one is tired, off-kilter or concerned about one of their own.

I watch with amazement as they deftly decode their children, sense the needs, fill the gaps and provide opportunities for growth and challenges.

You’d never know they’re learning as they go, sometimes adlibbing, other times completely winging it.

No mom ever gets it all right all the time. If you were blessed, like I was, to have a mom who gave it her best, you have been richly blessed.

If your mom is still living, acknowledge what she has done for you. You can just say thanks. She’ll know what you mean. And her heart will probably melt.

To all you moms still in the trenches, give it everything you’ve got. Keep loving, keep learning and keep pushing forward because being a mom is the most important job you’ll ever have.


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Hard to know if we’re schooling or getting schooled

We often homeschool three of our grands on Tuesdays while their mother works. We’re not sure if we are the ones “schooling” or the ones “getting schooled.”

We don’t do a lot of instruction per se. We’re thinking there may be some trust issues involved. Our primary job is to keep order, check their work, review assignments, quiz them on various subjects and provide food. We excel at that last one.

Sometimes our pupils turn the tables and have us take their quizzes to see how we do. I recently received a lackluster score on a quiz on stars and planets. I had the right answers in general but did not use proper textbook terminology.

Po-tay-to. Po-tot-o.

I demanded a retest but was told that’s not how the system works. I hope this doesn’t go on my permanent record.

Our real strength may be supplemental education: Driveway basketball, planting peas, onions and garlic, baking blueberry crumb coffeecake, bird identification and yard maintenance. We are not above taking advantage of free labor.

We also tend to do well in history, no doubt because we have lived great swaths of it. We put the “old” in Old School. They are all voracious readers, so we often discuss biographies and history, frequently taking unexpected sideroads.

The other day I asked if any of them knew why Lady Justice was blindfolded. I found a picture of Lady Justice on my phone. They passed it around, studied it, pondered it, then replied.

The oldest said, “I think it has something to do with race. She doesn’t want to see if someone is black or white, because we used to have slavery. Or she doesn’t want to see if someone is attractive or unattractive.”

Not bad, not bad at all.

The second one, the lively free-thinking, meandering one in the group, said, “She doesn’t want to see the inside of people’s business, or personal things people do because there are bigger things to take care of than being in someone else’s business. Keep your nose on your own face.”

Our future libertarian has spoken.

The youngest, thoughtful and pensive, softly said, “She doesn’t want to see all the annoying conflicts where wrong is bigger than right.”

I explained Lady Justice is blindfolded to represent the idea that justice should be unbiased and not influenced by a person’s appearance. This seemed like a good wrap to our school time, but somebody wanted to revisit whether Jupiter or Saturn has more moons.

We wouldn’t want to be schooling kids every day, but we enjoy our occasional roles proctoring and teaching, delving into decimals, fractions, demonstrative and possessive pronouns, the galaxies, and a smidge of political philosophy.

A resounding thud echoes in the driveway indicating we have now moved on to physical education.

Oh, the correct answer to which planet has more moons? Jupiter.

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