Sunday, June 29, 2008

Enjoying the Country Life!

At least I am now that my brother has gotten my wireless router up and running at the in-laws house! I can now access email with my own computer and print off anything I need. Whew! But despite my catching up with all my techie stuff, I am still managing to enjoy the "simple" life in the country... but it has NOT been boring, to say the least!

I arrived in the township of Detroit, Illinois (good luck finding it on a map!) at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, and moved in, took the spill on the 4-wheeler (already mentioned in a previous post) and got ready for my family to arrive via plane the next day.

Here is a quick photo of my kids with the gifts my Creative Escape Paint Can Swap Secret Sister gave them. To avoid a fight they each shared the Play-doh and bouncy balls.

Wednesday and Thursday nights there were thunderstorms, bringing rain the area just does not need. In fact, the National Guard came to buy more than 1,000 bales of straw from Uncle Jim, bringing trucks and personnel to haul it away to a levee in New Canton, IL. While I thought that the bales would be stacked as a sort of barrier, I learned that they would be placed in a machine that would shoot them on the levee, spreading it out to act as a sponge, soaking up the excess water, and hopefully saving the levee, the town and the folks' farming livelihoods. In the meantime, loading the straw upset a sleeping raccoon, who scurried out of the barn and into a nearby field. The cows in the barnyard steered (no pun intended!) clear of the barn while the the straw was loaded, and even waded in the nearby pond to beat the 90-degree heat and high humidity.

Friday was Rodney's 30th birthday. We surprised him with a party, inviting the local community via the weekly newspaper the Pike County Express. More than 60 people attended the Sloppy Joe supper and it was so much fun to see Rodney's surprised face when he saw all of his family and friends there.

Saturday was a very busy day - we headed off to an estate auction in Pittsfield, which are quite popular here. My parents love them, as do my in-laws, so I have no choice but to enjoy them! I actually placed my first bids ever, in an auction like these, and loved the "rush."

I didn't get everything I bid on, but I did get a handful of great antiques: an oak end table, a small semi-circle table for Rodney to refinish so it is a lighter color and coat rack/clothes tree, complete with wooden crutches, which Rodney's Grandma Velma modeled for us. The wooden crutches were just an added bonus! Hopefully no one here will be needing them.

After the auction, we rested for a couple of hours and then headed to the Western Illinois Fair in Griggsville, IL. We allowed our inner redneck take charge and headed straight for the arena, for the infamous School Bus Demolition Derby event.

I LOVE demo derbies and hope to drive in one one of these days. I am sure I will suck, but as long as it is all in good fun and no one gets any serious injuries, I'd be the first in line! My MiL, Peggy, has a cousin, Roger, who was the oldest driver int he derby. Of course, being from Detroit, IL, we were rooting for him. When we go to the derby and saw his bus, we saw that we had another reason to cheer for Roger - he has painted my parents' last name - Kasal - on the front and back of his bus in red paint! Whoo-hoo! A demo derby AND a great reason to root for somebody! And don't forget the kiddie rides, petting zoo (which featured the usual goats, sheep and ponies, but also a couple of camels and kangaroos/wallabees), cheesy games, corndogs and funnel cake...YUM!

There some great hits between the 12 buses (three heats of four) to bring it to the final six, which the Kasal bus was a part of! There were fires and flying metal. The boys loved the noise, the cheering and the hits, of course, although I wasn't too shy with my praise, either. While the Roger and the Kasal bus didn't win they got respect for being the only bus to be pushed up on to the guardrail of the arena, causing more permanent damage to the arena than any other bus.

Rodney and I stayed to meet some of his friends at the "beer garden" to listen to a concert by the local cover band Antidote, which was a good time. We got in around midnight, but Rodney was kind eough to allow me to sleep in until 11 a.m. then next morning...

Sunday brought sunshine and spotty showers, houshold bills to pay (fun - NOT!) and lunch at Aunt Sam's house for a mere 27 family members. That woman can cook and cook for many! Ham, green beans, homemade rolls, three different desserts ... NO one went hungry! We also found out that Uncle Jim and Aunt Brenda got a new Kubota vehicle to take around when they do daily chores (feed and care for their different herds of cattle). Having seen this third non-car vehicle enter the family, I began to think that when people in the country go through a "mid-life" crisis, they don't get sports cars or boats like the city and suburban folks do. They get other toys, like Peggy's 4-wheeler

Aunt Sam and Uncle John's Gator

And the Kubota, nick-named "The Pumpkin Truck" by the kids.
There is only the youngest aunt left, Aunt Vic, and her DH Uncle Earl. I wonder what they will come home with one day! But the toys were of use for the younger generation. My brother, Joe, Rodney and Rodney's cousin Ryan headed off for an hour or two on 4-wheelers to tear around the local farms. They came back quite muddy, but unharmed.

Slade is feeling much better today, a week after his Flagstaff heart failure incident. Rodney found him touring the property, about a quarter mile from the house and brought him back. He's even taking to jogging across the yard for his dinner and getting down to invite me to play. The Canyon Pet Clinic in Flagstaff has great customer service - they called me yesterday to see how he was doing and I was happy to report that he was doing better than expected.

Now, off to the drive-in movie theater in Pittsfield to watch Kung-Fu Panda. I have not been to a drive-in since I was a baby, so it will be a nice thing to experience and remember this time!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Driving Across Country: Day 4

Today was a short day driving. I only had to go 365 miles, compared to around 600 Day 2 and Day 3, so I tried to sleep in an extra hour. But poor Slade's bladder wasn't having any of it, so I was up at 6:30 a.m., anyway, taking him out.

We left Springfield, Missouri around 9 a.m., after I had a very tasty breakfast at the local Waffle House. Ahh, one of the simple pleasures of life you just can't get in California! Ran into another Boxer owner at a rest stop between Springfield and St. Louis and chatted about the dogs for a moment.

I would usually drive from St. Louis, along the Mississippi River on the Missouri side, but the Midwestern flooding closed the Louisiana, MO, bridge I would usually cross to get to Pike County, Illinois. If you have seen CNN or read the USA Today lately, the towns of Clarksville, MO, and Grafton, IL, may sound familiar. These are two towns that are now flooded and the nearby highways I would usually travel on are closed. So, I had to take a longer way around, through Alton, Illinois, whose local casino overflow parking lot was under water.

By seeing the highway closures and the depth of the Illinois River as I crossed it, the flood news I had been reading about and watching on TV truly came to life for me. Corn, soy bean and wheat fields are flooded, ruined. Local Pike County farmers have not had an easy year, with bad ice storms this winter breaking limbs off trees, so they had to be cleared from fields before they could be planted; the flooding, and then, to add insult to injury, a hail storm with quarter-sized hail hit Sunday, beating the ready-to-be harvested winter wheat and shredding young corn plants' leaves into ribbons. That will delay the corn harvest this fall by about two weeks. So, aside from fuel prices, there may be other reasons why food prices rise this fall.

Once I arrived at my in-laws' comfortable, rural house, I unloaded the car, taking small breaks in the air-conditioned house to get out of the humidity and wipe the sweat off my face - yuck! Where is that dry heat of Arizona!? It was only 86 but felt SO much warmer! After making the dogs comfortable in outdoor dog runs (which Ripley is STILL protesting at 11:30 p.m. at night with barks and howls ... not that I blame him. I would prefer a fluffy dog bed in an air-conditioned hotel room, too, but this IS farm country and dogs don't live indoors here ... or at least that what I've been told. Slade's run was outfitted with a breezy fan and lots of straw ... he was sound asleep when I checked in on him a few hours ago, not waking up until I called his name twice. I keep trying to reassure myself this is OK .. I can be such a wuss when it comes to my dogs.

My MiL Peggy made me my favorite dish of hers for supper, roast beef with all the trimmings. Yum! Then she took me out on her new "toy," a four-wheeler, ATV, whatever you want to call it. We headed out to Grandpa's creek property down the road to see if a certain cow had calved yet. Couldn't find the cow, but Peggy did manage to roll the ATV over on a steep, muddy hill, dumping us into a small muddy ditch. Fortunately, we were just fine, except for Peggy's pride. She told me not to tell anyone - I told her I was taking photos and blogging about it.

Personally, I thought the whole thing was funny. Within a few hours of arriving in farm country, I am sweating profusely and covered in mud. Who-hoo! Aunt Sam and Uncle John then stopped by to show of Aunt Sam's new toy, a Gator, and she drove Peggy and I over to Grandma and Grandpa's house (about a mile down the road, int he opposite direction from the muddy fild we rolled over in) so I could chat with them. Overall, it's been a good day!

Even better was that there was a package waiting for me when I arrived this afternoon. I didn't get around to opening it until tonight. My Creative Escape Paint Can Secret Sister had sent me my paint can here, Oh, it was SO much fun opening the package!

Emily Barklage did an fabulous job, outfitting my paint can in soothing shades of green and blue.

And inside, WOW! Tons of embellies from Tim Holtz, Heidi Swapp, Heidi Grace and more, clear stamps, popcorn, Goldfish crackers, and, proving she is super thoughtful, a goodie for each of my boys! They arrive with my DH and family tomorrow - I am sure they will love the Play-Doh and bouncy balls! Y'know what else is a coincidence? I drove right past her town when I drove in to St. Louis today! I wish I had known, I might have stopped by to say hi! Thank you, Emily for such a fabulous paint can - can't wait to meet you at CE!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hi, Leslie.... Guess What?

I'm your Creative Escape Paint Can Secret Sister! Didn't all the acrylic give it away? LOL ... I know that a few people asked how I got the letters to stand up. I just Crop-a-diled holes at the bottom of the letters (Be careful! Not all acrylic can be CaD-ed w/o shattering!) and tied them on tight to the handle, with all the other ribbon. This was a fun can to do! I am so glad you enjoyed it! I SOOO love paint can and secret sister swaps ... this swap was the best of both worlds! Thanks, Shannon, for organizing it!

Driving Across Country: Day 3

I saw fireflies tonight! We're spending the night in Springfield, Missouri, and I had forgotten about this simple summer pleasure of the Midwest. It was hilarious watching Ripley go after the floating light and then search for it frantically when the bug's butt light went out. I am looking forward to enjoying watching the fireflies at night when I get to Illinois - and burning off Rip's extra energy!

Today's trip was UNEVENTFUL, thank goodness. I can use a day with no events! We left Amarillo at about 8:30 a.m., but not before poor Slade had a pee accident on the floor of the hotel room. Dang. The Plavix makes him drink and pee constantly and I must have been sound asleep still at 6 a.m., when I thought I heard a waterfall in my dream. To his credit, he was sheepishly mortified until I reassured him I knew it wasn't his fault. He did pee in the bathroom, which he has done on a few occasions throughout his life when it is an "emergency" and he does not have access to the outdoors. It's like he knows that's the room to potty in, but he can't figure out how to get his rear end up on to the toilet. I alerted the hotel to the "oops," expressing my own sheepish mortification and apologies. No wonder not too many hotels accept pets! Ugh, sorry!

About an hour East of Amarillo is Shamrock, Texas, where I was sure to stop and pay my respects. With 1,000 miles still to go before I get to Illinois and a frail dog in my charge, I need as much good luck as I can get!

I hit Oklahoma not long after I stopped in Shamrock. In Oklahoma City I got on what must be the longest toll road in the country, the John Kirkpatrick Turnpike. I spent about $15 in tolls to travel about 125 miles, through Tulsa, to the Missouri border. There is a huge McDonald's restaurant that spans across the entire four-lane tollway. Trust me, there is no way you can miss it if you happen to travel that way.

Apparently my stop in Shamrock paid off. Slade looks to be feeling much better this evening. He ate a whole can of dog food for dinner, his first meal since Sunday morning, and he kept it down. Yay! He's still weak and tired, much like someone who has suffered a heart attack, and he has clearly lost weight he can't really afford to lose. I need to fatten him up ASAP. Hopefully we will all get a good night's sleep, as I have not slept more than four hours on either of the two nights we've traveled. Only one more day left - on to Pike County, Illinois!

Sidenote: Now that I'm pulling one myself, I have been noticing cargo trailers of all kinds. One thing I have noticed are the names of them - they all have some clever take on some other brand name or phrase. I'm pulling a Load-Runner (roadrunner), and I have seen a Wells Cargo (Wells Fargo) and a Haulmark (Hallmark). Interesting.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Driving Across Country: Day 2

I woke up at 6 a.m. after a fitful night's sleep. Slade was not too excited about getting up, so I got dressed and took Ripley and Marble out to potty first. By the time I had them fed, watered and ready to go, Slade was ready to get up. He managed to drink some water but had no interest in food. However, when he saw me start to pack up my suitcase and the bags of dog stuff, he got himself up off his cushion and to the door, watching me expectantly. Apparently, he is not a big fan of Flagstaff and was ready to go. He was NOT going to be left behind!

I had hoped to drive around the Northern Arizona University campus, my old Alma mater, before I left, to see how much it had changed since I graduated 10 years ago (OMG, has it been that long!?), but I need to get Slade "off the mountain" as soon as I could so that the altitude would stop aggravating his heart condition. He was coughing A LOT less, and no more sickness, so it looked like he was on the mend, albeit very tired.

We were on the road by 8 a.m. I would lose two hours as I drove across New Mexico to Amarillo. Pulling a trailer, I have to drive slower than I usually would, plus I have to stop for potty breaks (mine and the dogs'), food, fresh-brewed iced tea and fuel, so the 600-mile drive would be about 10 hours, then add two hours for the time change.

As I drove across the Easter half of Arizona, I couldn't help but be reminded of the very popular Depeche Mode song I had grown up with, only with the cities listed in reverse, "Well, it goes to St. Louis, down to Missouri; Oklahoma City looks Oh so pretty. You'll see Amarillo; Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino..." Some of Interstate 40 has been built on the old Route 66.

I love the northern New Mexico scenery. There are such vivid contrasts with red rock, green shrubs, yellow grasses and black volcanic rock. This picture really doesn't do it justice. I had to pull off on to a freeway overpass and stand on my car hood to get this shot without any building or cars in it. I wish I had the time to really get off the beaten path for great photos of the area.

I was surrounded by thunderstorms both in eastern New Mexico and Texas. Lightning, some of it arcing from one cloud to another, was all over the place. Fortunately, I could enjoy watching it because it wasn't raining heavily on me as I drove, just enough to get everything damp.

I got into Amarillo at 8 p.m. local time. I made the dogs and turtles comfortable in the hotel and then went to get a steak dinner. I needed one! I got back and had time to play with the dogs, something I don't get to do as often as I would like. Slade still wouldn't eat dinner, but he continues to drink water. Hopefully he will feel like eating tomorrow morning. He also didn't feel like playing much, but he butt his head against mine and enjoyed an ear scratch.

Ripley, who is usually always ready for a wrestling match, thought he was a 70-pound lap dog, and was more interested in trying to curl up in my lap as I sat on the foor to play.

But traveling seems to agree with Marble, as she was ready to bounce around, lick my face and just generally act more chipper than usual.

Now, everyone is settled in for the night and hopefully I will get a better night's sleep than I did last night! Off to Missouri tomorrow!

Driving across country Day 1: SoCal to Flagstaff

Three dogs, two turtles, a trailer and I hit the road Sunday morning, starting the first of a 4-day trek across country to Illinois, where we will stop for a family vacation before heading on to Pensacola, Florida. The first six or so hours of the trip were uneventful, I enjoyed watching the gas prices drop as I headed East, out of California. The most expensive: Needles, CA with $5.19 per gallon for regular unleaded. Ouch! The cheapest: A small town between Kingman and Flagstaff at $3.85. Whoo-hoo!

I was so excited about the lower gas prices that I wanted to just get enough gas in Needles to get me to what I was sure would be much lower prices towards Kingman, AZ. I kept an eye on my car's mile estimator and I had plenty of miles to get me well in to Arizona... or so I thought. Apparently we headed uphill for most of that leg of the trip because the fuel went twice as fast as the estimator had estimated. I has 10 miles left in my tank and there was no gas station in sight. Not only that, but I had a big hill in front of me, with no guarantees as to what was on the other side. When my gas tank said I only had three miles left, I did a very un-Jessica thing. I panicked. I have never been "dumb enough" to run out of gas before and figured that this was just the "perfect" time to do it - when I was dragging a heavy trailer and carried three boxer dogs over the age of 7 in 95-degree heat. I was so mad at myself for not having paid better attention ... I had tears streaming down my face and found myself chanting, "Please, please, please." The dogs were restless in the back of the car, they could tell something was not right with me. Please, dear God, let there be a gas station on the other side of this hill!

Prayer answered! There was Love's truck stop, and I coasted into it (ignoring one stop sign, but no one was around, I promise!), with one mile left in my tank. In fact, the BIG warning beep went off the moment I but the car in park. Deep sigh ... thank you! The crisis over, the scrapbooker in me took over. I dug for my camera so I could take a picture to document my stupdity and remind myself never to do THAT agin, no matter how much cheaper gas is!

About an hour outside of Flagstaff, AZ, my old man, Slade, who will be 11 in August, started getting sick in the car. All three of my dogs have traveled across country with me on more than one occassion and have always done very well. I thought perhaps his age had made him more sensitive, but the coughing and hacking continued until after I had cleaned up the car and settled into the hotel room, about three hours later. Long story short, after leaving the other two dogs fed and pottied in the hotel room (where, BTW, my debit card was denied when I registered, just to give me more stress... it turns out there was NO reason that should have happened, so I think that my kharma was all out of whack or something, today!), I rushed Slade to the vet (BTW, if you are ever in need of a vet in Flagstaff, call Canyon Vet Clinic and hope Dr. Sarah is on call. She was fabulous, as was her vet tech ... so sorry I cannot remember his name, Sean?) to find that he has a congentital heart condition found in boxers and that the high altitude had sent him into heart failure. The coughing and hacking was because there was blood in his lungs because the blood in his heart was not being pumped out effectively and was backing up. He was getting sick because his organs were shutting down. I really thought this was "it" for poor Slade and I was in quite a state, with my DH and family on the other end of the cell phone in California, unable to help. But there was hope. Dr. Sarah explained the condition in detail and said that a lower altitude and a couple of drugs might help him make it through the night until we could get to that lower altitude of Amarillo, Texas the next day. I agreed to the treatment she offered and after two shots of Plavix, Slade was still lethargic compared with his usual self, but was clearly able to breathe more easily. I took him back to the hotel and let him rest.
Dr. Sarah started him on oral Plavix (blood thinner and diuretic to get the fluid out of his lungs and stop the coughing) and a heart med, both human drugs, and by the next morning, he was weak, but determined NOT to be left behind, apparently. As soon as he saw me starting to pack up the suitcase and bags of dog stuff, he got himself up and to the door, looking at me expectantly. Maybe he is not a goner quite yet...