The Poopsmith

Credit where it’s due. I did not invent the term “poopsmith”. It is a character on He doesn’t say much but you know what he does.

I will do my best to catalog these events to best of my memory. It was such a blur.

On March 26th, day 4 of my work-from-home status, it also turned out to be the day that the local septic service comes out to inspect our tank and note any work or maintenance needed. The kids were home for week 2 of their “spring break” and when the visitors arrived, they wanted to know who the heck it was and what the heck they were doing. I informed them that the poopsmith was here to inspect all of our turds for compliance. As you can see below, they found this work fascinating. I had to describe the journey that a poo takes from the toilet, down to the basement, out to the back yard, through the grinder, into the tanks and ultimately into the leech field and the creek. So what were these people doing there messing with our poo?

Scoping out the alleged turd burglars

During this waiting game of watching and observing, I advised them to watch closely because they might be “turd burglers.” It was RED ALERT at that point. RED. ALERT.

The unwitting crew of 2 men went back and forth to the back yard and their truck out front for various things, measuring sticks, a drill and other magical items. They didn’t take a step without two pressed noses against the glass, calling out theories of their actions while calling out “TURD BURGLARS!” I could only tell myself that those in this line of work were used to such things, with only the 95% probability that they could hear the highly audible and non-radio communications of the now-sworn protectors-of-the-Grace-poo.

The kids used every instrument at their disposal : Nerf scopes, binoculars and pure imagination. When it was time for the crew to deliver their report to Mrs. Grace, the fecal defenders retreated to confer. But with their van packed up and headed south toward the road, Alex and Cassie claimed a well-fought victory and vowed never to let them again invade our precious tanks of valuable sewage.

Monday, April 13th. The kids were in the basement, playing in the homemade Lego land, unaware of an emergency mere feet away that was unfolding. RED ALERT again! This time though, it was an actual red alert. We have a “high water alarm” in the basement that resembles a radiation siren, and not too different in function should you choose to think about it. The kids ran upstairs and said there was an alarm and a red light blinking. I stepped down and confirmed it was true. My mind made the inevitable calculations : The poopsmith would have to return.

Mrs. Grace said it out loud, so the kids could hear. “Do I need to call the septic company?”

The words were still in the air when Alex and Cassie looked at each other “THE TURD BURGLARS ARE COMING BACK!”

The next few minutes call for words from a language that doesn’t exist. How can English be used to describe changing from pajamas into camouflage, locating the best, most lethal weaponry on hand, mounting pillow defenses and ensuring that each south-facing window had a Nerf pistol and a toy guard dog, all at the same time? It can’t.

I don’t know how they did it, but they drafted the dog. They deputized stuffed animals. The poor poopsmith didn’t have a chance.

When the driveway alarm went off, all of the undone preparations had to wait. It was now or never.

The battle was too gruesome to describe. A busted check valve, a burned out pump, a tripped circuit breaker, all collateral damage to the underground carnage that the poopsmith had to repair and replace. The details survive only in the memories of those who were there.

Our coffers are $350 lighter but the experience and learning was priceless. Our poo is safe, thanks to these brave BRAVE children. Thank goodness school was off today, because the outcome could have been tragically different.

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Are you happy?

“Are you happy?” she’ll ask at random times throughout the day. Sometimes I think she asks that to fish for a compliment, one I might have forgotten to hand out when she does something good. “Yes I am happy that you ate a bite of your food since we’re all done eating now.” And she’ll beam a big smile back.

Happy that it’s her 3rd birthday? Yes in the sense that she’s been looking forward to her party for weeks. She even started telling people in advance she was three. But my littlest one is a little less little now. Last I checked she is right around 28 lbs. Plenty small enough to toss up in the air without too much soreness the next morning.

I’ll bet if you ask her at random times of the time if she’s happy, you’re going to get a “yes”. Most mornings she wakes up more cheerful than the rest of us, since she can now open her own bedroom door, shuffle downstairs, crawl into our bed and whisper in my ear “DADA, IPAD!” It’s like she knows that when I’m decaffeinated I can be persuaded just about anything.

Not sure why she wakes up so early, when most times she goes to bed and won’t actually snooze until she’s done reading her books, talking to herself and singing a few songs to herself. I guess she wants to use the mornings to figure out what she’s going to talk and sing about at bedtime.

There are still lots of things we have to help her with, whether it’s getting her toothbrush ready or reaching the soap to wash her hands. But anything that she can marginally do, you aren’t allowed to help. “I CAN DO IT BY MYSELF!” And that pouty face = DOWN. PAT. She’ll even climb a treacherous mountain of toys to turn on the light, just to avoid having to ask for help.

How about her sitting on Grammy’s lap while learning a new song? Just try and help her with lyrics she forgot, and you get a hand to your mouth. No help allowed.

She has a great perception of what we do, too. The other day she said I could get more paper at home. I told her “We are home.” “No your OTHER home. Work.” Ouch. Or when I asked her where momma was. “Downstairs sewing. And you can go back down and watch her sew if you want.” Because that’s what I do.

Or when I looked over at her grinning, proud face and her arms out in accomplishment. What’s that she’s standing on? OH MY IPAD. PERFECT.

I love that she’s remembering everything now. When Kelly and Alex went to the mother/son event at school, I got to take Cassie out, just the two of us. It was simple : Pizza Hut and came back to lay on the couch and watch a movie. The next morning that was the first thing she wanted to do “Go back to the eating place and then come back and turn the lights off to watch a movie.”

It’s so cool to see her learn things from her big brother, yet she’s not afraid to do her own thing and the differences are amazing. They get on each other’s nerves like any two kids do, but they just love being together.

Cassie, I love who you’re growing up to be. You’re beautiful inside and out and don’t ever let your brain stop exploring all there is to know.

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Sunday Night Fever

When Alex was in the beginning of his official toddler years, his legs were CONSTANTLY black and blue.  He was always tripping on his toys, sliding down the stairs, wrestling with me, you name it.  His poor skin never got a chance to heal before the next injury came along.  Sometimes there would be tears, sometimes a bandaid, but never a ruined day.  Sting went away, back to business!  I remember joking at the time how we would probably get a frequent patient card at the ER.

Somehow it took over 5 and a half years for that first visit and certainly not for any reason we expected.  And of course, it won’t be on the list of most fun things to do while camping.  I have a relatively short list of Facebook friends and I really do try to read everything that Zuckerberg throws at me.  And not a week goes by that someone doesn’t mention their ER visit or continuous rotation of sickness from kid to kid.  And I would think then “wow one of these days”.

So, yup.  I may have some of the days wrong, but let’s say on Thursday Alex didn’t go to school because he was reading a fever.  He’s had fevers before, and almost every time it’s one of my world-famous 4 hour fevers that makes non-4-hour-fever-folk boiling mad.

Sure enough, Friday morning he seemed fine to off to school he went and we prepared for an extended weekend of camping (My blog, I’m not putting “glamping”, you know what we do!)  Buuuut the school calls and says he has a fever so Kelly picks him up and talks to the doctor’s office on the way home, and they tell her just to keep him comfortable.  So we do that by having him do a dose of Tylenol when the temperature isn’t good.  This procedure has been getting worse with each time we do it.  We thought we had the magic formula : a nice cherry syrup.  Hell, just smelling the stuff makes ME want some of it.  Well now trying to get the stuff in him is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.  You might think you were successful, but when you add up the medicine molecules, there are far more on hands, clothes, and chins than where it belongs.

Once we got to the destination, things seemed okay, he was a little out of it.  He played on the playground but he seemed incredibly bored, even though there was a pack of little dudes sending gravel down the slide.  Normally he would be leading a pack like that and I’d be pretending not to notice.  But he just moped around and wanted to go back to camp.

The next day he was worse.  The fever kept going up and down and we decided to just let him rest and drink.  He was perfectly fine with the rest part, but wanted nothing to do with any kind of solid or liquid going in his mouth.  You KNOW something’s up when he turns down McDonald’s, or donuts, or pancakes.  On any normal day he’ll eat the Subway Regional Pickle Distribution Center dry.  But not that day.  We let him do whatever he wanted, which was sleeping, watching TV and playing on the iPad.  Any suggestion at activity, food, drink, going outside was met with instant and absolute resistance.  We even gave him a bath, which he didn’t terribly mind.

Sunday was more of the same and that night it was spiking up over 102, so we decided to call Teledoc and see what they said.  For $8, they listened to my tale and then said “You need to take him to the ER.”  I guess we already knew that but now it was official.  I guess we were hoping he’d say “Hold the phone over him and I will cast a spell that will cure him now and forever of this demon virus.”

So, nope.  We picked him up and put him in his seat, and he knew where he was going.  We told him we were just going to talk to the nurse, which is what we were hoping was true.  The nearest hospital was about 20 minutes away, so off we went.

He expressed his displeasure with this course of action, but after not eating anything for a few days, his energy level could really only produce whimpers.  Both of us were pretty sure he looked smaller, too.  We went in and rang the buzzer, and a few nice nurse opened the door.  I showed her my little buddy and she went into awesome nurse mode to try and charm him into cooperating.  It must have worked at least a little because I heard no crying while we split up and I went down to registration and they triaged him.

His biggest fear was getting poked for blood or a shot, so when the doctor came and saw that he had an ear infection, we thought that was pretty cool.  No blood draw required, we’ll get an anti-biotic and he’ll be good as new in a few days.  “But,” he says, “this is a hospital.  We have an X-ray machine, a radiologist and a very hungry medical biller.”  I might have made up one of those things.  He wanted to get an X ray just to see if there was anything else going on.  He agreed that a blood test would just tell us what we already knew : that a high white blood cell count meant there was an infection because fought.  Duh.

So he came back with the X-ray results and admitted some surprise.  “So there’s some pneumonia in there, some streaks on the X-ray.”  Streaks?  Huh?  So now there were *two* causes to the fever, pneumonia and an ear infection.  He told us he would give us a “high-dose” scrip for antibiotics and we’d give him that for 4 days.  “Sure,” we thought.  “No one takes meds as good as this guy!”  But at least we knew the cause.

It’s game time then, our favorite nurse tells him he needs to take his medicine so he can better.  “No thanks,” he says, without the thanks, and about 1000 times more capital O’s.  She says she can do it, so we back off.  And she does!  Some kind of magic trick with a wash cloth and a vulcan chin pinch.  Down it went.  But he is so damned upset about the ordeal, that 60 seconds, GLORRRRRRRK, up it comes.  My advanced optimistic self says “Hey at least he got most of it, right!  That barf didn’t look pink at all!”

“No, [dumbshit], it all came out.”  So she went to discuss options with the doctor.  Oops.

So she comes back in and whispers the plan.  They are going to give him some kind of super-shot that will ensure he gets the medicine and not barfed back out.  But we’ll still get an oral medication to kind of seal the deal.  Oh and the shot burns, so they would be putting some kind of numbing medicine in it too.  He won’t like the shot, we know, but hey progress!

A few minutes later it is ON.  The nurse returns with backup.  Two male RNs.  I’m not sure if they cracked their knuckles upon entry or not.  Alex is losing his damned mind at this point.  He knows the words to stab back too “You’re hurting me!  You’re really hurting me!”  So they assume the position of holding his arms and legs and proceed to give him TWO shots : one in each leg.  And it burns, just like she said.  After a few minutes he finally calms down, but he is shaking and hurting and that sucked the most.

The nurse said they needed to keep us around for 15-20 more minutes to make sure there was no reaction to the shot, and this was good for him to calm down.  Oh, that sucked bad. You can’t even describe it with words because this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen.  He never hurt anyone, he just wants to be playing and laughing and building stuff and then knocking it down.  Making new buddies at the playground and then having them walk through the campsite to find him because he’s so damned much fun.  Not shivering in fear and pain on a hospital gurney.  And we brought him there.

Now I have a fresh perspective of those Facebook posts of how much that really does hurt.

This story ends well though.  The next day we were getting smiles out of him and he was willing to drink stuff on his own.  He even wanted a donut, so I damned well got him one.  He was back at school today, and is pretty damned grumpy, but his appetite has not returned yet.  And if I went from eating an entire warehouse of pancakes to eating nothing for 3 days I’d be grumpy too.  I’m just happy to see him setting up his train tracks on the floor again and an elaborate horrific train versus vehicle accident which needs my attention and approval.  Which I gladly give.

My lesson is this that those healthy days of fun aren’t always and they need to be appreciated, because dark episodes like this one will smack you in the face and remind you that they can come at any time.

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2. 2!

Stop what you’re doing and go look at the picture’s from Cassie’s 2nd birthday.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  And check out the video of her being sung to:

Birthday song

Is she not just stunning?  Just beautiful inside and out.  She’s doesn’t fake anything.  Those smiles are real and she spent the whole day laughing and smiling and just being around people who love her.

You know you’re on her “A-list” when she sees you and does her fast little march in place and puts those arms up so she can see you eye to eye.

It’s funny, she’s half the size, pound for pound, what Alex was at this age.  She’s certainly behind the growth curve but she’s talking like crazy and pretty much can repeat any words or phrases on one try.  And her size is perfect.  I can toss her up in the air and spin her around almost as long as she wants to be tossed and thrown.  She’s just as comfortable upside down as right side up, because gravity itself just keeps forgetting its job, on account of her cuteness I suppose.

Give her something new and she’ll hold it and examine every possible angle to see what it does, where the on button is and how the heck it works.  She loves playing the electronic piano I have in my office, so much that she’s seen me change the batteries so much, she would be able to do it on her own if she had the strength to flip the thing over.  And OH the iPad.  She doesn’t really care at this point if it’s “Dada phone”, “Dada iPad” or “Baby iPad” (the Android tablet).  As long as she can get to YouTube Kids, she’s be happy for hours.  And she LOVES books, and knows exactly which ones she’s read too much, because she gets bored with the same old ones.  She wants NEW reading material, and if you spend any time on the baby cam, there’s a good chance you’ve seen her sleeping with a book on her face.  She’ll even sit on my lap and happily page through one of my pilot’s catalog as long as there are good pictures.

Some nice things she’s inherited from her brother : She doesn’t let a pesky injury ruin her day.  She’ll run into a wall corner, fall off her chair, trip on her face.  She’ll cry, certainly, but once that sting is gone, she’s right back at it.  Alex is the same way.  Learned her lesson, but dammit, back to the fun!  She’s also learned the power of hugs.  When Alex is crying, she’ll come over and deliver the hug and it’s so powerful that Alex will ask for one during times of distress.

And wow, nothing but NOTHING stops in her tracks more effectively than playing “Let It Go”.  There may be a limit, some sort of count of the number of times that songs plays where Cassie would say “No no, Dada.”  But mathematicians have not discovered such a number yet.  Not before the sigh leaves your body “Whew the song is over.”  She’s in the back saying “AGAIN! AGAIN!”  We managed to distract her today from a similarly titled “Let It Be” but it didn’t hold for long.

Oh and you can argue with her.  Tell her something is yours.  Anything, doesn’t matter.  She’ll tell you it’s hers.  Because it is.  And she’ll enjoy batting you around like a cat toy because she will have the final word and win the argument.

We have finally seen some improvement on the sleeping front, and most nights she sleeps without wanting up at 3am.  And while Alex has long been cured of those cursed good-morning-wake-up-refreshed awakenings, Cassie still suffers from waking up full of exuberance and trying to re-infect us all with it.  6:00am is still the middle of the night, and 3 out of 4 Gracelandians agree.  She’ll come around.

When it is time to wake her up, there’s no crankiness or any of that verbal nonsense.  She’ll just keep sleeping, on your shoulder, on the changing table, it doesn’t matter.  But mostly, she’s waking us up.

So hopefully, next month we’ll begin the 2016 camping season and this will be the first time we have her sleeping in the bunk in the back.  No more pack-n-play.  So that should be interesting, and productive, having Cassie and Alex sleeping in opposite beds.  BWAHAHAHA, yeah that’s not going to start out well at all.

We’re also having her start daycare two days a week this summer.  Can you imagine, having little Miss Social in an actual social environment?  She’ll probably end up teaching the class by the end of the summer.

So that’s about where she stands right now.  Two years.  From a small peanut to a triple-sized peanut.  So damned lucky, we are.


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One of my favorite movie lines is from “Until The End of the World”:

“You’re now looking at the human soul .. singing to itself..”

The scene that has this line involves two characters looking at an electronic playback of someone’s dream.

Of course, there are lots of theories and ideas about what dreams are, but for adults I think of them as a relief valve, your brain’s chance to put in perspective what happened that day and process everything to prepare for the next day.  Relieve some mental pressure, basically.  To ground us in reality by exploring the imaginary.

Watching these kids play makes me think even more about how imagination works.  To them, nothing is impossible.  Legos put together with a fuselage and wings can fly every time, with no runway and no engines.  A cardboard box can carry a person through interstellar space just as easily as it can carry passengers from one end of the hallway to the other.

Alex sees dinosaur shapes in his half-eaten chicken nuggets, and airplanes in a malformed tortilla chip.  Even though he has enough trains, tracks and accessories to build an intercontinental railway, he will still get frustrated because there’s just one thing his mind can think of that he doesn’t have to complete the world he wants to build.  And he will get as excited as a new lottery winner when he sees that toy in a catalog or a commercial.

Cassie is catching up.  She will pick up one of her light up activity boards and explore every button, switch, bump, handle and crack.  She wants to know how it works and what all it can do.  Soon, she’ll be building islands and worlds from nothing more than a bucket of mixed up pieces and an empty carpet.  Until then, she’ll grab what she can and analyze it, even if that means just shoving it in her mouth for a good tasting.

What happens to all the things floating around in their heads that don’t make it to the physical world?  Maybe that’s what they dream about.  They can’t climb into the cockpits of those Lego planes, but they sure can when the lights go out.

And when the lights turn back on, they have new ideas to try out when they are good and ready.

There is a saying going around “When a toddler hands you a phone, you had damned well better answer it.”  Even though it’s a million times a day, those “MAMADADAMAMADAD” calls need to be answered.  Those imaginations need to be fed with the only fuel we can give them : encouragement.  The only reason we can walk around with little devices that can access the entire wealth of human knowledge in a few seconds is because someone imagined it and then went and built it.  Who knows what these kids will build someday.

With that, I shouldn’t have let six months elapse before writing here.  Alex is just a few days away from being five, and Cassie is in the new-spoken-word-every-day mode.  I remember a few years ago when we were at a park, and a little girl was crying in one of the tunnels.  Alex went up to her, patted her on the back and told her it would be okay.  Now I see that same affection with Cassie.  Alex skinned his knee on the driveway the other night, and Cassie stopped what she was doing and gave him a kiss and a hug.  They don’t act like it all the time, but when it really matters, these two are inseparable.  As soon as he wakes up, Alex wants to know where Cassie is.  And she will look around a dark room after waking up asking for “Bubba”.  Alex won’t let her go to bed until he’s said good night.

Life is good, we had a busy summer going all over the place with the camper.  We saw family we haven’t seen in years, and met new additions to the family tree.  A lot of change in the air for the fall and winter, but how boring would life be if it stayed the same day after day.

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Good Morning

March 21

Here she is! After months and months of practice and sleepless nights, little Cassie is the world’s newest 1-year-old!  Happy birthday you goofy girl!

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Good Morning

March 20Yep that’s what I’m talking about!


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Good Morning

March 19

What did you put in those French fries?  They were simply delicious!

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Good Morning

March 18

Some say rock n roll music melts your brain. Cassie says CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

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Good Morning

March 17

Her training is nearly complete. I may never had to cut the grass again!

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