elder care, family, Gangrene Gables

Snake in the Freezer

As a homeschool mom for many years, I can appreciate the hoarding mentality. I truly can. I have a pretty eclectic collection of items that might one day be useful. As a classroom teacher, I have narrowed down my collection, but I still have a miniature steam engine, a plastic brain, enough feather pens to teach a small class, and petrified log. Finding animals on nature walks fascinates me, and I have been known to gather my class around a long dead possum to get a better look at the teeth and bone structure. I am not particularly squeamish when it comes to such things. Personally, I would rather find a dead possum than a live one.

A 3

Mom shared some of my appreciation for natural discoveries. Mom took it a little far. See, growing up there were pet animals and food animals. Dog-pet. Pig-food. We raised a handful of animals, and Dad believed in keeping them separate. He made an exception and let my sister keep an old rooster for a pet (Rodney), and after much arguing, I was able to convince him to allow me a pet rabbit, which Dad had firmly on the side of food. Despite the disagreement over the rabbit, I felt Dad had a pretty good idea here. I’ve no intention of eating a dog, and I prefer to keep rabbits out of my freezer. Similarly, I believe in keeping my freezer free of any animal that is not going to be dinner. I felt that way about purchasing mice to feed to my son’s pet snake, and I continue to feel this way.

Mom enjoyed sharing her love of nature with her grandkids. On her last fated trip to Vermont, in between hacking up a lung and reading a book sporting a medical mask, Mom discovered a 15-inch garter snake that had recently gone to be with Jesus. Most people would probably shriek and run off, some would stop and look for a moment in fascination, but the truly dedicated nature enthusiast would wrap that sucker up in Saran Wrap ™, place it in a grocery bag, and freeze it next to a few berries and a pint of ice cream. Then, they would transport it 5 hours home in a cooler amongst left over pasta and an open quart of milk to ensure their grandkids the opportunity to observe said snake. Sure, a less dedicated grandparent might take some close up photographs, but really, that’s just lame. Mom was no lame grandmother. That snake, slightly defrosted from its journey along the Appalachian Trail, went right back in the freezer in Mom’s kitchen awaiting the perfect summer day, to be thawed out and delight her favorite people in the world.
Sadly, Sidney Slitherpuss never got his cryogenically frozen day in the sun. Instead, he met with an unsuspecting man going about the mundane job of cleaning out his mother’s freezer. The events went something like this:

Eric(thinking): I wonder what could be in this bag. Let me just peek insid
<Stares into bag only to encounter a snake staring back. Drops bag on floor with less than gracious hospitality and emits high pitched squeal.>


<Mom, hearing the commotion from the other room, chuckles to herself. This was not what she intended for her scaly friend, but scaring the beejeebus out of her only son was a pleasant perk. >
Mom: Oh, you found the snake. I brought him home from Vermont to show Barbara’s kids.

Not at all amused by this turn of events, Eric discards the snake in the trashcan outside, without so much as sharing this joy with his niece and nephews. Shockingly, he didn’t even feel guilty about it. Savage.

Vermont 1

family, food, travel

How to Plan a Road Trip

Step 1: Determine the length of your trip.

How many days will you have? Do you have a week? Two weeks? Consider whatever length of time your spouse gives you as starting point for a negotiation. One week. Well that’s really 9 days because you can add a weekend on each end? Can you tie a two week vacation into a holiday and make it 16 or 17 days? Sure you can.*

travel map

Step 2: Determine how far away your husband is willing to travel.

galcier national park

This may vary based on where he most wants to go. If he wants to go to the Rocky Mountains, you can entice him with a week in their majestic splendor.* You are not likely to convince him that he wants to spend his vacation shopping for antiques at flea markets in Vermont. Start with the main prize.
Step 3: Book non-refundable accommodations.

These accommodations should be for the main event at the furthest location from home. Give yourself adequate travel time to and from the location based on your new expanded vacation days. You want enough time to “explore” along the journey. Once you book the main event, you have an insurance plan. You are definitely going on vacation.

Step 4: Research things that are “Close by” or “On the way.”

Close is a relative term. For example, we live in NJ, so Houston is “close” to New Orleans in comparison to New Jersey.* And “On the way,” means more the general direction. Of course one must go a little off the beaten path to find some of our nation’s greatest treasures. One cannot simply drive to one’s destination. This is a road trip. Research oddities like Foamhenge in Virginia*, The Lunar Lander Exhibit in Mississippi**, and the Buffalo Museum in North Dakota,* all things one can swing by as short pit stops to break up the monotony of a long drive. Other locations like say, the time we visited Yellowstone on our way to our “real vacation” might take a little longer to explore.*  Keep these ideas secret until you have gathered many options, mapped out your trip, and determined the realistic cost of such items. Check hours of operation and compare them carefully to your own travel dates and times. No one wants to get all the way to the Forbidden Gardens in Katy, Texas only to find out that you can’t see the recreated Terra Cotta Warriors because they aren’t open on Mondays. You can however sometimes call and arrange for a private tour of some places because how could you miss a room size model of the Forbidden City when you were just studying Ancient China in school?*

foamhengebuffaloforbidden gardens

Step 5: Stick to a budget that you will end up exceeding while on vacation.

With your research in hand and a budget to live by, start picking and choosing from your list. How cheap will your motels will be? What restaurants are in the area? You aren’t going to want to skip BBQ in Memphis* or The Parthenon in Nashville.* Sure, you might end up staying in some sketchy places to make that happen, but you didn’t come to enjoy the splendors of every hotel chain in America. And honestly if you have to ask, “Do you think the building is on fire?” because the room is sweltering, you have just made memories.* Spend your money on food and activities and keep your luggage off the floor so you reduce the risk of bringing home bedbugs.


Step 6: Sell your plan.

llamasYou can’t sell it all at once. Know where you want to stop and when. Start with booking those accommodations. (Again, I recommend non-refundable because they are cheaper, and you want to make sure your husband can’t back out once hear hears the rest of your crazy scheme.) Then, with your map and ideas in hand, begin singing the praises of hiking with llamas in the hills of Massachusetts* or scaling Cadillac Mountain in Maine because it’s the highest point in all of North America along the Atlantic seaboard.* How could you possibly not stop by the home of Uncle Remus in Georgia, considering you still have the Disney record from your childhood?* Exclaim, “It’s just a little bit out of the way!” And know your audience. Sure, driving 3 hours out of our way to see the bats fly out from under the Congress Street Bridge in Austin isn’t going to appeal to my husband the way it does to me, but letting him know that nearby is world famous Stubb’s BBQ (with live country music) just might tip the scales.* “World Famous” is a phrase I tack on to many places I am interested in seeing. Having extra ideas that are lame in comparison to the ones you really want to do provides your family with a sense that they are participating in the voting process.

pit stop 2wisconsin


Step 7: Create a detailed itinerary

This should include the length of each leg of driving, accommodation information (confirmation number, address and phone- trust me on this!), activity information (hours of operation, admission price- again, learn from my errors!), and the best options for restaurants. Give yourself ample time for late starts, traffic, and children who might vomit in the backseat.* Submit the plan for “approval.” This might be where you book dinner reservations and discover that the weekend you’re at the Culinary Institute of America is actually their spring break and every restaurant is closed.* Are you going to “hop over the border” into Canada while visiting Maine?* Think about passports and making sure you call your bank so they don’t shut off your debit card just as you’re about to fill your tank of gas.*

Step 8: Enjoy your trip, but expect the unexpected

Itinerary in hand, set out on your grand adventure. Sometimes along the way, you will find out that you are only a few minutes away from a good friend who moved to Florida, and you’ll meet up with him at a gas station parking lot for a few minutes.* You might discover that hotel reservations that you absolutely booked and gave a credit card number for never went through and and now you are standing by Old Faithful booking a room in Montana in the opposite direction of Grand Teton National Park where you are headed the next morning.* Be flexible and think on your feet. Sobbing in the middle of a visitor’s center because the hours of operation changed, and they are closing and won’t let you in, might just get you into Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas for free, even if it’s only for a few minutes.* Sometimes severe weather or other disasters impacts your plans (like tornados,* hail*, the road melting due to abnormal geothermal conditions*, or fire alarms in the middle of the night*). You will need to call an audible. Go with the flow.

pit stophotel fire

Step 9: Avoid Chain Restaurants

bear scat

It’s almost impossible to avoid eating at chain restaurants, especially fast food places, as you spend hours on the highway. But whenever, possible go local. Why stop at Starbucks when you can stop at Bearscat Bakery (Bismarck, ND) and eat bear scat donuts?* Why eat at Applebees when you can eat at the Wildhorse Saloon (Nashville) with free country line dancing classes.* You’re only going to be here for a little while. Don’t waste your time on restaurants that you can eat at 5 minutes from home.

Step 9: Let it go!

golden palace

Towards the end of the trip, it is possible that your family’s patience and love of being with one another will dwindle. You might need to let go of your hopes of touring Abilene, Kansas because no one else cares that that’s where the Chisholm Trail ended* or skipping St. Louis, MO because they prefer a day of rest before heading home.* You might need to drive straight through West Virginia without even seeing the Palace of Gold, but know you are going to have another road trip later, and you’ll see it then.*

*True Story

**Sadly, we missed the exit for this as we drove through Mississippi, and now we HAVE to go back to Mississippi because how can you actually call that visiting the state?

Adulting, elder care, Gangrene Gables


I have done many things in my life as a parent that I never thought I would do. I have uttered phrases like, “Don’t put rocks in the dishwasher!” I have done disgusting things like using a thermometer to help a constipated infant get it all out. While one can never be prepared for parenthood, I had expected these things were just part of the territory. I didn’t, however, know that over the course of one year I would experience just as many of these joys as a daughter.

Sharon: We need to get stool samples to a Quest lab. We picked up the containers on the way back from the dr. One will need to be kept frozen or on ice when being transferred. Sure you are all excited about that.
Me: Sharon has power of attorney on medical decisions, which should include taking stool samples.
Sharon: The new medication for the diarrhea has a restriction of no alcohol, which means no perfumes, lotions, mouthwash, etc. I’ll start checking stuff later tonight for any problematic items.
Eric: But we can still drink when we are around her, right?
Sharon: Anyone know where Mom keeps dish sponges or dishrags? There wasn’t one in the sink today.
Me: I used it to clean up poop. I threw it out even though I knew Mom would want to save it for another blow out.
Sharon: She had several false alarms of diarrhea. Or a tiny bit. The collection hat is next to the commode with the hopes that she will use it in the morning so the collection can be done.
There is a little Lysol in the commode so if either of you is the lucky collector don’t use anything in the commode.
Me: I guess I’m the winner. What are the instructions for freezing and packing the poop on ice? Collecting? What should I know?
Sharon: Bring a plastic spoon that you can throw out. Instructions are on the desk in the kitchen. One teaspoon or thereabouts in the large container which is frozen. Add enough to each of the other vials so the liquid rises to the red or black line on the bottle. Those do not need to be frozen.

I don’t know what the doctor was looking for, but he ordered a stool sample. This is not a big deal for the doctor; he just writes out an order and scrawls his illegible signature on a piece of paper. Honestly, with today’s technology, he might not even need to do that much. He probably has an office assistant do it for him. But for us, this is no easy task. We, the caregivers, are left with all the dirty work.
The instructions were to get a sample of Mom’s diarrhea, to spoon a small portion into a testing vial, and put the sample in the freezer. Then, deliver the frozen sample to the lab. Gross, but doable. Certainly not the worst things we’d had to do to date.
I arrived bright and early on a Saturday morning, unprepared for what the day would hand me. After repeatedly trying to explain to Mom that her part was pretty simple, just to sit on the commode and go, I was finally rewarded with the gift of loose stool. Yay! I set up my scientific lab in Mom’s kitchen sink which I would never be able to look at quite the same again. Rubber gloves on and using a plastic spoon, I was able to prepare the sample in the least nasty way possible. I definitely did not need to be told I should throw away the spoon. I cleaned up the commode, and froze the sample in a double wrapped bag. I was envisioning some poor person getting a nasty surprise when they pulled this treat out of Mom’s freezer and decided to investigate its contents. I labeled it to prevent such a tragic situation.

Me: Two things- I hate my life, and we have a stool sample

Me (later): I’m going to drop the diarrhea off at the lab in a few minutes. (I just wanted to have record of the many things I have had to say lately)
Eric: You know, Barb, you may think it is funny…
But it’s really hot and runny!
phpplt phpllt!
phpplt phpllt!

While the fecal matter began chilling in the freezer, my next step was to find the location of the specified lab that also had weekend hours. I scoured the Internet and found one only moments from home. Score! I retrieved the frozen poopsicle from the freezer and embarked on my errand. Unfortunately, upon arrival I discovered that the lab was closed; their hours had changed. Now I am sitting in the car with defrosting poop that I need to deliver it to another lab pronto. I find another lab in an adjacent town, 20 minutes away, but they aren’t open for that much longer. I understand the absurdity of this situation. I am a poop delivery girl, racing down the highway trying to assure the proper temperature of my poopsicle. This is where my life has taken me. This is my new normal. I check yet another item off my bucket list: Deliver frozen poop to laboratory- check.
The front desk nurse was kind and efficient. She assured me that the temperature of the poop was fine, and they would return it to the freezer promptly. Deep down, I was hoping the staff had a separate freezer for their lunches.

Adulting, women

Housekeeping Made Simple

People are always saying to me, “Your house feels so lived in.” You know why that is?  We live here. We don’t have a separate breakfast parlor for company, or a media and game room in the basement for the teens to congregate. We have basically one living area in which we all share. All 5 of us. You might think that this means that our little space is neat and tidy, but you’d be wrong. It is a magnet for everyone’s everything. So here are a few tips that have helped us maintain that “lived in” look without crossing the line into Hoarders.



Get rid of carpet. If you must have carpet, limit it to small area rugs or mats. Anywhere you can have hardwood floors, tile, or linoleum the better. Outside of the occasional spot cleaning, you can go a very long time without cleaning these floors. Hair, lint, dust, even dried leaves and dirt will be blown across these surfaces and collect at the edge of the room and even more specifically, corners. Grabbing a few of these dust bunnies occasionally, can give you home a lovely fresh look with almost no effort. I use my vacuum cleaner so infrequently; I would need to think about how to turn it on.

vacuumChild labor

There is no reason to do a chore that your spawn is capable of doing. The earlier you train them up the better for everyone. They are learning important life skills. Who cares how sloppy they put away their clothes, you didn’t have to do it. Laundry, dishes, scrubbing toilets, whatever. I’m not saying they need to work like little Orphan Annie, but they can be responsible for themselves and contribute to the family. They should be doing all their own laundry, cleaning their room, clearing their place, putting away their things, and doing one or more chores that contribute to family life. What that means in a practical sense? I don’t wash dishes anymore. I do all the grocery shopping and cooking, along with the vast majority of cleaning, so unless they would prefer to do the grocery shopping and cooking every night, they can do the dishes. Oh, kiddo, you missed a spot.



There are only so many hours in a day. I barely have enough time to get the most crucial things done, like feeding all the humans I am responsible for. So, I scrub the bathtub while I’m in it taking a shower. This gives the conditioner a little longer to work while I wipe crud from tiles. This is a quick spot clean process done without the benefit of corrective lenses. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to be better then it was yesterday. Occasionally, I wipe down the microwave after I pull out that cup of tea I made and forgot and had to reheat now for the third time. Also, I listen to audio books on my phone while I grocery shop.


Don’t Do It

There are certain chores that are just not that important and, bonus, not doing those chores makes your life easier. Take linens for instance. Sure, it’s nice to climb into a bed made with crisp new sheets, but not only does it take time to change those sheets, but it takes time to wash those sheets, dry those sheets, fold those sheets, and put away those sheets. So don’t.  Put those kind of chores off as long as possible. Win-win.

It won’t look like a Better Homes and Garden Magazine spread, but whatever, I’ve got better things to do.

car freshener

parenting teens, resoultions

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Mediocre -at- Best Mothers of Teens



  1. Exercise daily– Health is important. You need to develop your stamina to make it through these days. Each day do a sit-up. Yes, no matter how daunting the day’s tasks might seem, you must sit up in your bed. Do a pull-up. Pulling up your pants and dressing for your day is not only healthy, but leads to less embarrassment. Occasionally you may feel like doing lunges (at your child’s throat), but you should not do this, as you will over exert yourself.


  1. Eat healthy– healthy foods provide you with energy and help you feel better. Nothing does this better than chocolate. Caffeine gives you energy while magnesium is essential at different times in your cycle. Additionally, chocolate is made from several plants (cocoa beans and sugar) as well as milk, making it an excellent nutritional source with the bonus of antioxidants. Similar arguments can be made for wine.


  1. Help your children develop strong sibling bonds– At least once a month you can help your children develop strong sibling bonds by leaving them on their own and getting the heck out of the house. Of course, the more you do this the stronger their bond, so feel free to do this weekly or daily if possible.


  1. Don’t forget your girlfriends– you need them. They will be your lifeline to sanity so find them, make time for them, and open up to them. They will talk you down off the ledge when the time comes, and it will come. If you’re doing #3 successfully than this will fall into place. Laugh often. Consider this free therapy, as you will need to save your therapy budget for your children.
  1. Learn something new– This could include new slang words off urbandictionary.com or how to lock your child out of their own iPhone. Learning new skills can keep your mind sharp for years to come. You need all the skills you can get for these years.


  1. Read a book just for fun (not to learn anything)– Your children are constantly complaining that their lives are consumed with schoolwork and they never get to do anything they want to do. You understand the absurdity of this statement, as you haven’t had free time since the turn of the century. Reading this book will likely take you an entire year, but having it handy to pull out and read in front of your cranky teenager just might provide you with a touch of hope that maybe there are some perks in being an adult. After all you’ve been telling them for years that life gets better.

kenya 1

  1. Plan a vacation– Pick someplace beautiful and inspiring. Maybe you’re a beach person. Try cranking up the heat, wearing a swimsuit, and drinking a margarita while you plan. Maybe, like me, you prefer the mountains. Don your favorite flannel shirt and boots while drinking a warm cup of hot chocolate. You aren’t going to actually take this trip, because be honest, you have college tuition bills coming up and Lord knows you want enough money in that account to assure they are living on-campus for those years. Plan the trip anyway, as having something to dream about can give you just the hope you need to survive yet another conversation about how you don’t actually know anything. Better make those accommodations 5 star, because you know tomorrow you’ll find out how you’ve ruined your child’s life and you better have a vision of a personal chef catering to your every whim.
  1. Character development– growing as a person is very important. You have flaws, you know this because your teens remind you of them daily. Pick one of those areas to develop. Your kids complain that you yell too much. Nonsense, show them you can yell even more. They complain that you’re soooo embarrasing. Challenge accepted.

clutter 2

  1. Organize your home– We all know that an organized home helps us feel relaxed, but the practicality of getting it that way is a whole other issue. Shut all the doors in the house. Closed doors mean less clutter that you can see. If you dim the lights and use candles the room you’re in will feel cleaner. And let’s be honest, you don’t have time to read anything that isn’t on computer screen, so lights don’t really matter. Candle light dinners mean you can’t see how dirty your kitchen table is. Win-win
  1. Work on your marriage– Their are strength in numbers. Your survival depends on this. Also, one day your kids will move out and your spouse will be the only one you have left living in your home. PRAISE GOD!