A Tale of Two Tanks

The story of an unlikely visitor…

We had been sitting in the room for three hours before he noticed. Head down, I was deep into grading papers and scheduling assignments with my eighth-grader sitting directly across from me at the restaurant style six-top we use for school. We’d been out of town. Nothing unusual about the room. No weird smells. Nothing out of place.

“What’s that in the fish tank?” my boy asked.

“What?” I asked back.

“There’s something in the fish tank,” he said emphatically as he pushed his heavy chair back and stood up.

I stood up too as the fish tank was 4 feet away.

The tank was dark and the water low. We had neglected it the last couple of months. The fish were alive but they didn’t have much of a view. The sides were grimy and green.

“Is that a squirrel?” he asked.

“Oh my gosh!” I screamed. “That’s not good!” The dark shape was coming into focus now. Eerily, the rodent was floating in a rather leisurely position, its buoyant body bobbing as the fish swam unwittingly nearby. Its eyes were cloudy and open. The horror! The horror!

“What the heck! ” I squealed and backed away.

fish tank with squirrel

For fifteen minutes there was squirming, head scratching and cringing in that room. Oooof.

Questions were asked…

  • How did the squirrel get in the house?
  • Where did it come from?
  • How long was it there?
  • How did it know the tank was a water source?
  • How do we get it out?

So many questions! The most important one, right then, was how to get it out.

We went and grabbed my deer and hog hunting 18 year old.

“You have to see this!”

He squealed and wouldn’t get within 8 feet of the tank.

Then we went and got the burly 21 year old who hunts and works out 2 hours every day.

“You have to see this!”

He come over to the tank and said “that’s creepy.”

“Will you take it out?” I asked in a serious tone.

“I’m not in the mood to deal with that,” he declared and quickly left the room

I called my husband on the slim chance that he wasn’t busy and could pop home to extract the unfortunate intruder. Years ago, we made a pact that if he would deal with all the dead stuff, I would deal with the throw-up and the midnight fevers.

“I’m busy on a project. Y’all deal with it,” came the reply.

Thankfully, Gabe, the 14 year old, stepped up to the challenge.

“We can’t just let that stay in here while we’re working. That’s too disgusting!”

What relief to a traumatized mom’s ears. He said to give him a minute and he returned with rubber gloves and a small plastic bin. Cringing and moving quickly, he pulled the grey squirrel out by the tail. Hunter and I screamed as he moved past and out through the garage into the yard where the unlucky squirrel came to his final resting place in a thicket of frost-worn ivy.

Afterwards, the house was thick with upheaval, but eventually everyone calmed down.

Weird things happen.

Sunday, Gabe managed to clean out the tank to give the survivors a fresh start. Yesterday, we bought two Gouramies, two tetras, two Zebra Loshes and a catfish to liven up the tank. A bubble LED light in the corner took the eeriness away. Now, we’re back in business.

a healthy fish tank

Later, we figured out that our doggie had kept the rodents away. Her canine presence kept the chipmunks, rats, mice and squirrels out in the yard and away from the house. With Jasmine gone, they are emboldened and seeking shelter during the winter months.

Two tanks have kept us entertained this week; they’ve kept us laughing and chattering during a pretty mundane time.

Goodbye Jasmine


It’s been two weeks since Jasmine left us for that rainbow bridge in the sky, her haggard body barely hanging on until the new year. At almost 14, she’d had a life of chasing 10,000 squirrels. And, she’d tracked my youngest child in age by six months. Those two had a dog’s lifetime of adventures together, playing in the grass and along the creek’s edge. Jasmine had been there for all of life’s moments, both good and bad. A copperhead bite to the face, several snowstorms, a couple of hurricanes, vacations that required her to stay behind… all were endured patiently and without complaint. After we’d been away for any amount of time, she was always standing in the driveway as our Suburban rolled up. She heard the truck, its blum, blum, blum, advancing down the drive and over the bridge. Her ears would perk stiff and she’d do a little dance, chasing her tail in circles which showed us she was terribly glad we’d decided to return once again.

This is a hard post to write. Tears still fill my eyes as I look at the box labeled Pets in Peace where her body lies in ashes. It’s a heavy box, that box that has all of her except that vivacious energy and never ending desire for a vigorous belly rub. But, tonight everyone is coming to the house for a little Jasmine tribute. I have to be strong.

How do I say goodbye to such a devoted and cherished family member? To that sweet pup whose sole goal in life was just to be with us. It’s too fresh and these memories are too tied up with my family.

Cherishing these memories will have to suffice. Remembering her many encounters with the wildlife around here — dragging in numerous deer parts, chasing chickens, scratching chipmunk holes ’til her nose was clay-stained and brown, pointing up at possums — will have to do. Recounting her encounters with neighbors’ trash cans on Tuesdays, spilling everything for a juicy sandwich wrapper or smuggling a donut from who knows where… that will have to be enough. Thumbing through these pictures… will help me not to forget how important she is to us.

I don’t want to forget.

She struggled her last four weeks of life. Her breed of Border Collie /Austrialian Shepherd made her a ball of boundless energy; however, since Thanksgiving, she’d been mostly on her bed. It was a challenge for her to eat and drink. She wasn’t chasing squirrels anymore. I was determined to “ride it out” with her and hoped we’d be with her for her last breath. But, alas, she decided that a warm afternoon in early January was as good as any to take a nap on a lush bed of ivy right out front. As was fitting, Gabe, now 14, found her, peaceful and stiff, no longer encumbered by the decay of this world. He was with her at the beginning, the day we brought her home from the shelter and at the end as we patted her still body on its ivy bier.

Yes. This is a difficult post to write. But it must be done. To remember and to let it go.

God, out of love for us, gives us pets. They keep us company, forgive us when we ignore them, and offer unconditional love. Jasmine was that for us and we are grateful.

Jasmine, always down for a hug

Georgia Voters

Musings on new voters, election day cake, and getting motivated to vote again. 

“Today’s the day!” I called up the steps to rouse the new voters out of bed.

Grabbing my thick purple coat for the first time this year, I added, “Grab your cups of coffee. Let’s go!”

There was excitement in each steamy breath as we crammed into the Suburban for the two mile drive to the voting precinct. Each boy had waited a lifetime for this adult privilege and they embraced the responsibility with a sense of awe and adventure. We had two brand new voters this year, one 18 and one 21. We’d studied this year’s ballot online and many a dinner table discussion was had about the candidates and their unique issues.

“Your ID’s in your wallet, right?” I asked last minute just as we arrived in the parking lot. A boy slid his hand into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and gave it a quick check just to be sure. The 21-year-old rolled his eyes with the look that says, “of course, Mom. What do you think I am, an idiot?”

With masks, coats, and coffees, we emerged from the truck and walked directly up to a short line.

We managed through the line fairly fast. We said hello to a couple of neighbors. There was cautious optimism in each face that passed out of the building. Smiles and jokes were plentiful as we stood rubbing our hands for warmth.

Finally, it was our turn. We made it through the voting process fairly quickly and everyone went about their day. It was all pretty basic

Then, at home, I started up on my bucket list goal to make the election day cake I’d been seeing in my Pioneer Cookbook for 30 years.

This election day cake was the bomb. The texture was a cross between a dense fruit cake and a sourcream pound cake. Apparently, this recipe was popular more than a century ago and Mary Todd Lincoln served it to her guests on multiple occasions. Back then, folks gathered to celebrate the vote with galas and parties regardless of if their candidate won or lost.

From the New England Historical Society website on Election Day Cake:

The Connecticut Historical Society explained that town officials once gathered in Hartford to elect the state’s leaders–and then ate cake.

Towns held elections in early spring, and the town representatives gathered in Hartford in May for the formal counting of the votes. First they counted the votes for governor, then lieutenant governor, then other officials. The counting often went long into the night, and the town representatives stayed overnight in Hartford homes. Women made election cake to serve the out-of-towners.




Fannie Farmer

Cookbook author Fannie Farmer also published recipes for the cake in her cookbooks. Here’s her Recipe for Election Cake, from the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1911, orig. 1896).

1/2 cup butter
1 cup bread dough
8 finely chopped figs
1 1/4 cups flour
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sour milk
2/3 cup raisins seeded, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each of clove, mace and nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Work butter into dough, using the hand. Add egg well beaten, sugar, milk, fruit dredged with two tablespoons flour, and flour mixed and sifted with remaining ingredients. Put into a well-buttered bread pan, cover, and let rise one and one-fourth hours. Then bake one hour in a slow oven. Cover with Boiled Milk Frosting.

Towns held elections in early spring, and the town representatives gathered in Hartford in May for the formal counting of the votes. First they counted the votes for governor, then lieutenant governor, then other officials. The counting often went long into the night, and the town representatives stayed overnight in Hartford homes. Women made election cake to serve the out-of-towners.

Here is a link to another modern Election Day Cake recipe if you want to give it a try. Plan to spend a couple of hours with it as this is a traditional yeast cake:


With a piece of cake in each lap, we settled in for an evening of election return excitement. This was our gala, right at home, with family and festive food.

The cake was awesome, but the excitement never happened.

10:30 pm came around and Georgia remained grey on the tabulation screen, not red or blue. “The counting has halted in GA, PA, MI, WI,” the television told us. The party was over and everyone went to bed.

We woke up and the same states had not finished counting.

So, here we are on Jan. 4. The presidential election, while called for Biden is still being challenged in this state. There’s talk of fraud and scandal and politicians wrangling with foreign entities for power. I don’t know what to believe!

There’s another election tomorrow.

“Don’t forget we’re voting tomorrow,” I said after dinner to my older boy.

“Oh yeah,” he shrugged. “Okay, I’ll be ready.”

No dinner table discussions tonight. People are pretty burned out around here. We’ll get it done, but there will be no joy in it. No cake. No confidence that the election is fair and legal. It’s sad.

These kids, who were so excited to vote and experience the freedoms our grandfather fought for in WWI, are disappointed in our government and its ability to stave off corruption. I am sad for them most of all. I didn’t get jaded about our political system until I was in my 50s. These guys are getting started with the cynicism early on. That can’t be a good thing for Georgia voters.


Still Working on this House

Documenting the side hustle that’s been keeping us out of trouble

This is our first attempt at buying and remodeling a home for the purpose of reselling it for a profit. I’m beginning to wonder about the profit part. But, we will finish it! Come zombies or high water, it will get done!

Since this is my life situation right now, remodeling an ugly home with my three oldest boys and a few other random people, I’m going to share the struggles and successes. So far, not too many successes, save that the place hasn’t burned down!

Three weeks ago, we failed our framing inspection. That’s a long, painful story that I won’t bore you with. The good news is that we found a new contractor and picked up the pieces. Picking up the pieces meant replacing all the windows with 5’0 code egress openings. That’s builder talk for windows that are big enough for an average person to exit the home in case of fire. I actually really like the light and openness they offer to the home.

Also, we had to modify a last minute rotten beam discovery. On Saturday, we took a screw driver and pushed it into the beam and it kept going. That’s a very bad sign! With the inspector coming again on Tuesday, and being dead broke, we had to get creative. Riley filled the gaping hole with wood then packed the inside with bondo! After drying a bit, the beam was primed and sanded and looked absolutely beautiful. It was solid from the inside out and definitely more durable than it had been in 25 years. Lord willing, the inspector would knock on that beam and hear the thud of a sturdy piece of lumber.

Finally, just to be safe, we double reinforced the new deck out the front door and left the boards off just in case the inspector wanted to give it a good look over. We also took all the nails out of the studs so he wouldn’t rip his shirt as he made his rounds through the home.

The inspector arrived today at 1 pm. He walked up and shook hands with our energetic contractor. Then, he walked right over the top of the deck without looking down. He strolled around, liked the windows, sniffed at the ceiling, completely ignored our carefully prepared beam and signed on the dotted line. We passed inspection!!

When life brings simple victories, it is good to wallow in them. The celebration was short-lived. Tomorrow we start on the installation. Stay tuned for the next saga in ths crazy project.

In the Present Tense

“Its negative!” the text read.

“Oh good,” I write.

“Take a deep breath bc u can keep living your lives,” came the next text.

I pondered that comment and thought, he’s right, for now. We can keep this ship sailing in the same direction for now. But, I know the time is coming when we won’t be able to outrun the storm anymore and we’ll have to batten down the hatches. For now, though, our family is in the clear. With six of us living in this house, our odds are high that someone is going to bring it home.

I take a deep breath.

As I exhale, the virus is closing in around us here. We know people now that have had it. Our friends are all talking. “Did you hear that Janie had it twice?” one asked. “Doesn’t one of her boys have asthma?” another one inquires. “Yes, but he’s in the low risk age category,” a third neighbor confides.

The new school year is closing in.

“Masks are required in all the common areas,” our director states at the Zoom faculty meeting. “How do you feel about teaching with masks?” she throws out the question.

A bead of sweat forms on my brow. I’m worried about that.

One teacher comments, “I’m having a friend make clear masks for me and my students.” Hmmm. That sounds cool and weird all at the same time. Another teacher pipes in, “Maybe I should just take all my classes online.” We decide to meet again next week and talk more.

After the meeting, my daughter brings me a plate of food. She knows I’ve been working frantically to finish the lesson plans for my new history class. I take occasional bites while working three screens: 1. On my iPad I’m running the tutorial on how to make a Google Classroom, 2. On my laptop I’m running the digital textbook for the Georgia Studies class I’m prepping. 3. On my phone I’m receiving texts from my 20 year old who just received the results of his Covid test. I am thankful.

Its all happening in the present tense!

I breathe in and out.