In which my husband nearly got his asphalt kicked

We had our first snow of the season overnight, a very manageable kind of snowfall. Pretty. Didn’t affect morning traffic at all.

First Snow 20131106And it had pretty much melted by the end of the work day.

First Snow after 20131106I attended a city council meeting with Mark tonight. He’s been to a few of these over the years. I was a City Council Meeting virgin until tonight. It was … fun? Maybe “fun” is a little much, but it was certainly interesting and definitely entertaining. I thought Mark was going to get beat up!

We’re getting new streets next year. And it’s going to cost the neighborhood residents some money. Understandably, people are going to have concerns. I expected that. But there was this guy. He kept demanding to know why his street hadn’t been replaced or paved in the past ten years. He was very confrontational and I felt bad for the City Engineer who was running the meeting. He patiently explained how such decisions are made. The guy just wasn’t satisfied with the answer. Throughout the couple of hours we were there, the guy kept interrupting to ask the same question. It was annoying and uncomfortable. Around the fifth time he interrupted the presentation to ask why his street hadn’t been addressed in the past, someone finally yelled from the back, “Let it go. It’s getting fixed now!”

The guy went on to say that his street currently looked like it had suffered a barrage of bombing. “It looks like a war zone,” he complained. I am familiar with this man and I know where he lives. I knew he was grossly exaggerating the condition of his street. I also know he has the most unkempt yard and home on his block. I try not to judge. I don’t know what people’s’ financial situations are. But he does have a couple of really nice motorcycles, so I have to wonder how much of a hardship it would be to mow his lawn or trim the tree that’s spilling  all over the place. Tonight I couldn’t help but picture his run down property and find it ironic that he demanded better of the city. But I didn’t say anything. That’s just not me.

His complaints continued in spite of the explanations that were given by the City Engineer. Since the guy couldn’t get the explanation he wanted, he seemed hell-bent on continuing to express his frustration ad-nauseum. He had just finished complaining about how after the last big storm, the street’s condition grew even worse, and the city didn’t do anything about it. Suddenly, from beside me, I heard someone ask, “Did you call the city?”

That someone was my husband! I felt all eyes in the room turn in our direction, but I was watching the guy. He turned a skeptical eye to Mark. “I get sick of calling people,” he sneered. “YOU ever try calling the city?”

“Yep,” said Mark. “They’ve always been responsive and reasonable.”

The guy dismissed Mark with a scowl and a wave of the City Council meeting notice he clenched in his hand. I elbowed Mark and gave him an approving smile. Normally I would be far from encouraging of such behavior. Normally, I would probably be embarrassed. But I was proud of my husband. The guy was a bully and was using the meeting as a means to force everyone else in the room to endure his childish behavior. He was preventing the City Engineer from getting through his presentation and letting anyone else ask legitimate questions.

The evening moved on and we heard from a couple of experts about asphalt recipes, curb replacements and street lights. Periodically the guy would interject some sarcastic remark. And then he let loose again, stating that parks and pedestrian paths should never be maintained unless every street in the city was perfect. The City Engineer, clearly tired of doing battle and trying to answer to issues that were outside of his authority, simply replied, “You’re entitled to your opinion.”

Someone from the back added, “And we’ve heard it all night long. Enough already.” A murmur arose from the small crowd of attendees. Obviously, there was a shared sentiment in the room. Everyone had heard enough from the guy. Another active participant who had contributed many valuable questions and comments throughout the evening, cooled things down. He said he just wanted to commend the city for keeping our taxes low and ensuring our community was kept in good repair. There was a round of applause. I looked over to see the guy had slouched down in his chair and was scowling. He didn’t want to hear anything positive.

And there the meeting ended. I hustled out the door with Mark, a little worried that the guy would try to follow us out and beat up my husband. Not to worry, he apparently planned to hang around afterward and give more grief to the City Engineer.

Had I known these things could be so exciting, I might have attended one long ago! And in all seriousness, I actually learned a lot. Being informed is empowering. I’ll probably go to one again.

Livin’ the dream!

 

 

Dog Whisperer

The houses on either side of ours have each sold several times over. And we’ve been lucky to have had several nice, friendly, couples living next to us over the years. The current neighbors are nice enough, both families. The ones to the east have been there for a few years now. The ones to the west have been there for half a year or so. But we just haven’t formed real friendships with any of them the way we did with the previous neighbors.

Mark does a little better with all of them than I do. He spends a lot of time outside. (Personally, I think it’s his way of avoiding the inside chores.) And Mark is not one to just quietly go about his business if he sees the neighbors out and about. He will yell over the fence, just to say hello, or ask about whatever yard project appears to be happening. He gets them talking. Me? I haven’t fared as well. The first time west-neighbor Susie came out while I was outside, Mark hollered over to her to introduce me. I was mucking around with some flowers and I stood to go meet her as I was saying hello. She said hi quickly and turned and walked away. Weird?  The neighbors all still feel a little bit foreign to me at times.

Lucy feels the same, I think. Whenever the east-neighbors come out in their yard, the fur stands up on her back and she barks and howls at them. It’s embarrassing, to be perfectly honest. Those poor people can’t work in their garden, mow the lawn or enjoy a bonfire if I happen to let my dog out at the same time. Of course, the minute I hear Lucy start up, I run outside and haul her furry little butt back inside. I’m sure she doesn’t understand, but I can’t have her howling at them all the time. (And oddly, she doesn’t do this to the west neighbors. Only the east-neighbors.)

I’ve contemplated getting a bark collar for Lucy. I’ve complained to Mark. “They’re not dog people.”

(I know this to be true. We ran into them at Petco one time. They were buying cat things.)

“If they were dog people, they would talk to her,” I said. “If they would just say something to her, maybe go up to the fence and show her they are not a threat, she wouldn’t be scared of them. I wish they would just speak to her.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “If they’re not dog people, they’re not dog people.”

And so every time Lucy is in the back yard, and every time I hear, “Wuff Wuff Wuff Wuff…Rowr Rowr Rowr Rowr,” I know it’s a pretty good bet that the east-neighbors are outside. Just this evening, I had that very suspicion. I went running outside and sure enough, east-neighbor man and his elderly dad were out in the back yard. East-neighbor man just smiled and waved at me, ignored Lucy and continued walking to his garden at the end of the yard. But east-neighbor man’s dad was coming toward the fence and stopped just on the other side of where Lucy was and where I was headed. As I approached, I heard him speaking very gently to Lucy. He told her what a good girl she was to protect her home that way, but that she needn’t worry as he had no intention of harming her or her family.

I apologized and grabbed Lucy’s collar, telling her “No,” and trying to soothe her. At the same time, east-neighbor man’s dad continued to talk to her and to me. He told me about his Golden Lab who is thirteen years old and suffering with cancer. He told me how she still wants to walk and the way she loves car rides. Lucy continued to bark and howl some, but she was sounding less intimidating. East-neighbor man’s dad told me how he was taking his dog for a ride the other day when he saw another dog wandering along a busy street, looking uncertain what to do. He said he stopped and the wandering dog looked at him as if to say, “What is this? There are so many cars, I don’t know what to do!”

East-neighbor man’s dad said he couldn’t allow the dog to continue wandering on such a busy street so he opened his car door and let the dog in. He checked the dog tags and contacted the owner and delivered the wandering dog home to safety. And all the while he talked, he continued to interrupt himself to look at Lucy and soothe her with gentle words until she finally sat and cocked her head at him and contemplated whether or not he was okay. And clearly, she decided he was.

When Lucy was all settled, east-neighbor man’s dad said to me, “Well, I think I’ll go help my son now,” and he ambled off to walk back to the house with him. And Lucy watched them both go and she made not a sound!

I could have hugged that man. So sweet. So patient. So gentle. And something bigger than that. So generous! He didn’t have to give my dog the time of day. He could have been annoyed at the incessant barking and howling. Had I been in his shoes, I would have been. But he wasn’t. Instead he gave Lucy and me a bit of his time and a bit of himself until everything was alright. He left me speechless.

The House Where No One Stays

I had a dream last night that someone was hitting golf balls at our house. I kept hearing the thumping sounds and when I looked out the window I could see colored golf balls bouncing off the siding and the roof of the garage. I went outside to see three young boys in the yard next door, practicing their golf swings. I asked them to please stop hitting golf balls at my house. I was afraid they’d break windows. But they just laughed and kept golfing. Their mother came outside and said in a not-very-authoritative voice, “Now, boys…”

I think I know why I had this dream. My friend from down the other end of the neighborhood was walking by earlier this week and stopped to talk. She told us about her crazy next-door neighbor who calls the city to report those who leave their trash barrels out on non-trash days. He calls my friend constantly to complain to her that her dog is barking, even when her dog is in the house and not barking. We live in a neighborhood full of dogs! Dogs bark! What does he expect?

I think I had the dream, not just because my friend told me about her cranky neighbor, but because we are getting new neighbors and I am nervous.

No one stays in the house next to us. It’s a nice enough house with pretty decent yard. But it’s a starter house. It’s not that big and it only has two bedrooms. The kitchen is really small and narrow. You know how everyone likes to hang out in the kitchen when you have company. It’s not fun having a small kitchen.

We’ve been really lucky. We’ve had great neighbors in the house next door. First there was Dan and Julie. Julie left and eventually Dan remarried another Julie. They were great. We became good friends. They started having kids. Their little boy, John was Kacey’s age. Then Julie got pregnant and they decided they needed a bigger house. They didn’t move that far away and we promised to stay in touch. We did for a while, but then our lives got busy and went in different directions and… well, you know.

After Dan and Julie left, Dean and Ellen moved in. They were great and we became good friends! Ellen got pregnant and soon Baby Caitlin joined the family. A few years later, Abby came along. Our kids were always running next door to help Dean with yard work or bake zucchini bread with Ellen. When Caitlin and Abby grew up enough to run between the yards, they would come ring the door bell to ask if Kacey would come out to play with them. Kacey was “too old” for the girls, but she was always willing to make chalk drawings in the driveway with them and eventually she became their favorite babysitter.

A house just three blocks away went up for sale. Dean and Ellen looked at it on a whim and the next thing you know, they were moving out of the house next door. We promised we’d still get together for impromptu summer suppers on the deck but… well, you know. At least we still wave when the other drives by.

After Dean and Ellen left, Kevin and Kelsey moved in. We were getting old. Kevin and Kelsey weren’t too many years older than our oldest child. But they were great and we became good friends. A couple of years after they moved in, Kelsey got pregnant and soon Ethan joined the family. We always seemed to catch up with Kevin and Kelsey as we were all returning home from work for the day. It was always fun to coo and smile at Baby Ethan. He grew up over the winter last year and this spring he was running and talking. On any given day, I could look out my family room window and see Ethan in his toddler crouch in front of my water fountain, washing the landscaping rocks. Lately he’d taken to peeking in the lower level windows to see if I was around and willing to come out so he could “drive” my car or play “dunk” in the driveway with the basketball.

And recently, Kevin and Kelsey decided they needed a bigger house. They put theirs on the market, but didn’t have much luck. We were secretly happy. We didn’t want them to go. For a while it looked like they might just settle in for a while longer, but then an offer came on the house and they accepted. The closing was coming quick and they would be out of the house by the end of May. We were bummed. No more chatting with Kelsey in the front yard after work. No more laughing and chasing Ethan. No more watching Kevin lift Ethan up to the basketball net so he could dunk the ball. No more watching Ethan grow up next door to us.

The closing was today. Kevin, Kelsey and Ethan are officially moved out. We’ve promised to stay in touch…

The new neighbors arrived tonight. They didn’t stay long and all I really saw was their car in the driveway. I don’t know if we’ll be lucky enough to get good neighbors yet again, but I’m hoping. I didn’t see any little boys with golf clubs, so that’s a good sign anyway.

Ethan

It was a beautiful day outside today. So I’m not sure why I spent it closed up in the house, cleaning the lower level and doing laundry. It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow. I should have saved the chores for the rainy day.

Lucy is shedding buckets lately. I’d just finished vacuuming her fur from the furniture in the family room when I noticed movement outside the window which sits at ground level. Ethan was toddling around in the landscaping rocks in front of the house. Mark had put the water fountain out again last week. Ethan loves the water fountain. Almost every day last summer when I’d arrive home from work, Ethan and his mom would be out playing in their yard next door and Ethan would come and crouch in front of the fountain, picking up rocks, dropping them in and pulling them back out again. His fondness for the water fountain didn’t diminish over the winter. But he was disappointed today to see that the water isn’t running in it yet. (It’s supposed to snow on Monday. We’ll wait until the chance of freezing is over.)

I pulled up the blinds in the family room and watched Ethan pick rocks up in his tiny hands. He’d study them for a moment before lifting his hand up high and letting them drop with a thud back to the garden. It took him a moment to notice me looking at him from the other side of the window, but when he did, his eyebrows raised in delight and I could hear him squeal, “CAH!” (CAR!)

See, last week we were enjoying one of those after work warm day visits with Ethan and his parents. Ethan’s mom said he spent many days over the winter, looking out their front window. He’d see Bob across the street and he’d point. His mom would say, “That’s Bob.” Ethan learned to say Bob. He’d see Mark and he’d point. His mom would say, “That’s Mark.” Ethan learned to say “Muck.” He’d see me and point. His mom would say, “That’s Terri.” Ethan learned to say, “Tee!”

While we visited in the front yard, Ethan showed me all the words he’d learned to say since last fall. We played basketball. Ethan wanted Mark to put the ball through the net. Mark stood below and tossed the ball in several times. Ethan pointed and said, “Dunk!”

Ethan loves vehicles. He stood in our driveway and pointed first to Mark’s side of the garage. “Muck truck,” Ethan said.

“Yes, that’s Mark’s truck,” his mom agreed.

Then Ethan pointed to the blue vehicle. “Tee cah,” Ethan said.

“Yes, that’s Terri’s car,” his mom said.

Ethan wandered between the two vehicles and pulled on the door handle of my car. Of course, he was too small and didn’t have the strength to open a car door. I helped him open it and together, we stared inside. Ethan turned and looked up at me standing behind him and then looked back into the car.

“You wanna go in,” I asked?

He turned to look at me again and nodded. Ethan is all boy. He climbed all by himself until he was in my passenger seat. He stared at the steering wheel and then turned to me again with a silent question written all over his face.

“You wanna drive,” I asked?

A smile spread across Ethan’s face and he nodded again, then climbed across to the driver’s seat. So Ethan drove (he had to stand up on the seat to see over the wheel) and I was the passenger. I talked to him while he drove and he pointed at the speedometer and told me, “clock.” He pushed buttons on the radio and tried to beep the horn, but couldn’t get it to make noise. He turned to look over his shoulder and make sure Mommy and Daddy were still out in the driveway waiting for him. There they were, talking with Mark while Ethan drove and I rode. I asked, “Do you want to go see Mommy and Daddy now?”

“No,” Ethan said, still driving somewhere far away and exciting.

Eventually, Ethan’s mom said he had to go eat dinner and our road trip in the garage came to a stop.

When Ethan saw me today, he remembered we drove and wanted to do it again. But before I could even get outside, his attention was drawn elsewhere and he ran between his yard and ours while his mom and I talked.

She told me they got an offer on the house. It’s been on the market for a few months. They got an offer today and they accepted it. They have to be out in six weeks.

I’m sad. I’m going to miss my neighbors. They are great neighbors. And I am sure going to miss my little driving buddy.