Inspector Clouseau of Spy Craft

“Did you tell your kids?” my niece asked.

I gasped, “No, no. The spy cam isn’t for inside the house. It’s for outside. And … we offered to have the app put on Juan and Crystel’s phone as well.” (They didn’t hesitate to say yes).

I’d been wanting to get outside cameras for a long time.

Once before, Jody and I briefly tried a spy cam/tracking device with Juan and Crystel. I’m not even sure they ever knew about it. Jody and I paid the price. There was a short period when we wanted to know where our car was going when we weren’t in it. I tucked the electronic device in the back pocket of the car seat. I never did figure out how to use the device correctly. I even bought two of them thinking the first device was faulty. Jody and I tracked the car to Chick-fil-A down the street. We couldn’t find the car anyplace. It was mind-boggling. We figured that Juan found the device and threw it out of the car into the grassy area. We drove to the high school where he said he was going and there was our car in the parking lot. Right where he said it would be.

The next and last time we were tempted to use the electronic tracking device was after a school administrator told us that all kids vape. Jody and I were like, “WHAT!” We didn’t think our kids vaped. Her certainty freaked us out enough that we jumped in the car and drove to the Richfield Ice Arena. Juan was walking into the facility when I hollered for him to come to our car. He was startled as heck to see us. “Are you vaping?’ I asked. He told us no and we believed him. Still do.

I figured if we weren’t using the tracking device, then we weren’t paying for it. I didn’t realize that we had a monthly subscription that continued renewing. This went on for more than a year before Jody tracked down the credit card charge that kept popping up. It was an expensive lesson for the parents.

I’m still trying to figure out what that lesson was exactly. So, I was bound to repeat it. Hence, my hesitation on going ahead with any purchase of outside cameras.

What helped me to decide was seeing our neighbor on a ladder putting his cameras up. I asked him if he would put spy cams up for us if we bought the same cameras. Easy enough. Now we have three outdoor cameras. The app is installed on all of our phones.

The cameras chirp every time they’re tripped. With an active household of two eighteen-year-olds, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, two parents, two dogs, two cats, Amazon, mail, and newspaper delivery, they are tripped a lot. We also have the occasional neighborhood cat come by during the early morning hours.

The first weekend after the cameras were up, Jody, Juan, and Crystel were on a ski trip out of town for five days. Every time I walked outside to walk the dogs or to run an errand, they would talk to me through the camera. I’d also hear them calling to our cats and dogs sitting on the stoop or backyard patio. It quickly became routine to wave and greet the camera as I was coming and going. I enjoyed this intimacy.

The spy cam was especially great at night, just before bedtime, when I would take the dogs out for the last time, and I’d hear Crystel’s sweet voice saying, “Night, Mama.”  

On one occasion during the first couple of weeks that we had the cameras, Jody and I overheard Juan’s girlfriend telling him,” You are obsessed with that camera.” He was at her house but was saying Hi to his cat at home through the spy cam and the camera was picking up their voices. Naturally, we replayed it for them at the first opportunity.

If only I could figure out how to talk to anyone through the spy cam.

Do-Over

Have you ever been unable to forgive yourself for a past action? Your do-over was never enough? Your action, or in my case inaction, continued to pain and haunt you? Prayers and wishes didn’t subside the memory.

I had one such pain.

Aunt Kate asked me to meet her at a funeral home. A dear friend of hers had passed away. I told her I would. I didn’t show. I had plenty of good reasons. I was in my early twenties, had worked all night. I was just plain tired. I needed sleep. I could hear the sadness and disappointment in her voice when she said, “You didn’t come.” I pictured her sitting by herself waiting and waiting for me.

Of course, I told her I was sorry. I could never get over not showing up for her. She never asked for much, if anything, from me or anyone else. I had more fondness for Aunt Kate than I did my mother. Her constant love continues to sustain me although she’s been dead for over 32 years. It’s her that I want to greet me on the ‘other side’ when I die.

I know she forgave me. I never forgave myself no matter how many little pieces of paper I threw into the flames on Solstice or New Year’s Eve.

Until now.

Every day, I do a do-over. And, it finally feels good enough. It didn’t start out as that. It started out as one neighbor helping another.

On Halloween, sitting around the fire bowl on our block, I listened as our neighbor said he’d be driving north for a week to his cabin. His wife, who is in her eighties, would be by herself. I imagined her falling in her kitchen and no one knowing. I asked her if she’d like to start taking a daily walk.

She often told me on our strolls that I was the only person she had talked to that day. COVID-19 had pushed her further into isolation. She didn’t like to walk by herself and wouldn’t, but she would walk with me. Sometimes, I’d bring our two dogs and hand her one leash while I grasped the other. The dogs began to greet her like family. At other times, Jody would walk with us while the neighbor and I chatted.  

Our conversations were generally the same: the weather, the home and garage projects in the neighborhood, and what our families were doing. I never tired of it.  

After her husband came home our walks have continued. She has become my companion.

We don’t talk politics. We don’t talk religion. There is so much more to bind us.

I sense Aunt Kate’s spirit when we walk. I know she’s pleased. I know she’s happy. I have a different image in my mind. She’s not sitting alone in the funeral home waiting for me. She’s walking beside me.

Senior Spotlight

At this time of year, high school seniors are applying for colleges, grants, and scholarships. They are answering this simple question a dozen times over from their friends, classmates, and adults: What are your plans for after graduation?

Crystel decided to apply for one college and one college only. This isn’t much of a surprise because she goes after what she wants. Always has. She doesn’t stop until she achieves her goal. She rarely alters her course. I’ve become a believer of her dreams ever since she overcame a speech disorder. At 3, she could not talk intelligibly. Juan who could understand her best often spoke for her. There came the day when she told him, “STOP.” By the time she was 7 she had graduated from speech therapy and was onto her next achievement.

When she told me that she only applied to one school, I held my breath. She didn’t have a backup plan. She submitted her college application without telling Jody and me. I thought she would have at least asked me for advice about the personal statement. After all, I am a writer. She told me that she reflected on her friend who was accepted. He’s Hispanic with a single father. I quizzed her. Did you tell them that you have two moms? Adopted? Hispanic? She kept nodding. She also said that she was Vegan. What about your Tae Kwon Do 2nd Degree Black Belt? No, she had forgotten about that.

All I could do was hope that she got accepted.

Juan on the other hand, recently told someone he was taking a gap year. Several years ago, I so strongly believed in a gap year for Juan and Crystel that I bought several books:

The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College

Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs

Gap Year, American Style: Journeys Toward Learning, Serving, and Self-Discovery

I don’t think Juan opened a page of any of those books. Especially since I had already dropped them off at Goodwill.

Even so, he had latched onto the concept of not going to college. Not now. Maybe not at all.

For many reasons, Jody and I support Juan having a ‘gap’ year. He’s in the National Honor Society, active in Student Government and just finished his last season of Cross Country. Still, his path is not Crystel’s.

An adult recently asked Crystel, “What are you doing after graduation?” She responded, “Going to the University of Minnesota.” (She was accepted). The question was followed with, “What about Juan?” Without pausing she said, “He’s going to the basement.”

Juan is graduating from his bedroom to our finished basement. His current bedroom will convert to Jody’s home office. He will continue to work as he has since he was 14-years-old.

Crystel’s desire is to study abroad. I’m sure that will happen. Juan is looking forward to living in the basement. It has the feel of an apartment. He’ll move out when he’s ready. Until then, Jody and I will have a roommate.

Passing The Torch

I pulled the box of camping supplies from the rafters in the garage. Jody and I are veteran tent campers: Boundary Waters, New Zealand, Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountains, Itasca State Park and more. Crystel and a group of her friends were planning their first camping trip without adults over MEA weekend.

Crystel

I asked her their destination. Pattison State Park south of Superior, Wisconsin. Situated on the Black River, the park contains Big Manitou Falls, the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. Besides the waterfalls, this park also featured Interfalls Lake, a beach and over 10 miles of trails for hiking.  The reviews of the park were excellent.

She wasn’t sure if the campground would have electricity or water.  “That would be important to know,” I told her. I pulled out my computer and started googling. Electricity was a definite No. Water could be shut off depending on the temperature.

“Maybe you should get a motel?” I said.

She looked at me horror-struck. “Ah, no.”

I was a bit proud of her. Wanting to go camping instead of staying in a motel. It would be exciting. I thought of my camping trips, cooking around the fire, being surrounded by nature, and dealing with the elements. It’s all part of the adventure.

A fusty smell rose from the storage box of camping supplies. As I began to sort, I started to wonder if I had anything of value left to pass on to her. More was going in the discard pile then the keep pile. It must have been over 20 years since Jody and I had tent camped in the Boundary Waters.

Unpacking the nesting pots and pans was like unwrapping a Christmas gift. I was delighted to pull each pot and pan out and marveled how items could become a plate or bowl depending on your need. After putting the set back together, I placed it next to the blue enamel coffee pot and matching enamel cups in the keep pile.

I was committed to setting Crystel and her friends up for success. Even though we had two camp stoves, I decided to make a quick trip to REI and purchase a new one. Being warm in a tent and having hot food would be essential. I picked a stove that had 2 adjustable burners with wind-blocking panels. Best of all it had a built-in igniter. No flame thrower needed. Even I could do it.

IMG_5636

 Meal ideas, flashlights, kerosene, tent, sleeping bags, mats – I continued to prepare for her trip. I did ask her at one point if I was helping too much.

“Nah,” she said. I think she was beginning to see my value.

Her camping trip plans regressed as hastily as the weather. Cold, below freezing, rain, snow, partial sun, cloudy. Her numbers dwindled. It would be her and two other girls.

During our tent and camp stove demonstration, I mentioned to the girls that they needed to keep their camp food stored in their car so the bears wouldn’t get it.

“Bears?” one friend said.

Was it that comment or other variables that changed their camping trip to a day trip? The next day, when Crystel told me of the new plans, I confess, I choked back a sob. Her adventure was no more.

Last week she said that maybe she and I could go camping up north by ourselves. Hmmm. It could happen. Our camping supplies are already sorted. We have all the equipment. And, a camp stove I can light. What better way to pass the torch?

A Great Day for a Bike Ride

I’m one of those people. I did a Simon Cowell. I purchased an electric bike.

Did I use to look at those people with scorn? Wonder if they were cheating? Deem that I was getting better-quality exercise with every pedal. Could those E-bikers even call what they were doing biking?

At the beginning of this biking season I was going strong. Biking 11 or 14 miles with Jody. We have a great route from our house to around Lake Harriet and a longer route to Lake Nokomis.

Though I was doing well biking, I was also uncomfortable. With two knee replacements, I lost the get up and go from a dead stop. This is a problem when you are trying to move through an intersection. I also felt unsafe. I couldn’t smoothly slide my feet from the cage pedals. I had to think every stop, or I’d tip over. I replaced the pedals with platform pedals. I also wanted to sit straighter so I jimmied some handles that would allow me to do that. Nothing is pretty when I jimmy.

Biking became not fun. I learned that two knees replacements aren’t equal. My left knee stayed on the pedal rock solid. My right knee wanted to complain about the position of my foot on the pedal. It did not have the same range of motion as the left.

I would only go biking with Jody if it was sunny and no wind. Not even a breeze.   

My preferred method of exercise became walking, hiking, and climbing the hills at the ski hill. I wasn’t a slouch. I often got compliments. Especially, when the telltale signs of my knee replacement scars were visible.  

I missed biking.  Jody is a strong runner and biker. We didn’t run together. We just rode in the same car to the same spot and then had an agreed upon time to meet up. When biking, she’d bike right behind me. She would insist that my pace was fine. I was certain that I was hindering her athletic prowess.

Since COVID, Jody and I have done a lot of walking together. She calls it her bonus steps since she has already worked out for the day. I call it my one and out.

Do you see what this is all leading to? My birthday gift. 

I did read Simon Cowell’s article before buying my E bike. I did read the manual. I have not fallen off my bike. I have also not done any wheelies.

My first ride with Jody was around Lake Nokomis from our house on a very windy day. My first impression was happiness. I was five years old, it was my birthday, and my mother had just handed me a Winchester lever rife that shot plastic bullets. 57 years later, I have that same joy riding my E bike.

At first Jody wanted me to bike in front of her like old times. That wasn’t going to work. I can bike whatever pace she is biking.

The next day we rode 20 miles on the Cannon Falls Trail. The only tense time was when I was in front of Jody and I was waiting for her to catch up. “This is a lot of work, you know”, she said a little testily. I learned to adjust my gears after that and not assume she could go any faster.

Since having the bike it has become my preferred exercise. There is work to an E bike. I pedal. My calf and thigh muscles work. Biking has improved my range of motion in my right knee. I can also feel more strength when climbing steps. Jody says that she gets a better workout.

I’m now one of those people. Don’t be judgy. If you ask me, I’ll tell you, it’s like having my birthday every day.